What She Said: At 16, My Dad’s Alcoholism Became My Problem

February 10, 2021

Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.

This week’s What She Said is a 26-year-old woman. She talks about losing her mum, feeling alienated by her sisters because they just didn’t understand her, and how being the last child made her dad’s drinking problem her responsibility.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I have strong memories from when I was two till when I was seven (my mum died when I was seven). Seven was my perfect number. With her alive, we were seven — my four siblings, my parents and I — and when she died, we became six. 

I had three older sisters and one brother, who was the second child. In primary school, I was close to Bisola, who was the fourth child, because we went to the same school. She was one year older than me, while the others were far older. My sister after Bisola was in secondary school — let’s call her Amina — and the eldest was in university. 

People used to think Bisola and I were twins, but we fought the most. She always tried to be domineering and would ask me to do this and that. I would be like, “Why?” We fought so much that my dad started using cane to separate us.

Area!

LOL. When Bisola was in Primary 4, she got a double promotion to Primary 6. And once she graduated to JSS 1, my dad yanked me out of primary school to join her.

Why do you think he did that?

It was money. After my mum died, he was depressed. We didn’t know this until five years later. He’d come home with drinks. He was also not getting as many contracts — he was a water engineer. My mum’s death made him lose a lot of opportunities because it was difficult for him to process it.

All through secondary school, Bisola and I did everything together, but we still fought.

Why?

Because she and my other sisters teased me a lot, especially about my ears. I had a small head and really wide ears. They called me satellite dish, elephant ears, MKO Abiola and all sorts of names. They would laugh about it, but it was painful and always made me cry. Then they’d give me food to make me shut up — I liked food, so you know how that went.

They also called me Yoyo, which was someone that was sluggish. I didn’t process things fast, couldn’t tell the time, or my left from right. And because I was so close in age with Bisola, I was constantly compared to her. Bisola was the popular fashionista — she wanted to even be a model but decided to become a fashion designer instead. It was so bad, people outside would not remember my name but call me Bisola. It was fucking annoying.

I feel you.

When I was done with secondary school in 2009, my now pregnant elder sister asked me to come live with her in Port Harcourt. I told her I’d rather join Amina in her university because she was doing ushering jobs and I wanted to do something to make money. At this point, Bisola and I were taking care of my dad, and it wasn’t so bad until she left for Port Harcourt.

What happened?

He started drinking, then started taking antidepressants. He said he needed it to sleep.

Were the drugs prescribed?

No. My brother mentioned he had always taken them, but it got worse. For two years, I took care of my dad because I didn’t get into uni or start ushering. My eldest sister’s husband had told her, “Oh she’s too young. She shouldn’t do ushering.” And that was it.

My dad did not get any better during this period. He started using all his money to buy alcohol. If my sis sent us money to take care of things in the house, he’d spend it on alcohol. I have some spots on my legs from using bad water because he spent the money he was to use to get a water tank on drinks. 

Each time this happened, they’d call me to ask what was going on in the house. I became the check and balance. They’d call me to figure out what was going on in the house. But this was telling on me. My dad was aggressive. His insults are not shere shere. They would hit you like missiles.

After some time, my brother made matters worse. He’d come home sluggish and eat a lot of food, and I’d have to clean up after them. Everyone thought it was weed, but we never found out the cause. Before then he was a teacher, then suddenly, nothing.

I had to find ways to start keeping the money from them. 

What’s the most ridiculous place you had to hide money?

In my panties, and my brother still took it.

Sorry, what?

LMAO. I was sleeping. I knew my brother had collected it, so I went to get it back.

One particular time, I joined an ajo group to save for end of the year clothes. I was the accountant keeping everyone’s money, and soon after, I noticed the money my dad was giving me to buy drugs really looked like some of the notes I had, but I ignored it. When it was time to distribute the money, turns out about ₦5k was missing.

It got so bad that I became underweight. The ton of mental stress was crazy.

That sounds painful.

I thought of a way out and found the church. I’d stay in church from mornings till evenings.

Another way out for me was Facebook. I became popular on Facebook and even got a boyfriend. We started dating when I was 17 and met in person when I got into uni at 18.

