Sunken Ships is a Zikoko series that explores the how and why of the end of all relationships — familial, romantic or just good old friendships.
Aminat (21) grew up with a dad who adored her, but things quickly changed when he lost his job. In this week’s Sunken Ships, she talks to us about the decline of their relationship and how she bears so much guilt for the state of their relationship when he died.
Tell me about your relationship with your dad growing up
Aminat: My dad and I looked alike a lot. Add the fact that I was also the first child of four, I was my dad’s princess, and he adored me. He worked at Shell and travelled a lot, so I’d see him once every three months. But the time we’d spend together was so good, I’ll use it to console myself till the next time he came home. Whenever he’d come around, he’d bring toys and snacks for me from his trip and was always ready to teach me stuff. I don’t like to talk about it, but I can take apart anything electrical with the right set of tools. He was a mechanical engineer who went into electrical engineering, so he knew how a lot of things worked.
My dad is the reason I’m currently a writer. The first time I wrote something as a child, he decided I would get published. He started making calls and told me if I finished anything, I should bring it to him. I never finished that book. He taught me a lot of things — how to unscrew a socket, the quadratic formula and how much trust to give to men — but the most important is to be self-aware, because he wasn’t.
When did things start getting bad?
Aminat: A lot of things happened to ruin our relationship, but it all started when he decided to quit his job at Shell and go out on his own as a contractor. He got a contract with the Kwara state government, so I went from seeing him once in three months to once in six. He was in Abuja while the rest of the family was in Lagos, so he wasn’t around for any of the important events of my childhood — my primary school graduation, when I got into secondary school, none of that. Throughout JSS 1 and 2, I never saw my dad.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, one day when I was 12, my mum told me we were moving to Abuja. I almost ran mad. I grew up in Lagos and had lived there all my life. How could they just uproot me from everything I’d ever known, to a state so far from everyone I’d known? I was livid. Apparently, he’d gotten another contract in Abuja and wanted us to be together as a family — he’d come home one day and our last born called him “uncle” instead of daddy. After twelve years, he wanted to do family man. I was annoyed.
How was moving to Abuja like?
Aminat: Horrible. I was watching our whole family dynamic scatter before my very eyes.
Aminat: First of all, when I was 13 years old, he decided he wanted to be a dutiful Muslim. Shey it’s supposed to be a personal journey? But no, he roped us all into his mess. He started harping on praying five times a day and even transferred my siblings and I to Islamic schools.
Were you Muslims before?
Aminat: We were, but the calm ones. My mum was raised Christian and only converted because she married my dad, so she was lax with it. The new lifestyle was very different for me. He even banned music in the house. Me that grew up listening to Brandy, Celine Dion and Westlife? I couldn’t take it. I’d use my mum’s phone to go on YouTube and when he wasn’t around, I’d watch MTV on television. It was hard because between him and Islamic school, I felt guilty listening to music, but I loved it too much to care.
So sorry about that
Aminat: It’s okay. It’s funny because that same year, we found out Mr “best in religion” was spending money on a woman in Abuja all the while my mother was being a good wife in Lagos.
Ah. How did your mum react?
Aminat: She was livid. I don’t know how she found the woman’s name, but she made me search for her on Facebook and stole her number from my dad’s phone. While all this was going on, she didn’t once give my dad the impression that she knew.
Three days after she found out, she called the woman and shouted at her. The woman kept trying to justify it that, as a Muslim, my dad could marry four wives. My mother told the woman she’d kill her if she comes near her or her children. That was the last I heard about that woman.
Did your dad find out about the call?
Aminat: When he came back from work that day, he asked for his food. My mum told him she doesn’t give food to cheats. Once she said that, I ushered all my siblings to their rooms. Thank God I did because my mother started to shout soon after: “I was trying to be a good person in Lagos, but look at you. Abi you think I didn’t have opportunities to cheat? Don’t you have self-control? If you want to marry, marry, but don’t expect me to sit here and take you disrespecting me.” I can never forget the sound of the slap my mother gave him after her speech.
That night, my dad didn’t sleep in the house, and the next day, his family members came to beg my mother. It was a whole thing because, in Abuja, we lived in an estate, so our neighbours could hear all the commotion. People kept telling her to think of the children, but she said he should’ve thought of them too before he cheated.
Did she leave?
Aminat: No, she didn’t. Initially, she acted like she would, but then, my dad fell sick, and she stayed to take care of him. He was in the hospital for two weeks before they took him to the village for a month. During this time, someone on his team stole his contract. He got frustrated and took it out on us, me most especially.
Aminat: Well, because we didn’t have money, I couldn’t go to school for two years. I was a teenager full of angst stuck with a man full of anger. I’d talk back at him, and he’d beat me, sometimes, till I bled. I was thinking of killing myself at this time, so after he’d hit me for doing something, I’d do something worse. In my mind, if I couldn’t kill myself, maybe he could. Gone was the man who took me out to Shoprite so we could spend time together.
I’m so sorry. Did it ever get better?
Aminat: Not at all. For the longest time, I thought it was my fault for not being the perfect daughter he wanted, but after a lot of thinking and therapy, I realised it wasn’t me. I was a child and he was the adult. He should have known better than to punish me for things that weren’t my fault. My dad wasn’t a very good father. That’s why when he fell sick again in 2021, I wasn’t really bothered.
What was wrong with him?
Aminat: He had liver problems, but for a while, instead of going to the hospital, he’d stay at home drinking agbo.
I was in school when he was admitted in a hospital, and my family kept the severity of his sickness from me. I forgot they lie a lot. He died a couple of weeks after, and they didn’t tell me.
How did you find out?
Aminat: I was scrolling through WhatsApp statuses when I saw a picture of my dad. The post said, “May heaven be your abode”, and I wanted to go crazy. When I texted my uncle who’d posted it on his status, he kept telling me things like I should take it easy and be calm, God knows best. I thought he was lying, so I called my mum. When she didn’t pick my calls, it clicked. Since my dad was a Muslim, she was already preparing for his burial.
Why did they keep it from you?
Aminat: My mum didn’t want it to disturb my education. I couldn’t even attend his burial because I was writing exams.
I’m so sorry
Aminat: It’s been a year since he died and it doesn’t really feel real a lot of times. I feel bad for not going to visit him in the hospital before he died. I didn’t see him for up to six months before he died, and I don’t think I could ever forgive myself for that.
In addition to this guilt, I carry around so much sadness. As much as he was terrible to me as a teenager, he was an amazing dad when I was a child. So when I mourn him, I mourn that version of him. But with all the inner healing I’m trying to do, I’m actively working to not be like him.