Nkem House is running. It’s a little after 9 a.m., and his oldest son, Nkem Jr., just finished a piano audition at Southern Nazarene University for the Oklahoma Music Teacher Association.
It’s a busy day for the House family. Madi, Nkem Jr.’s adorable nickname, has a basketball game in Norman almost immediately following his piano achievement audition. His brother, Jonas Paul, is playing basketball at Northwest Classen and will meet the rest of the family in Norman where the brothers will be playing in separate games.
Instead of analyzing the chaotic day ahead of him, Nkem patiently waits for Madi to leave the audition and is hoping all went well. This moment is Nkem’s only concern. As Madi walks up to his father, a huge smile fills his face, revealing his bright braces and highlighting the brown hue in his eyes. He hands his father a paper with the first line: “Wow, excellent work,” big, bold and centered on the score sheet. This moment is full of Black boy joy, but the celebration is far from over. Nkem embraces his son and quickly moves on to the next quarter.
When the reel is real
Celebrations are happening all around the House family. They say to never really look at someone’s social media pages if you want to know the real. You’re only taking in the user’s reels. The images, posts and quotes that fill timelines are just the highlights – celebratory moments trapped in time. They represent the best part of the day, the happiest of times and the fleeting moments we want to remember forever. But for Nkem, his reel is his real life. He’s more than just a dad — he’s a real member of the community. Nkem House is a successful attorney who manages his own private practice, House Law Firm. He is also the coach of Chaos, a 3rd grade basketball team, and Oklahoma Power, a 16U team.
Nkem does not make a move without saying hello, shaking a hand or sharing a laugh. He seems to know everyone and their love for him is palpable. Nkem is just mirroring behavior he witnessed as a child.
“When I introduce myself to someone in Oklahoma City, they will always bring up my grandfather’s name, JC House,” said Nkem. “He was one of the first Black Muslims in Oklahoma and was very active in his community.”
The gift of family
Nkem grew up in Atlanta, Ga., and experienced a tough upbringing that differs starkly from that of his children.
“It was much different,” said Nkem. “It was poor and Blacker. I didn’t have white classmates or teachers until I came to Oklahoma. I grew up in a very poor area and lived in the projects. I learned to be in survival mode early.”
Nkem took refuge in his family, taking solace in the comfort offered by his grandparents and influence given by his successful aunts and uncles who showed him a life outside his neighborhood. Nkem started the seventh grade in Oklahoma City with his family unit.
“My grandmother felt like it was time to get me out of Atlanta,” said Nkem. “My maternal grandmother was like my mother. My mother was not able to fully take care of me. My paternal grandfather is like my father.”
Nkem found success in Oklahoma where he excelled as a student at Northwest Classen. He graduated and began his collegiate career at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. After working for an insurance company, Oklahoma called again. This time, he would pass on the knowledge and core values learned from his grandparents to care for his younger brother Emmitt.
“My grandfather had a heart attack, so I moved back to take care of my little brother,” said Nkem.
While in Oklahoma, Nkem graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law and worked as a lawyer for Oklahoma City law firm Crowe & Dunlevy. After joining the Oklahoma City Association of Black Lawyers, Nkem would have a chance meeting at the office of then-attorney Aletia Timmons. There, nestled in her mom’s office, was Alana. The two met in 2006 and began a romance that would lead to three sons and a full court life filled with piano, basketball and melanin magic.
Nkem plays many roles in his sons’ lives. Not only is he dad, but for a period of time, he was also coach. Life lessons that started on the court would inevitably infiltrate the home. Nkem would find himself consistently juggling a full schedule on and off the court.
“I really try to show my boys how hard this is,” said Nkem. “I don’t want them to think life is easy. Growing up, I did not have a lot. So much goes into how money is made. I try to be really intentional in everything.”
As the conversation shifts to his boys, Nkem’s demeanor also changes, resembling the same enthusiasm displayed during his oldest son’s piano audition.
“My boys are three completely different people,” said Nkem. “I am definitely firm. I believe in tough consequences because for Black boys, it doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic background is. The consequences for us are just greater. I want them to understand that.”
Madi, the oldest of the House boys, is an 8th grader at Classen School of Advanced Studies. Madi has his father’s charm and style, or as the charismatic pre-teen would say, he’s “pushing pressure” like his dad.
“He’s a social butterfly and a smart kid,” said Nkem proudly. “He’s got my name and he spends every day trying to emulate what he sees from me. I try to encourage him to be his own person.”
Ten-year-old Jonas Paul is named after his great-grandfather. JP got more than just his name from his great-grandfather; he also received his kind heart and caring spirit.
“He loves the arts,” said Nkem. “Like his brother, he plays piano and basketball and enjoys both. He’s super caring. When they’re all grown, JP is the one I am going to be able to count on. He’ll take care of his old dad!”
Holding up the rear is the baby of the family, Charles.
“Charles is Charles — he’s the baby,” said Nkem. “Athletically [because of his height], he stands apart from any kid in his age group. He’s also smart. He’s gifted and talented. His teacher just raves about how kind he is.”
Nkem is hoping that the end of the day’s activities that began with that piano audition will also be kind to him. JP’s team is down, but the proud dad is still in the game with his son, cheering and uplifting him as his team drags behind. The scoreboard does not end in JP’s favor, but the lessons learned on the court will follow him for a lifetime. The family rallies around their star player, congratulating him on a job well done. The game is over, but the coaching session is still in play.
“I tell my kids [and the children I coach] all the time, ‘I’m your coach for life. I’m somebody you can count on for life,’” said Nkem. “I think that’s something our community needs more of – people who care about more than just their nuclear family.”
Editor’s note: This article is the third is a year-long series celebrating local dads. Author Lance Evans and husband Chris are fathers of Chrystian and were voted MetroFamily’s 2021 Cool Pops.