By Melissa Chea-Annan
Most often when the word tribute is being mentioned, many people express fear of death, because in Liberia, tributes are usually paid at the funerals of individuals, during which time all of the good things those individuals did while they were alive would be narrated. Interestingly, no one would dare utter a word about those bad things or habits that were carried out for fear of being mocked by sympathizers or mourners after the funeral.
On the other hand, it is important to understand that tributes are also meant for those who are alive, especially if such person or individuals have made positive impacts in the lives of others or perhaps have made meaningful contributions in the communities and society at large. This is why it is often said, in the Liberian parlance that it is good to “Give A Man His Flower While he Is Alive.” It has also been mentioned in the Bible that we should “Give Honor To Whom Honor Is Due”; this is a phrase that most Liberians prefer and so for short, they would always say ‘Honoring” ceremony.
Whatsoever the case is, I have decided to pay a special tribute to a man who is the foundation of my success. Though I have said it to him on several occasions and even during our quit time about how grateful I am for having him in my life and also for the meaningful contributions he made while I was in his care, I now feel compelled to say it through this medium to further appreciate him, especially in this month of June since it is being observed for ‘Fathers” around the world.
Father Davies S. Chea, Sr. is not my biological father, but until it is said; no one would be able to distinguish his children from others because he is a unifier. For short, he is the father of many children. My biological father is James T. Chea, Sr., the younger brother of Father Davies S. Chea, Sr. and we were residing in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, where I was born. I moved into the home of Father and Mother Davies Chea on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, immediately after the burial of my father in December 1988. Due to father Davies Chea’s level of discipline and love for all of us, it didn’t take long before I started calling him ‘Daddy’. He was in deed a tough man and very straight too. Due to his honesty and level of disciplines, my sister, Sharon Chea-Doe and I always jokingly told him that “if there were three persons in heaven, it would be our father, and the two of us; if there were two, it would be one of us and our father, but if it was one person in heaven, then it would be our father.” Whenever we said that, he would just smile, because he was so tough to the extent that it was real hard to see our father laugh out. I am sure he did it that way to keep us on track so that we couldn’t take him for joke.
When I first visited my father in New York in 2012, I was shocked at what I saw. I was so sad and too many things ran through my mind. The only thing that I said to myself was “life can change at any time, it doesn’t matter who or what you are.” My father travelled to the United States of America in 1998 as a result of the crisis and to also get some rest especially after his retirement from USAID. It was after 15 years that I was once again reunited with my father, mother, Mrs. Adeline B. Chea and the rest of my siblings who are also residing in the United States. The‘Davies Chea’ that I knew from Capitol Hill, was different from the ‘Davies Chea’ that I saw in New York.
Let me just share a little joke about the ‘Davies Chea’ from Capitol Hill. We all lived in a three bed-room house with at least 25 people. One room was for the boys, one for the girls and the other was for our parents. If anyone had visited our house and was told that at least 25 people were living in that small house, it would be hard to comprehend. That little house was full of fun and everyday had its own story. Our father insisted that we had family devotion twice a day before getting out of the house and before going to bed. If anyone missed devotion, such person would be in serious trouble, because that person would be banned from going out of the house for that day and also be monitored. Whenever we offended our father, he would get so upset and ensure that we get 25 lashes as a punishment. As for going to church services, it was a matter of MUST. It was almost forbidden to listen to secular music in our house. If by chance a secular music was played in the house, it would be by mistake only because ELBC had given the news and our father must have forgotten to switch the radio back to his favorite channel, ELWA. For one to be a good friend to our father, such person should come out with good grades in school and must always be in church services. We had a tradition in our little house that cannot be forgotten easily by any member of the Chea family. On January 1st of each year, our father would host a big family reunion, not just for us in the house but every relative, with the intent to honor those who passed successfully during the school year. Unfortunately, those who failed during the school year would be compelled to attend the reunion so that they can wash the hands of those who passed and at the same time, sit in a closed range to watch the clever students as they eat their food. Thereafter, those who failed would be asked to clear the table and eat, if there are remnants. This ‘New Year Day’s tradition was a challenge and it compelled every child in the family to study hard to avoid being embarrassed.
Another thing of interest in our house was that the girls were not allowed to wear trousers, because our father strongly believed that trousers are men’s wear and that the Old Testament in the Bible forbids women from wearing men’s clothing. By the way, how were we supposed to know the differences of men’s and women’s clothing when in fact all of them wore long gowns, from biblical photos that were portrayed to us? We couldn’t argue or debate it with our father for fear of being punished and so, we followed the rule. However, he didn’t stop talking because he always told us the truth, whether or not we liked it and he wanted the best for us. He disciplined us with love, even if it meant blessing us (beating us with our regular 25 lashes). Father Chea was a great man who denied himself of luxury just to ensure that everyone who passed under his roof got education. He was privileged to have built houses taking into consideration his status in society and job, but instead of our father saving some of his money in the bank, he spent all of it on his children and also provided scholarships for strangers who were willing to go to school but lacked finances. There were times when he called separate meetings for the boys and girls just to lecture us about life and to guide us in decisions we would take as we face the real world.
When I visited my father, it was a sad reunion because he just looked me in the eyes and he couldn’t say a word. He turned 80 in March, 2014 and he is sick; his strength has weakened and one has to hold his hands to help him walk. He did all he could to guide us while we were in his care because today is the day that he can no longer tell us what to do. Today, the world expects us to emulate those good examples of our father, and we owe it all to him.
As we observe the month of June as Fathers’ month, I am joining my family members and all others who have encountered my father to say “Happy Father’s Day Daddy”. I appreciate you so much and words are inadequate to express how grateful I am for all that you have done for me. I will always cherish you and I am dedicating all of my achievements to you, because you are the foundation to my success. I pray that God will continue to strengthen you and I will always be there for you. Let me once again conclude by saying Happy Father’s Day Mr. Davies S. Chea, the best Daddy in the world.