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.
When was the first moment you realised your father wasn’t there?
Gosh. That’s a tough one.
I grew into the realisation that I had a father but he was gone. At first, I didn’t understand what “gone” meant, but over time, I found out he’d died way before I can remember. I’m not sure there’s one specific moment when I was told. It’s just something I knew as I started becoming aware of what was going on around me as a child. But I didn’t feel like I was missing much because my mum was very present, and so were her sister and my grandparents. It was a strong family unit.
Did you ever have to ask what happened to him?
Yes, at different times.
The first time was in primary six — I remember because I was just about to graduate from primary school. I was nine or ten. My mum was showing me old pictures when we got to a selection of his pictures. I was in pretty much all of his pictures. He’d carry me in his arms whether it was at a wedding, in his studio, or on the road somewhere. I was always in his arms.
Usually, my mum would quickly hide or dodge anything that was remotely about him so I wouldn’t see. And I’d pretend not to notice. This time, I saw her hesitate, but she didn’t hide the pictures, so it was the perfect opportunity to ask, “What happened to him?” I still remember my small voice saying those words as we sat together in her bedroom, trying hard to be brave for whatever response I got.
And what did she say?
She said, “He loved God so much, he had to go be with him. But it was an accident”. She didn’t say anything else, and I was too scared to push.
But sometime in secondary school, I asked my grandma about the accident, and she said she didn’t want me thinking about that. She told me a bit about him, how much he loved me and was always happiest when he was with me. I know the stories were supposed to make me feel better, but I hated them. I hated that I had no memory of this man.
I’d look at his picture and couldn’t even imagine his voice, what he felt or behaved like. But there I was in his arms, smiling up at him and him smiling back at little me. I don’t remember that interaction. All I have is third-party information. It made me so angry.
Did your relationship with your mum help?
My mum has always been there for me, but she’s even more affected by his death than I am. She knew him for years, and they’d only been married for about a year when he died. Sometimes, I think I have to put aside figuring out my own little grief to be a source of comfort to her. She never remarried, and she barely ever dates, so it’s just me and her against the world. We support each other.
As a child, she did her best and sought help from her own family to take care of me, so where she struggled emotionally, they were there to make sure I was okay. I appreciate that she was that forward-thinking. She also used to ask me how I was doing all the time, almost too much.
Her care made me feel secure during my early years. So I’d say yes, my relationship with her helped.
How did other people’s relationships with their fathers make you feel?
Interestingly, most of my friends had terrible relationships with their fathers. One of them has a father who married another wife and treated her and her mum badly, another one’s mum never married her father so she’d only see him like once a year when he visited from the States, and one’s father has several wives and baby mamas.
So I guess I’m in perfect company. And I’ve been friends with these guys since secondary school.
Is it something you ever discuss, how you all have absent fathers one way or the other?
We almost never do. We focus on aspects of our lives that exist: our strong mothers, other healthy relationships we’ve managed to build, money, and so on.
So did you ever find out how he died?
My mother told me after I graduated from college years ago. He was killed in a money-related fight, but the killer was never found despite years of investigation. I cried for days when she finally told me; it was like he’d just died. He looked like such a beautiful and gentle man in his photos. I couldn’t imagine him dying so violently.
I can’t say how, sorry.
And he left everything to me. He was a music producer and businessman, and he was pretty successful. He was smart enough to draw up a will years before he died, and he signed everything over to me. I live a very comfortable life today because of him. It’s so bittersweet because I never knew him, yet here I am, benefiting from him.
Would you say you’re still affected by his death today?
I can’t escape it.
He was popular. So when I go out, once people learn who I am, they feel the need to talk about him. They share how they knew him, what he was like, how amazing he was. But I never knew him, so it’s like, “How nice. Here’s another stranger who knows more about my father than I ever will”. People even feel the need to ask me what it’s like to have a father like him.
Sigh. How do you get past that?
I’ve become a lot more private in the last couple of years. I stay away from the Nigerian and Ghanaian social scene and focus on my work as an investor. My life is just me, my mum and my few friends now.
It’s hard not to think about my father at all since I help my mum manage his legacy, but I try not to. I also don’t look at his pictures anymore because I’m in 90% of them. They remind me of how much he wanted to be in my life but never got a chance to, and also, how much of his last years I spent in his company yet I don’t even remember.
It seems small, but every time I think about it, I can’t seem to process it without breaking down. My therapist says it’s a barrier in my psyche.
I’m so sorry. Did you have a father figure growing up?
Oh, my granddaddy was my father. He was everything, God rest his soul. He was such a steadying presence in my life. I’d say he’s the reason why I never had to miss my dad. He attended open days on my mum’s behalf a lot. He was so warm and would play with me when I was a child. All my friends loved him.
My grandmother too was something of a father figure to me because she was so firm — the disciplinarian of the house. These are my mum’s parents, by the way. My dad’s parents came and went too. I don’t think I missed much in the way of parenting.
Would you say your feelings about your father affected your romantic relationships?
In a way. I’m afraid to be vulnerable. My therapist links it to the fact that I can’t process my relationship with my father in a healthy way.
I’m way too guarded, so many of my relationships fizzle out after a while. I’m currently in one, and it’s already getting to the part where we have little to talk about. It’s been about eight months, but I can’t seem to open my heart beyond sex, romantic gestures and mundane conversations. Then again, is there supposed to be something more beyond that? Maybe I’m not the only problem.
When did you realise you had to get therapy?
While in college at SOAS.
I was so far away from my family and drowning in depression. I had no interest in studying the art history I’d got in for; no interest in anything at all, TBH. I had no idea what I was passionate about. It’ll break my mum’s heart, but I was drunk, high and in bed for most of my three years there.
Once I’d graduated and had to return to Accra, a friend of mine suggested a therapist. When I first met one sometime in 2014, I wasn’t really thinking about my dad. But he ended up coming up at the first session, as part of what makes me sad or angry.
What’s one thing that gives you joy despite it all?
How lucky I am to have a father who cares, even from the grave.
My mum always said he loved me so much while he was alive, she’s sure he’s watching over me as my guardian angel now; giving God a tough time every time I have the slightest inconvenience.
And she may be right because I’m living a good life.