‘Good morning Franca.’ Dolapo said as she walked briskly behind her boss. They were heading towards Franca’s home office located on the left wing of the duplex where her boss lived.
‘Morning Dolapo. Do we have a letter in the story collection box?’
‘Yes, ma’am. One came in this morning.’
Franca entered her office and settled into a black high chair behind a large mahogany table. She turned to her P.A.
‘Can I see it?’
Dolapo reached into her pressboard file folder and brought out some sheets of clean printed papers.
‘Here they are ma’am.’ Dolapo said, dropping them on the table. ‘We should expect more before the end of today.’
‘Thank you Dolapo. While I go through it, could you get me a cup of coffee and set up a skype meeting with the editor and creative director. I think we have enough stories for this month’s issue of our story magazine.’
‘I’ll get to it right away ma’am.’
Franca reclined on her chair and began to read…
I’m staring at a picture I took with my brother and I am asking myself, ‘how did things get so bad for us?’
This particular photograph aroused memories I’ll forever cherish in my heart. It was the first time I saw my elder brother really laugh.
We’d taken that photograph at his convocation ceremony some ten years ago. Caleb had danced with reckless abandon outside the university’s auditorium. I could not believe what my eyes saw that day. His beautiful girlfriend, Tomi joined us later on the open field and the pair had danced and laughed so hard I couldn’t resist joining in.
This was the boy mum had cried her eyes out for when she found a suicide note under his pillow. Caleb had said he never meant the words. Mum hadn’t believed, not with the way he’d been keeping to himself and walking around the house like an eerie ghost.
Well, I knew why Caleb was excited that day. It was the only event that the control freak of my family didn’t attend. My parents had travelled out of the country to attend a wedding and I must confess, to have dad absent from our lives that day was like unclogging long forgotten blocked pipes. At least for once, we got to do life on our terms.
We left campus that day for a small party organized by some of Caleb’s classmates. Afterwards, we drove to a club where we stayed up all night drinking and partying.
My brother’s laughter drove chills to my bones. It was a laughter of freedom, howbeit short-lived. He got so drunk that he ran round the hall shouting,
‘Dear cruel father, please do not ever return from your trip. Just stay there o!’
Tomi and I had to drag him out of the club early the next morning. The guy almost relieved himself on my face! Urgh!
We returned to default mode the following day. Dad arrived and immediately began to outline the plan he had made for my brother’s future. It was also the day the tiny spark left in my brother’s eyes was snuffed out.
It’s been ten years since Caleb graduated from the university. My brother turned out a depressed alcohol addict. I wondered if his life would have been different had he married Tomi. Of course he couldn’t marry her because my father disapproved of their relationship. Dad wanted to strengthen his relationship with his business partner, Deacon Shobowale and when the deacon came with his daughter to our house, dad immediately saw a big opening. He manipulated the solemnization of a marriage between my brother and the deacon’s daughter that didn’t last three years. You’d think this only happen in movies right?
My brother lived to please my father. As much as he hated the woman dad eventually made him marry, he had to call off the relationship with Tomi. I watched my brother cry like a baby the day he finally let her go. Mum and I felt really bad but there was nothing we could do. None of us was bold enough to confront my father.
Let me put this down for a fact. My father is a narcissist. Dad ran our lives according to his terms. Our thoughts mattered only as long as they aligned with his goals. Oh! I watched my mother suffer in silence. It was true we never saw him beat her, but we were aware of his manipulations. How many times have I seen my mother sit on a slab at the back of the house with her face covered in tears?
I remembered when dad was promoted head of operations at the company where he worked, he suddenly disapproved of my mother’s long term friends.
‘Why are you hanging around with chickens when you can fly with eagles? How can you move with women like that?’ Dad had cautioned her one evening after her best friends left the house. I had been upset that day. For goodness sake, those women had been coming to our house for more than five years. Couldn’t he see how much they had affected my mother’s life positively?
I knew my mother adored those women. I noticed how excited she was whenever she was alone with them. They loved her too. Several times, they organized prayer meetings with her. They also encouraged her during the period my brother stopped talking to everyone except our dog. Believe me, it was the wierdest thing I’d ever seen.
Dad said he didn’t want to see the poor and ‘uneducated’ women around my mother anymore. He’d gone ahead to get new friends for her. How he did that I don’t know. But I didn’t like them. Yeah, they were members of my church too. I didn’t care that one of them was a Bank manager and the other the COO of a Tech firm. It was so hard for mum to build friendship with them but she dared not go against her husband. Once when they visited and I had gone to my parents room to inform my mum about their arrival, she had hissed and said she was not feeling too well. One glance from my father and she had jumped out of bed.
