“One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.”- Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
To a child, family is everything; his refuge from the storms of life, his comfort in times of pain, his source of endless happiness. Uncles, aunts, all are kind and full of smiles, always handy with a sweet or two, kind words to say, a tickle here and there; everyone is kind and loving to the child of a family member. Sadly, by the time this child grows to be an adult, this beautiful, simple, loving construct of family is usually gone and replaced by disillusionment, apathy and in extreme cases: distrust. If the child is lucky, this stops with extended family and the child can remain fully trusting of close nuclear family members, in extreme cases, by the onset of adulthood, this once much-loved child is an isolated, paranoid adult with misgivings about everyone including his/her own siblings. Sad it may be, but true it is. I’ve seen it happen several times over.
The deconstruction of the original, loving family image usually occurs as a result of several different driving factors. For one, adults act differently to you as you grow older. Everyone loves a young, innocent, cute child. Even strangers will play with a random baby off the street making such remarks as “Ooooh! What a cute baby!” or “Awwwww, he looks adorable”. But with puberty comes loss of innocence, “cuteness”, and “adorability”. No one offers to carry the brooding 11year old girl sitting in the corner. And by the time the final teen years are reached, most people don’t know who the child is really. He/she becomes a decoration in the home of the parents. Uncles, aunts simply know you as “Brother Tunde’s Son” or “Doctors daughter”. Then when they see you, they ask silly questions like “Are you the one that won the scholarship to covenant?” or “Youre brother Emeka’s son, the one going to Unilag abi?” Like you have no name, no identity, save for the school you attend or the achievements of which your parents speak the most. This happens to most of us to one degree or the other and I guess, in many ways it is understandable; every family member can’t be expected to know everything about everyone else.
But nothing completely shatters the sheltered family image that most of us have like the sudden death of a parent. See, parents (good ones anyway) are what I call the “Family Bullshit Dam (FBS)” to their children. They keep all the external family bullshit away from their children by dealing with it themselves and not letting their children become unduly biased against or hateful of anyone. This is usually the job of the father. Sadly, when the FBS passes on, all this pent-up, historical bullshit comes crashing down on those left behind and in some cases, the remnants of the family drown in it. Sometimes, the fathers themselves are the source of the bullshit: the direct result of keeping secrets that shouldn’t really be kept for example: illegitimate children showing up at funerals are now common for many Nigerian families – but that’s not what I refer to today.
Today I’m writing about internal family dynamics; the uncles that gave insult to your mother and as such became persona non grata, the uncle that your mother inadvertently offended, the aunt that refused to help your dad in a time of severe need, those quarrels between your mother and her sisters you never knew about, the unspoken feud between the family of your father and mother, simple misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion and became lifelong vendettas….all those things that shouldn’t come into play when the main protagonists make an unexpected exit from the stage of life, but still, somehow, do because some ‘adults’ cannot let things go. They must punish the children for the sins of the father, real or imagined.
I personally experienced this, having lost both parents last year, I initially thought the entire family (at least most of it, anyway) would rally around us – me and my brothers and help till we were stable again, being orphans and all. Oh, how wrong I was! At first yes, there was the perfunctory eye service from all corners, people overcome with emotion promising things they could not deliver, saying we could count on them…yeah….right… This was just the calm before the bullshit storm and its associated flood.
I cannot go into the details of all that has transpired so far, that would be out of place and quick frankly, stupid of me. But I can safely say that we are well into the bullshit tsunami now and all the creatures are showing their true natures. Of course, there are those family members that have done a lot for us and to whom I will be eternally grateful. I cannot thank them enough, for they have gone well and beyond the call of duty. The sad thing is that there are so few of them. Judging by the sheers quantity of siblings and half-siblings my parents have, I imagined that we would have more care at our disposal, sadly not. Till today I and my brothers are yet to receive a phone call from some of these siblings. I don’t understand…how can your sibling and his/her spouse both die and yet you feel no obligation to even call the children they left behind for well over a year? Do you not fear God? Even beyond the apathy and lack of care, which I can deal with, it now appears some family members have actively started seeking to undermine us and our attempts to be something more than just mediocre. That is the biggest shock of all.
I’m not sure why I decided to write this today, it being father’s day and all, a day to celebrate and cherish family. I guess it’s because I miss my father deeply and I wish he were here to tell me who I could trust, what the history behind this apparent animosity and apathy is, what to do, how to handle it. In many ways I’m not sure what to do about it. I’ve never been much of a people person and my natural instinct is to isolate and insulate myself from people. But I don’t want to do that, I can’t. My elder brother and I are our own men now and have to speak with one voice, march to one beat, heading in the same direction toward a common goal. I’ve sworn to myself, that I will never let anything come between us. Anything. But in order to do that I need to be able to make decisions about things and people, carry my own weight, know how to handle the complex situations that have been left behind in the aftermath of our parents demise. I miss my father’s wise counsel and the calm manner with which he handled things which I described in my father’s day post last year.
If there is anything to take away from this post today, I guess it’s the need for children to know where the family skeletons lie, where pitfalls exist and where dangers lurk. I understand that parents have a need to shelter their children from the bullshit of life but personally I feel that once a child is old enough to go to war, drink alcohol and have children of their own, it’s time to break them in. Gradually let them know who can be trusted, what transpired before, not with malice or bias but simply for them to know and understand. The last thing you want when you’re sailing your ship of life through a storm after your captains death is to have a saboteur on board.
HAPPY FATHERS DAY.
~Oh a few things: the final chapter of The Legend of Bangkok will be up this week. Sorry for the long delay. Also, I’d like to thank those of you that saw fit to nominate this blog for the Nigerian Blog awards thingy. Thanks. ~