I got married earlier this year and per tradition, my father was supposed to receive the marriage items, especially the drinks and my dowry. This was a day I looked forward to with expectation and excitement. I was happy that my father would be honoured for all the efforts he put into raising me. But my mother’s family had other plans. According to their custom, my father lost his right to receive the marriage items of his daughters when he refused to perform my mother’s marriage rites.
I would say that I had an interesting childhood because of my dad’s devotion to our family. The fact that he didn’t marry my mother officially didn’t prevent him from taking care of her the way a husband would. He had older kids from his previous marriage and we all lived together under one roof. He did not discriminate among his children. He made sure we never lacked anything. He had a way of keeping our home light with humour. The man could draw laughter from grave situations effortlessly. One of my favourite moments as a child was watching TV with him and the entire family. He always made comments about whatever we were watching, which sent some of us rolling on the floor with laughter.
One of his favourite things to do was to name people based on their appearance. He used to call me ‘Madam Duck’ because I didn’t like wearing slippers when I was a child. As I got older, I got closer to him. It got to a point he and my mum were having issues. It wasn’t the first time that had happened so I was not concerned. I thought they would bicker at each other for days and then start being friends again. But this time, things were different. I don’t know what the misunderstanding was about, but they couldn’t resolve it. My mother packed her things and left. When she calmed down, she tried to come for her two kids. While my sister went with her, I didn’t.
I realized that my dad sent my half-siblings who lived with him to tertiary school and I wanted that too. From the look of things, if I had left with my mum, he would have stopped taking care of my education. So I stayed with him. With my sister and my mum gone, and my older siblings out in the world, finding their path, it was left with me and him. By then I was old enough to handle cooking, and maintaining the home so I did all that. My father also took good care of me and took me to tertiary school when the time came.
After school, I had to move to another region for work but that did not affect our close daddy-daughter relationship. We spoke on the phone every day. When my boyfriend and I started discussing plans for marriage, he was one of the first few people I told. And he supported me in every way possible. So imagine our confusion when my mother’s family called to say, “We can’t perform the traditional marriage at your father’s house. He didn’t marry your mother properly. And now that they are not together, you are ours.”
I protested, “He may not have performed her customary rites but he took care of us. He did everything a father is supposed to do.” These people said, “That doesn’t matter to us. The marriage items will be received by us at your uncle’s house. Your father’s role will be to sit and observe the ceremony.” I was hurt but there wasn’t much I could do. My father tried to put up a fight at first. “She is my daughter. I did not shirk my responsibility. How can you say I don’t deserve to receive her drinks?” My mother’s family insisted, “That’s how our tradition works. If you had married her mother, this wouldn’t be a problem.” There was a lot of anger surrounding the whole thing but eventually, they sat down and settled it. Tradition had to be fulfilled so my father bowed out and my mother’s people took charge.
A day that was supposed to be one of the happiest of my life was not particularly happy. I mean we all smiled and danced and feasted but I was worried about my father the entire time. It was a family affair but I was sure people would talk about him. And I wondered how it might feel for him to watch someone who didn’t contribute a dime to my growth, take his glory. This made it so that I went through the ceremony without my heart being in it. After everything was over I talked to my sister, “What are we going to do about dad? He deserves his due for everything he has done for us.” My sister sighed and responded, “I have been thinking about that too. We should buy some drinks and go and see him.” It was a good idea. We would buy drinks and take them to him to show our respect and gratitude for all his sacrifices.
Sadly, in the process of planning our visit, our father passed away. And I am wrecked with guilt and grief. I feel guilty that he didn’t get to receive my dowry and grief that I couldn’t take care of him the way he took care of me. Right now, I wish we had hurried up and sent our drinks when we planned to. He didn’t get to know how much he meant to me and that’s killing me. Every time I think about him I feel guilty. Even our beautiful memories are now stained with guilt. If I could go back in time for just a minute, I would pour all my gratitude on him. I didn’t get to say thank you. I wasn’t by his side when he took his last breath. How am I supposed to cope with his loss with this guilt lodged in my chest?
Please I want to know if anyone here has experienced this before. How did you deal with it?