When I told Dad I wanted to pursue a course in finance, Dad frowned and in a gentle voice said it wasn’t going to happen. I was going to study medicine and his decision was final. Dad pushed until I got admitted into the college of medicine of a renowned private university.
‘I love you so much Arike.’ Dad would say several times. ‘I sold two of my landed properties to pay your heavy school fees. I was supposed to get a new car and complete the construction on the only land I have left but I said to myself, The future of my children must come first. I’d rather go hungry if it would mean giving my children the best education. Do you know much it takes to fund a course in medicine in a school like yours? My dear daughter, I want the best for you.’
I hated when he said those words. I felt like an artifact in a museum. Caleb and I were my father’s prized possession. Growing up, Dad would make us stand for hours until we memorized large portions of bible verses just so we could win prizes in church. I didn’t have a problem with that. I was an intelligent child with a quick memory. I took all the prizes every time and I always noticed a faint smile on my father’s face whenever the Pastor stood on the pulpit to say;
‘Bro Tunde Adelaja’s daughter has such a brilliant mind’.
Or when the congregation rose to give a thunderous applause at the end of my presentation.
My brother always got the brunt of dad’s unexpressed anger. Caleb just couldn’t keep a verse in his head and I think it was out of fear more than his inability to retain words for long. That fear followed my brother into adulthood.
Yes, people say fathers are not perfect because like every other human, they have their flaws…but have we ever talked about toxic parents?
My father almost ruined my life like he did my brother’s. In my third year as a medical student, I slipped into depression that rendered me numb. Every time I opened my book to read, I saw my father’s face on every page of the book. He’d warn me not to disappoint him. He’d remind me the good life he gave up for my sake. I was scared to death!
I landed in the hospital few weeks to my MBBS exam. My roommate had found me unconscious on the floor.
While I was still in the hospital, two guys showed up by my bedside and ministered Christ to me. For the first time I was filled with hope.
But the night I was discharged, I received a mail from my dad.
My beloved daughter,
I was awarded Steward of the Year and you won’t believe that the church workers published a book of appreciation for my relentless service to the church. They said I had raised my chidren better than most parents did. The Pastor said you were going to be a fantastic doctor and I assured him I would see to it that you became one. Every night, I dream of your induction ceremony. Dr Arike Adelaja. How sweet. I know you will not disappoint me.
I cried as I read it that night. Why couldn’t the Pastor discern the true situation in my family? Weren’t Pastors supposed to see with the eyes of the spirit? How I wished the congregation had seen my father dip my brother’s hands in hot water for missing the answers to some of the questions in the bible quiz in church. What about the time my father locked me up in a dark room for five days because it was reported that I fought with a teenager in church and with tears in his eyes, my father had said;
‘Arike what have I done to deserve this? Why do you want to ruin my reputation? I poured my life into you. You will not bring shame upon this family. ‘
He hadn’t even listened to my side of the story, not even when I tried to explain that I didn’t hit the girl even though she kept thowing punches at me. I had only covered my face to prevent the blows from getting into my eyes.
Please explain to me, How does a father splash pepper into the eyes of his son? How can a husband give his wife such cold treatment until she satisfies his selfish demands?
I dropped out of medical school for my sanity. It was the year after Caleb graduated from school. I had to do it before the school got the chance to kick me out. When I left, I cried for joy.
I said to myself. I’d start again and this time I would not to be controlled by my father. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought. For several weeks, I couldn’t make a move. My brain was still in great torments and dropping out of school didn’t change anything. I was clueless about where to proceed. The dark clouds still mounted guard over my heart.
I was confused. The guys who had preached to me said Jesus would rescue me from this gloomy state. Why was I still like feeling this?
I felt abandoned. I wanted to believe Christianity was a scam, but somewhere in my heart I knew it was real. I knew I had a heavenly Father who loved me and I was determined to build a relationship with him.
Mum didn’t want me to return home. She asked me to move in with her younger sister. My dear aunt Patricia was a busy trader and working in her supermarket was a good distraction. Just when I had started to get a hang on life, I lost control again when I received a mail from dad.
You have disappointed me, I don’t want to have anything to do with you again.
The dark clouds returned. I felt like I would choke to death and at a point I couldn’t breathe well. Aunt Patricia had to give me some anti-depressant tablets. Lol…this was me who thought I could finally call my father’s words bluff.
My aunt and my coz, Toyosi stayed by my side, praying and encouraging me to move on. I had prayer sessions with Toyosi and great bible study time with my aunt.
One day, I was scrolling down my mailbox when I saw an unread message from my father. Before I could open it, Toyosi had snatched the phone from my hand and deleted the message.
‘Every time you read his messages, you suffer a relapse.’ Toyosi started. ‘This can’t keep happening Arike. I know he is your father but for now I think you should block his contact and mail address until you are able to sort your life out.’
