By Akorah Chioma Diana
Growing up, I had deluded myself into believing that the reason for my father’s abandonment; for he had abandoned my mother, sisters, and me, was because of our gender. I had gotten it into my head that if perhaps my sisters and I had been boys, if one of us had been lucky enough to be male, maybe he wouldn’t have left. I call it a delusion now, but back then, I had believed in it with absolute conviction or as much will as a child of eight could wield. It started the day I heard my grandmother talking to my mother. I remember how she had sounded that day like she was scolding a wayward child. She had said that if my mother could have given birth to a boy, my father would have never left, and all would be well. Looking back, maybe the tone of her voice, while she gave this reprimand led to my belief, or the indiscernible silence that followed after my grandmother had said it made me draw up my conclusions.
For years, their conversation remained with me; it made me believe that, in some way, my sisters and I were at fault that we had come into the world less than what they had expected. These thoughts plagued me, but I kept them to myself, unsure of how I would present them or express to anyone who would listen that my birth had been a disappointment. What was the point of sharing anyways? What would it accomplish but pity? What was done was done, and I would have to live with a mistake perpetually… these were my young thoughts. I had these views for years till a much-needed science class liberated me. Though the liberation came a bit too late, it freed me of my long-carried guilt and healed me of the blame for my father’s abandonment. It was like inhaling fresh air after years of dwelling in an environment sullied with pollutants. But then, I needed answers. Who could I blame if I wasn’t to blame, and neither were my sisters? Why did he leave?
Had my mother committed an act so unforgivable that my sisters and I had become soiled by association? These questions bothered me. But what bothered me more was the treatment my mother received both from friends and family. To them, she was no longer of import. Why associate with a woman that even her own husband had abandoned? In their opinion, the man who had left his wife and three daughters and suddenly relinquished his responsibilities must have had a good reason to do so, and only she was at fault. Perhaps she was too difficult to handle, maybe she had disrespected him, and it’s quite possible she drove him away. After all, men were not prone to fits of exaggeration and silliness like women were, so he must have had a good reason, and his behavior was surely not unreasonable.
These views were implied, some in pity, some in jest, and some a little bit of both. My mother tried her best to hide it, to keep my sisters and me away from it, but it was too evident to be ignored or misheard. Their comments made it seem like her being deserted was her fault, almost like she was a child who had been unruly and was now getting her just and deserved punishment. It was almost like a witch hunt, or what I imagined it would be.
Remembering those times, I can’t help feeling the same burning anger I had felt then. How is it that society had decided that she was to blame? Had she not trusted and vowed her life to this man? Had she done anything contrary to her promise? Was he not the one who left? Should there be any reason that would justify the neglect of his responsibilities if not as a husband but then as a father? It was at this point in life that I wondered. Was marriage worth all this heartache; was it worth this emotional turmoil not only to me but to my future children? I could not possibly fathom what my mother must be feeling, but I was sure I didn’t want any child of mine to feel as I had felt.
My father had become a source of resentment in my life. I resented him whenever my other classmates were picked up from school by their fathers. I resented him when asked about his welfare and the varying answers I was told to say, “He travelled, He’s fine,” or fictional inventions of him being stationed in some country or another. I hated him when my mother’s hand would hover over the marital status check box on forms, unsure of her status. Then I would ask myself- wouldn’t it be better if he were dead? Wouldn’t it be easier to answer people when they asked of him instead of lying to hide what should be his shame and not mine? Therein lay the problem. It was his shame, yet no one acted like he was to blame. It was my mother who had sleepless nights pondering on her marital state; it was her name they carried about in family gatherings while they gossiped and not his.
I was eighteen when I brought up the idea of a divorce to my mother. A little more exposed to the ways of the world, I had seen and heard about many divorced couples. I felt it would be easier than the uncertainty that we lived in. But born, bred, and wedded in the Catholic Church, my mother decided to seek counsel first from the church as she would not do anything that would sever her relationship with her religion. It was at this juncture, while my family and I discussed with a priest in the parish house of St. Dominic’s, that I came to an epiphany. It was, of course, a truth that had been staring at me for most of my life, but it had never become so clear to me till that moment.
It struck me that everyone, including the priest, who knew the situation, could not regard it as I did. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t possibly see it as I did because they weren’t in my shoes. I was a witness, a spectator, a co-victim in it, and even if a few could relate through their own experiences, they couldn’t understand the despondency I attached to mine.
The simple truth was marriage, a true cultural and African marriage, despite being in a modern century, blessed in the church or registered in the court, did not favor women. On the other hand, men are given all the allowance they could ever need, their misbehaviors and irresponsible attitudes backed up with supposed reasons which most people, who this thought process has so corrupted, have embraced as the norm. If a man beats his wife, they say a true African man is correct in disciplining his wife, it was that way in the earlier days, and it is the way it should be. If he has a secret family or hidden children (children outside of wedlock), it is the wife’s fault for bearing him only daughters. If he cheats, you couldn’t possibly blame him because a true African man was not built for monogamy. He is, therefore, blameless in his actions because his apparent masculinity gives him leave to be.
Why, then, would I, a woman, want to enter into this proverbial bed of roses when it is so glaring at the injustice that awaits me? Why should I desire marriage? Yes, society expects it of me, and my religion states it as my duty. Every second, even by those it shouldn’t concern, I am reminded that my true and only purpose (apart from serving Him) is to procreate and submit to my other half. But what about the men, are they badgered and pestered as the women are? Are they taught and constantly reminded that they have a responsibility to fulfill to their wives and children, or are they given leave to use their masculinity to escape their responsibilities or behave as they please?
My views, at times when voiced, are mistaken as a Feminist rant, but that’s where most people are wrong. It’s simply a matter of self-preservation. I understand that marriage should be a mutual and respectful partnership between two people, and because life isn’t a fairytale, I know it definitely won’t be a bed of roses. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be a constant source of unhappiness, resentment, or heartache. My first view of marriage was far from happy before and after my father left. Though I am very aware that there are many successful marriages out there and thousands of good and responsible men, I still cannot picture myself taking that chance. I cannot put myself in a position where I could relive the same experience I have witnessed. Though this is my mindset right now, I still hope it changes in time because if other people could find happiness in it, I might as well.