When I finally entered school, I thought that would be the relief I’d been looking for, but it wasn’t. I was living with Amina, who was a post-graduate then, and my sisters would call me to go home every fucking time. I was expected to be home every weekend. 

On weekends, I’d leave for home, buy foodstuff, cook, clean, come back two weeks later, the house is a mess, maggots in the pots, I’d clean, cook, repeat. 

My sisters all helped somehow. Amina would go home once in a while. My eldest sister handled the health bills of my dad and brother — which got to millions — and always sent us money. But I was the one expected to always be physically present.

Did you ever push back?

I did in my first year in uni, and it wasn’t even for this. I got to Amina’s hostel at 9 p.m. and she said I was joining bad gang. I asked what that was supposed to mean. I had to call my eldest sister who said she’d talk to her.

I hated Amina when we were kids, but we bonded when we started living together. We had Karaoke nights, went out… Still, she and everyone else would always ask me to go home to look after my dad and brother. I pretty much didn’t have a social life outside them.

Then what happened?

I started rebelling in 300L when I got into a separate hostel. If they asked me to go home, I told them I was writing tests or exams. 

We stan a rebellious youth.

After uni, you’d think these issues would have died down because of work or something, but they didn’t. That’s when I realised they did not take me seriously. At some point, I broke down when they called me to go again. This time, my dad had gotten drunk and someone found him on the streets. He called my sister, who called me to go because she was busy. I cried that I couldn’t go, and my boyfriend took the phone and had to tell Amina that I couldn’t do it.

Was anything done to help your dad?

Apart from hospitals, my uncles came up with all sorts of spiritual things to do. They’d ask for goats and this and that. They think my dad being an alcoholic is my grandma’s fault and not my mother’s death. All of the women in my dad’s family have been labelled witches. If my grandma dies, she’d transfer her powers to one of my dad’s sisters. Even though they were the ones who supported us when things got really bad. The one that sold pepper gave us foodstuff when we had nothing to eat. Another sent money. But no, they are witches.

What was the origin of these allegations?

My mum was pregnant when she married my dad, and my grandma did not like her. She wanted him to marry someone she had arranged. For some reason, when they got married, my dad took in his four siblings and my grandma to live in the same mini flat that we did, and it was unbearable. Sometimes they’d wake up and find a calabash by the bed. They’d trace it to my grandma. A lot was going on then. Even my dad’s siblings did not respect my mum. One of his sisters slapped her once. My dad is quite spiritual and has said he had “dreams” about my grandma.

I always wondered why my mum put up with all that, but my parents were in love. He was 24 and she was 23 when they got married. After some time, she built a house and we moved away. I don’t think my grandma ever forgave her for that. She took her favourite son from her. I was four when we moved.

Till now, my dad’s family thinks my grandma is the problem.

Did things change after some time?

I had to fight for it. Three major things happened. First, my uncle’s wife died, and my dad started drinking in the hospital. My sister called and asked where I was. I said, “I’m at work.” She asked me to leave because my dad was drunk and misbehaving. I was like, “I’m at Berger, you know the traffic in Lagos, and you’re telling me to leave my office…” I told her it was too sudden and didn’t go.

The second time, something happened to him and they called me because I had mentioned I was working from home. I went on the family group chat to tell them that they don’t understand me and only have me around to take care of my dad. Why did they expect me to always drop whatever I was doing to go home? I told them I had my life to live. They insulted me and called me ungrateful.

The last time I refused to go home, I did another group chat rant and told them they don’t see me as valuable or appreciate me. No one ever asked me, “Sis, what are you doing right now? Where are you working? What do you need?”

If you don’t care it’s fine, but coming to impose your needs on me? I was done taking it. I left the group chat. Right after, my elder called to insult me. She insulted my job, said I kept saying I was working, but it wasn’t reflecting on myself or on them. My other sisters had achieved way more when they were my age, so what was I really doing with my life.

For some time I was hurt by this but not surprised. Whatever they said, they don’t call me now to go home and I don’t care what they have to say.

For more stories like this, check out our #WhatSheSaid .

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