People turn up their nose at you when you suggest anything remotely derogatory about your parents, especially your mother. This is understandable. Culture, religion, and morals forbid it. Your parents gave you life, how dare you think of them as anything other than the best? How dare you try to bite the finger that fed you?
Growing up, however, I loathed my parent’s union and constantly wished they would split up. Call me an insolent child, but I remember I constantly itched to ask my parents why they stayed with each other. I mean I had listened to their Nollywood-like romance story so many times. Love across borders. But I particularly wanted to ask my dad: How is it that you married my mother and she has been your “favourite” all this time…considering the wide gap in your personalities (he was domineering yet introverted, she was docile yet boisterous) and the continued disparity of your status (my dad was educated to tertiary level, my mum dropped out of secondary school)? What is the attraction? And to my mom, I wanted to ask: Why is it that you stayed with this man? How is it that you insist on denying yourself of so much just for this one man?
As a child, I noticed things, I read between lines, I analysed …and my instincts were usually almost always correct. The first thing I noticed about my parents was how my dad had to leave every day to work, but my mother would have to stay at home and complete several house chores, then supervised the ‘helps’.
The only times she went out was to go to the market, deliver lunch to my dad at his office, got to cultural meetings or go to church. And when she traveled it was always with my dad. She couldn’t go anywhere on her own for some reason. We had about 4 cars, yet, she never drove any. The drivers had to take her where she wanted to go. Basically, she had to ask my dad permission for everything, yet she never could say NO to him.
I recall a time she scored a role in the Women’s day drama production in church, and she had rehearsed her lines so many times. We were all looking forward to seeing her on stage, but then on Friday, just 2 days before the D-day, my dad woke up and realized he needed to visit the village. She packed her bags and traveled to the village with my dad. She had to go, so she could cook for him. God forbid he ate anything not cooked by his wife. God forbid he cooked for himself for just 2 bloody days. I will never forget how sour my mom’s face looked when she broke the news to us in her room. I also will not forget how hugely disappointed I was in my mom and what I perceived as a lack of backbone. It probably wasn’t a big deal, but I think that incident was a defining moment for me. It prompted certain vows I have made to myself since the time and shaped my views on a lot of things pertaining to life, femininity, love, relationships, and marriage.
Of course, I never got the chance to ask my dad the question I itched to ask before he passed on. I mean, I did ask him some other personal questions that had fed some of my insecurities at the time. I never got around to the one where he had to tell me why he married my mum at 15, demanded that she remain a housewife, refused her opportunities to start a business or upgrade herself professionally and just, for the lack of a better word, subdued her.
On the other hand, I found the opportunity to query my mother with those pressing questions. Growing up, I had already figured it all out on my own: My father ensured my mother was totally dependent on him financially, that way he controlled her and pulled at her strings as though she were a puppet. He abused her financially for years in the name of being a “traditional” man. But …it was still important to hear from the horse’s mouth. During one of our numerous interviews for a script, I am writing based on her life story, I asked her: “If after some years, you realized you were unhappy, why didn’t you leave?” She smiled, admitted to the lingering pain of abandoning her education so early on, also the dissatisfaction of forfeiting her dreams of being a fashion designer, then elaborated on how she was unable to save enough to leave with us and be able to take care of us as my dad would. “Staying with your father was a better option for you guys, so I muscled up and did it. I did it for the four of you”. Hearing her say those words, even though I already knew, broke me in so many ways. Why should a woman have to give up her life and endure years of financial abuse just so that she can give her children a better future?
Why am I reminiscing on all of these? Just this evening though I came across a post on Instagram (@itohanferguson) that read:
“My confession is I don’t love my husband of 10 years. He had a baby on me, constantly cheated on me and now he thinks everything is cool because I didn’t leave. Well, the gag is due to my living rent-free, I’ve been able to fix credit, save some money and now, I’m about to move out of town without him. His dick is little, his tongue trash, he broke and lie all the time. Why did I stay? I needed to come up. No bills for 4 years- hell yeah, I stayed. Now I’m over it. Adios MF”
Sure, the post explores quite a different plot from my mother’s, but it also points to the theme of financial abuse. A woman staying with a man she abhorred for financial security.
The way I see it, when you stay in an unfulfilling, unhappy or even (financially) abusive marriage for the sake of your children, the children you are staying for come to believe that relationships are experiences that entail suffering, pain, and even a slow death… and that messes them up even more. Likewise, while it’s scary to leave a relationship or marriage when it implies you will be broke afterward; especially if you have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, rest assured it is an easier feeling to deal with than your soul and spirit dying.
My point is this: Ladies, we need to equip ourselves financially so that we are never subdued in any way or trapped in a relationship or marriage that has run its course.