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Tribute to My Father, Prof. Oloruntimehin, My Iconic Role Model
“You can teach what you like, but you can only reproduce your own kind.“
umbaba,“ the intellectual icon who dedicated his Magnum Opus “The History of the Segu Tukulor Empire” to “Funmi and little Jumoke.” Now I reflect, and I see that your love for me was so unalloyed, you re-christened yourself in your identity as my father.
I on my part was unimaginably proud of you, and everything about you, including your book; every guest to our house was invited to “see the book my Daddy wrote.”
You would tell me with tears in your eyes how you felt when you first held me in your arms and decided that “this one must be protected and pampered with love,” and thus the name “Olajumoke.”
You were so proud that I looked so much like you. You would say, “You look so much like me Jumoke, you are lucky your dad is a handsome man,” and I would roll my eyes inwardly at your “modesty”.
You took me everywhere with you. I wouldn’t even let you go without me anyway. We would go on international trips together and our myriad road trips; singing to the Carpenters and your French artistes (till now my limited French is rendered in your second arrondissement accent.)
You were my best friend, and so your closest friends became my uncles and daddies, and lately my “besties.” Thank you for choosing such amazing men as Prof iyanda and your Mentor Bishop Olajide as your friends, Dad. They have been such an amazing support over the years. I treasure the privilege I have to access such wisdom seasoned by several decades of experience.
You often said I looked out for you like a mother, and indeed we had this special bond. There are so many stories about our bond that I would need yet another book to write about them all.
I remember when I was just three and you wanted to surprise Mum and I by arriving two days earlier from Europe and I suddenly announced in the pantry (while you were still three floors below and out of sight) “Daddy mi ti de!”
Mum brushed my announcement aside because you weren’t expected for two more days. I just knew. I felt your presence and I saw in my spirit your car pulling up, and mere minutes later you walked into our third floor flat on Phillipson Road and I was delirious with joy.
I thank God for the gift He gave me in you. Indeed, you reproduced your own kind. If I am considered precocious, you were the epitome of precocity. You were indeed a kingmaker and that’s my moniker today. I am passionate about the youth and they flow with me today because that’s what you modelled to me.
You were not a gerontocrat. You didn’t need to invoke your age to make your point. Who listens to a two-year old’s opinion? Who apologises to a five-year old? You did. You respected and affirmed young people and so do I, now.
You forgot to tell me that there were heights unattainable to a woman, so when I left your aegis and life tried to tell me what I couldn’t do simply because I had the “disability.” of being female, it was too late.
So, I mentor other women fearlessly as you mentored me. Thousands of fathers have told me how inspired they were to be more intentional parents to their daughters because of my words about you heard by 115 million souls on CNN: “Fathers who believe in their daughters bring up more confident, assertive daughters.”
You made it clear you respected me and reciprocally I had to be that person you could respect. You maintained that no other child could know you like I did because I spent the most time with you, being an only child for so many years. Perhaps you were right.
You had a special code; a signature whistle you called me with. We had our coded French words with which we secretly communicated. We played together, from shadow boxing to piggy backing me and even my friends would join in.
One day, one of my friends sighed. “Jumoke,” she said, “I wish your daddy was my daddy.”
I was a toddler at three, when you taught me how to swim at the UI Staff Club, and we were there almost every weekend.
I toured the world with you from the age of two and the early exposure to those great edifices made me the architect I am today.
By your admission, you later over-compensated for what you saw as my “privileged position”, the fact that I had you all to myself as the only child for almost nine years , but you and I sorted it out in the end, didn’t we, Dad?
Yet there was one path you followed that you and I never thought was possible I could replicate, but God surprised us both. After failing to persuade me to consider a PhD following the distinction in my master’s in architecture and my insistence not to follow yours and mum’s footsteps in academia, your sense of fulfilment was obvious when I was appointed a Visiting Professor and Guest Laureate of the Chair of Architecture at The Technical University of Munich in 2019.
You were proud of the rigour of the German decision-making process, you were proud of the fact that even the Bavarian Ministry of Education was involved in approving my appointment, and typical of your vast intelligence, I didn’t escape a lecture on the different “states” in Germany.
You were following up with the structure of my lectures, for the first time you became a “helicopter dad.” It was this foray into academia that gave me a glimpse of your towering intellect.
Leaning towards African traditional architecture, my research took me into the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, only to discover that every other article was either authored by you, written about you or reviewed by you. I came face to face with the fact that my father was a true intellectual icon and I sent you a message from Munich in the dead of night. I was in awe.
Despite your health worn frail from battling cancer, when the Germans decided to pay me an unprecedented visit in Nigeria in November 2019 and also visit my alma mater University of Ife, you came to Lagos even in your physical frailty and dazzled the visiting German faculty with your brilliance.
You had an amazing time, rubbing minds with foremost Art Historians and Oxford scholars in the delegation. Still, you wanted to do more, you told me how much you would love to join the delegation on their “pilgrimage” to Ife if not for the limitations of your health.
Your sacrifice completely overwhelmed me, Dad. Is there nothing you couldn’t, wouldn’t do for your children?
You are my role model in integrity, in universal philanthropy, in my work ethic, in striving for excellence, in being an aesthete and an epicurean, in courage, in forthrightness (oh how I wish I skipped that particular gene in these fake climes we find ourselves), in guilelessness, in fearlessness and in parenting. I thank you. My sons thank you. My husband thanks you. The millions who have been impacted by my life globally thank you.
The cancer didn’t win, Dad, you wanted to sleep. Like you whispered to me in your last moments “even if I sleep all will be well.“
I need to let you know all is indeed well. Dad, you can rest. Good night, Jumbaba. I thank God for the rare privilege to be with you at the end, like I promised I would. And I testify that by His Mercy and Grace you are in a better place.Prof. Benjamin Olatunji Oloruntimehin was Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ife, Ile Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University); pioneer Dean, Faculty of Humanities, and Chairman Committee of Deans, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo State; President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and President of Historical Society of Nigeria.
He passed away December 18,2020, aged 81.