My sisters and I always said goodnight to my parents before we go to bed. It’s something we did as kids. But now that we are all grown up, I don’t say it anymore. My sisters, however, occasionally still do. I remember when I stopped; I managed to make it into a process akin to pulling teeth.
After my primary school education, I was enrolled into a boarding school –a place where I lost all the manners I was taught growing up. I ate from the pot, with my hands. I ditched the habit of making a quick sign of the cross before I ate (a shorter version of grace before meal), because I was so hungry a lot in boarding school, and the hunger made me impatient. And I picked up a lot of silly habits and thoughts, consciously and unconsciously, too.
One time I got back home for the holidays, I was sitting in the living room one night, with my dad. We were both watching TV when I got tired and decided it was time to hit the sack. Out of habit, I remembered I was supposed to say good night to my dad. In that moment, the act suddenly felt awkward. I had grown shy. How? Why? I don’t know. I walked away like I was going to get something and entered my room. I knew then I wasn’t going to say goodnight anymore to my dad. But I wondered how long I’d have to do it to become used to it.
I hate awkward situations. And I was trying to get rid of an awkward situation using a quite tricky means. So on the nights when I had to leave my dad in the living room and turn in, I’d make sure he is engrossed in whatever is going on in the TV, and I’d make a break for it. Sometimes I’d just get up and do the “walk of shame” straight to my room. I didn’t feel comfortable breaking an old, somewhat endearing habit I had towards my dad. I also didn’t want to continue it. I probably felt too grown for it. It had become a sentimental act, and Nigerian parents don’t do emotions, especially when you’re no longer a little kid. At least, that’s what I thought.
On another night, while my dad and I were both watching TV, there was a power cut. And my dad struck up a conversation with me about what we were watching on TV before the light went out. After responding in many ohs and ahs and yes, I got up to leave. At that point, he asked me, “Are you going to bed?” There was a catch in his voice, and I was hit with a wave of guilt. I said yes. And he told me goodnight, to which I responded.
You see, that was a loaded question. My dad wasn’t going to directly ask me why I didn’t say goodnight. However, the implied question came from the tone of his voice.
I have stopped saying goodnight to my dad, a habit I consciously adopted and no longer feel uncomfortable about. But I occasionally remember how I always said goodnight to my papa. I have grown to overthink little acts of endearment as big acts of vulnerability. They make me inexplicably uncomfortable. I panic when I feel like something is going to make me cry in public, and I feel uneasy around people who cry. But I never invalidate people’s feelings. Never. I have enough self-awareness to know that being vulnerable is human, and that acts – like hugs from friends or family- or words of endearment shouldn’t make me so uncomfortable. Overthinking and feeling disturbed over saying something as simple as goodnight to my dad just shows how wrong I’ve got it. How I turned out this way, I have no idea. Somewhere along the way I associated vulnerability with discomfort – discomfort that needed to be avoided at all cost. And it’s time, I think, to unlearn this silly behavior.