Interesingly, I made progress after I took that step.
Franca, I finally got into another school to study economics and you won’t believe this, for four years I didn’t speak with my Father and I didn’t miss him. Mum was there all those years, paying my fees and ensuring I was comfortable.
I graduated with a first class. I was so happy! I sent a text to my father confident that he’ll no longer be mad at me since I had a beautiful result. Dad responded two days later.
Every morning when I wake up, I can’t get over the fact that my own daughter treated me so badly. I keep asking myself what I’d done to deserve such unfair treatment. I have cried, prayed, pondered. If you really want me to happy, you’d go back to finish your medical programme. I am your father and obedience is the least I can get from you.
I cried again but I knew the truth. Dad would never be satisfied. There’d always be one another demand after another.
Franca, here was where a serious problem arose. I met a good man (I’m crying as I write this). His name is Busayo. I met him during my Youth service. Oh that guy was a good man. He loved God and helped me grow, not just in my relationship with God but in other areas of my life…but I was afraid he’d control me.
I had no idea at that time that my father’s attitude had affected the way I reasoned. I was becoming toxic without realizing it. Busayo stood by me patiently but I kept pushing him away.
Franca, there is so much a man can take. I reacted to everything he said. I wanted him to do my bidding. There was no trust. It was so bad that the relationship had to end. Busayo said this to me before we parted ways, ‘I love you very much Arike but this relationship is draining me out. It’s becoming toxic. You need help. Your past still has a great hold over your life. ‘
I had shouted back at him before walking away. ‘I am a daughter of God! I don’t have a past.’
Guess what? I jumped into the arms of another man who treated me worse than my father. It was a familiar territory to me and even though he was manipulating me, I couldn’t exactly say why I didn’t leave the relationship. I felt like I needed him to survive.
One day we had a fight and when he wouldn’t talk to me for days, I went to him, pleading for his forgiveness.
‘But you said you loved me.’ I said, tears welling up my eyes. ‘Why are you treating me like this?’
He smiled and said, ‘Have I ever opened my mouth to say I love you? I don’t love you Arike. I can’t have a woman disobey my orders. You think you are that important to me?’
And for another week, he refused picking my calls and replying my texts. When he finally came around, he said,
‘Can we do bible study together?’
I got angry. He came to my house with presents and loads of romantic words on his lips. I was captivated. We spent time together laughing and cooking together. Before he left my house, he stopped at the entrance and looked at me.
‘Next time, just do whatever I tell you to do. Is that too much to ask?’
It was one morning as I cried to God n frustration that a light shone in my mind and I saw myself moving in a circle without making any progress. It made more sense when shortly after that day, I travelled to Akure to vist my brother.
Yeah, Caleb is better now! He has stopped drinking and looks happier. He no longer works for my father’s brother and now teaches mathematics in a top-notch secondary school (I’m glad!)
‘Since my wife left with my kid, it’s been difficult but Jesus has been helping through my pains.’ Caleb started. ‘I’ve been spending time in God’s word and I’m seeing a therapist too. Dr Ndubuisi is a Christian and she knows her onions. You should see her too.’
My brother looked at me with compassion in his eyes. ‘Arike, when a pattern keeps reoccurring, It’s wise to take deliberate steps to address and deal with it. There is a lot you might not know that is stored up in your subconscious. When Dr Ndubuisi started asking me questions I didn’t even know existed, my body vibrated with so much anger and hatred for dad. It gave me directions on the scriptures I needed to study more on and how to pray better. My mind feels so free Arike. It was in the process I discovered I had a passion to impact knowledge into the lives of young people.’
Tears filled my eyes as I took the business card of the therapist from him.
Caleb squeezed my hands. ‘I think you should break up with your guy. From what you have told me, you are comfortable with him because that’s the only life you’ve known. There is more girl. I want to love my wife as Christ loves the church and not have my buried pains affect her. I want my kids to see in me as a reflection of the love God has for them. You deserve God’s best. Get that man out of your life as quickly as you can!’
I ended my relationship and deleted his number and everything that reminded me of him. Yeah, I fell into bouts of depression but I picked up quickly, thanks to the prayer meetings with my brother and his close friends.
Franca, I love my father and I’ve been praying for him since I moved in to my brother’s place. My brother’s friend said I need to experience the love of my heavenly Father. I don’t know what that meams, but I’m ready to learn.
There are days like today when I go down memory lane and search for sweet moments with my father. I always come up empty.
I have to end this story here. It’s almost time for my first therapy session. Franca, The future is bright for me. I know God has a great plan for my life and I will fulfil it. I am marvelously helped of the Lord. I believe that with all of my heart.