My father and a certain Catholic Archbishop of Lagos who became a Cardinal were very good friends.
It so happened that my father and the Parish Priest of the Catholic Church we attended in Ikeja were at loggerheads. So this Archbishop who became a Cardinal called a meeting for reconciliation at his offices in Lagos.
My father didn’t attend.
The Archbishop was very concerned, seeing as my father was not just his close friend but was a very important member of the laity, even though he liked to act otherwise.
It was a Sunday evening when the Archbishop and the Parish Priest came to our home and sat in the living room with my Dad.
The Archbishop said his piece as the two men listened. He pleaded for peace, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness and the submission of my father to the authority of the Parish Priest.
The Parish Priest grunted out the unintelligible as he looked down at his feet.
And my father, who had been shaking his stretched-out right leg as he sat on his ‘daddy’s chair’ as the Archbishop spoke, countered. “But how can you ask me to submit to a nincompoop, a criminal, a philanderer and a good-for-nothing profligate just because he is dressed up in priestly garb?”
“Stephen, please do not accuse him of things that are not true.”
“Are not true?”
“You are a lawyer, Stephen. You know guilt has to be proven before innocence is stripped.”
My father shook his head and sighed. “No wonder Jesus flogged the hell out of both of your kind.”
“How can you sit there and feign ignorance of the reputation of this charlatan who struts around like a peacock with hemorrhoids who is wearing the Holy collar?”
“Stephen, be merciful with your words. He is a man of the cloth, a servant of God. He has not been found guilty of any crimes.”
“How can he be found guilty if there is no trial?”
“It is God who judges.”
My father looked at his friend, who was an Archbishop that later became a Cardinal, for a prolonged moment.
There was silence.
The Parish Priest kept staring at the floor upon which his sandaled feet tapped out a nearly silent beat.
My father stood up and stared down at his friend who was then an Archbishop.
“You are either blind, deaf or incompetent, and even though I do not want to believe it, also guilty of being as much a reprobate as he is. Whichever the case, your saying the words ‘It is God who judges’, when you, without waiting for God to judge, use your authority to punish and excommunicate people who have communicated lesser crimes than this conniving serpent here –”
“Stephen, friendship aside, you are speaking to the Archbishop of –”
“This is my house! You came here uninvited, so your titles have no meaning here.”
The Parish Priest looked up and smiled. He turned to the Archbishop and with his voice dripping with scorn, he said, “Your Grace, didn’t I tell you –”
My father’s glare swiveled to the Parish Priest and fire erupted from his mouth. “Hold your tongue, you vile reprobate! Instead of covering your head in shame and hiding in the sewers, you are here trying to play a game of chess. You are lucky I am not the father of one of those girls you deflowered or the husband of one of those women you impregnated, I would have cracked open that your coconut head and fed you the rotten porridge that passes for your brains!”
The Archbishop stood up to the fullness of his lanky frame. His eyes were ablaze. The Parish Priest shot up also.
“Stephen,” the Archbishop who became a Cardinal began in a steely tone, “I will leave your house and if I receive a written apology tomorrow, I will take it that this never happened.”
“I am sorry.”
The abruptness of my father’s response surprised the Archbishop.
“Do I need to write it?” he said to his friend.
There was silence. Then the Archbishop sighed. “That should be enough.”
The Archbishop kept staring at my father. The Parish Priest stood there, struggling with his agitation.
It was my father’s turn to sigh this time. “Thank you, Your Grace,” he said.
“Better… And the matter with him?” the Archbishop said, nodding towards the Parish Priest, who promptly propped up his shoulders in self importance.
My father laughed sardonically. “This fool? I should apologise? Never!”
The Parish Priest took a step towards my father.
“Take one more step closer,” my father instantly flashed, “and I will punch holiness into your concrete skull.”
A face-off ensued.
The Archbishop looked on and a faint smile crept across his face.
Two months later, the Parish Priest was withdrawn from the church. No one heard about him again. My father and the Archbishop who became Cardinal remained friends.
And when my father passed on, the Archbishop who became Cardinal sent us a message, in which the words we remembered most were:
“…You all should be very proud of your father. He was a man who feared no man and a man for whom integrity meant everything. I pray you remain as proud of him as I am. It is my eternal honour to call him friend.”
I had a father.
Written by Jude Idada