Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Father’s Day and Forgiveness

Thinking About Charleston

This morning I watched  CNN’s coverage of the service at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where the shooting took place on Wednesday evening. Their service was about to start.

Many in our congregation lit candles this morning for our own joys and sorrows and for Charleston

Many in our congregation lit candles this morning for our own joys and sorrows and for Charleston

But I left for the Unitarian Church in Westport where our departing senior interim minister Rev. Roberta said, “If this weren’t my last Sunday, I would have thrown out everything I’d prepared. I would have talked instead about what happened in Charleston. But I have to leave that to you.”

She included silent candle lighting in this morning’s service. Many of us lit candles.

She proceeded with her wonderful and wise sermon, Radical Hospitality, which as she said, was certainly a related topic. She spoke of the variety of Unitarian-Universalists right in our own congregation.

Seated among us, she said, were Christian, humanist, pantheist, deist,  Jewish, and Hindu UU’s and others who don’t fit any of the categories she named.

Barry accompanying choir on his bass

Barry accompanying choir on his bass

She urged us to be welcoming to all and avoid making disparaging comments about beliefs we may not share.

She said, “Many of you are Democrats, but if a Republican walks through the door looking for a spiritual home, you need to welcome him or her.

“The South Carolina legislator who is going to introduce legislation on Monday the ban the flying of the confederate flag at the statehouse is a Republican,” she said.

Her husband Barry played the accordion for the prelude and the bass for the closing song from the choir.

After the service we honored her with gifts and celebrated her two years with cake and champagne!

Rev. Roberta preaching, receiving gifts, cutting the cake

Rev. Roberta preaching, receiving gifts, cutting the cake

I will attend the Interfaith Vigil for Charleston tomorrow evening at the Saugatuck Congregational Church. It’s sponsored by TEAM Westport and the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston. You can read about it on Dan Woog’s blog 06880. He named the nine victims who were killed, but only had eight photos. I wonder who was missing?

I was amazed at the expressions of forgiveness by the relatives of those killed in Charleston. I don’t know that I could have been so forgiving. But I think I understood. As Hillary said, it was like Mandela who didn’t want to be imprisoned a second time, by anger and hate, when he was released by his white jailers.”

A Silent Friend?

Ikem with the Benin warrior statue in our foyer

Ikem with the Benin warrior statue in our foyer

Ikem, now almost two, is fascinated by the heavy metal statue of a Benin warrior we have in our entry foyer.

The two are the same height. Ikem likes to stand close, hug the statue, and examine its ears, eyes, and feet.

Constant Camera

What was that TV show? I remember – Candid Camera!

Nkiru has her phone in her hand almost all the time. Often it’s the camera she is using.

She is all about the selfies. She promised to send me a selfie she took with her grandpa so I could include it for you.Grandpa and Nkiru

Papa and Mama on the Escalator

On this Father’s Day I want to share with you a short piece from my memoir about my father-in-law. My mother-in-law is also in the story.

It takes place in Lagos in April of 1964. Clem and I had decided to invite his parents to visit. He suggested I be the one to take them sight-seeing in Lagos. I was on vacation from school, and he was working, so it made sense.

It was also an opportunity for us to get to know each other.

They arrived in the late afternoon. I had organized dinner at Clem’s house. (I was actually staying with him many nights, but we thought prudence required my going back to my flat when his parents were in town. This was 1964 after all!)

Dinner is ready, and we are seated at the table. “After his brief prayer, most of which I didn’t understand, I joined Clem and his mother with “amen” and went back to slicing the yam. I placed a large portion with several spoons of soup on each plate, including good-sized pieces of chicken and fish in each serving. We began eating silently. I used my fingers to take a ball of yam and dip it in the soup, as I’d learned. Clem’s mother watched how I ate. Was I doing it correctly?

I gave them more. Clem and his parents ate their fish and chicken last, and then chewed the chicken bones. I was used to Clem’s doing this, though it still made me cringe. I called Gabriel to replace the water so we could wash our hands again.

I could see they were getting tired. I turned to Mama. “Agam ana. Agam abia echi. I am going home. I will come tomorrow.” She looked puzzled, and I knew I hadn’t made my meaning clear.

Clem explained in Igbo. “Cathy is going home. She will come in the morning, and when I leave for work, she’ll be here. When you are ready, she will take you to see Lagos.”

Read on to see what happened with the escalator.

I hope you had a lovely Father’s Day, whether you are a father, were remembering your own father, or were sharing the day with others.


Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Wonderful story and pictures of 2 year old Ikem – Thanks

  2. We Unitarian Universalists of the Blue Ridge went ahead and celebrated Fathers Day yesterday despite the horrific incident in Charleston. (Our part-time minister called it “Charlotte,” but we’ll let that pass.)
    The service was arranged so that members could quote writings or tell stories about their fathers. Mine was a much-loved Congregational minister in Portland, Conn., for 32 years. I had mixed feelings about him, because he was a typical 1950s father devoted to his profession with little time for his children. However, I came to admire him as I grew older. At his memorial service in 2004 I recalled an epiphany four years before his death.
    I drove my elderly parents to Portland to visit three old family friends who had only weeks to live. Our last stop was a nursing home where a former Sunday school teacher of mine lay dying of emphysema. When the visit ended, we walked out of the facility through a hallway where several residents were sitting or standing.
    Left to my own devices, I would have said a brief hello and headed out the door. But that wasn’t Dad’s way. He stopped; he chatted; he wished one and all a Happy New Year. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair who was trying to catch my attention. She fixed me with her gaze and said, “You have a lovely father.”
    Her words struck me with the clarity of a bell. “You’re so right,” I thought to myself. “You’re so right!”

    • Thanks for that lovey story about your father, Steve. I too have come to appreciate my parents more as I grow older, though for me the change is more toward my view of my mother. In Utah two weeks ago I stayed with a high school friend who knew my parents, and she had only kind things to say about my mom.