01 May March 1987, The Housewarming (Part 3).
I remember friends and family members traveled from various parts of the country a week before the housewarming celebration. Dad’s three stepmothers and many half-sisters that I’m not sure if I knew them all were also invited. A party that was meant to be a celebration of my father’s achievement soon turned into chaos when his stepmothers conspicuously begrudged his success. Now my father, the one who caused so much worry when he ran away as a teen, had begun to do well and went on to construct something that, to them, was a resentful reminder of all they had lost. Even though he had taken financial responsibility for them after my grandfather died, tragedy had made them bitter, and from this point, there was nothing he could do to please them. Instead of congratulating my father, they all stared at the house and broke down in tears. Then as a group, they exploded as they confronted him and chastised my grandmother.
They asked questions in doubt of how my dad could achieve something of that magnitude, considering how he signed away his entitlements to his late father’s wives. In my culture, the size of your house is an instant measure of how successful you are. Throwing a housewarming party is like welcoming both your friends and enemies into your private life all at once, and the result is often a silent mayhem waiting to explode into your future. All these women lost their sons almost ten years before. They did not only envy my father’s feat, but they also envied my grandma as well, and wished it were one of their late sons in my father’s place. Growing up, I began to see that no event in our lives could ever be completely happy. If something good happens to you, others will wish you harm.
I remember my dad arguing with Grandma days later about avoiding an elaborate housewarming. As I got older, it became even more unclear who prompted who to have a housewarming party. Neither my father nor grandma would ever give a direct answer.
When my dad lost his father, six brothers, an aunt and a sister-in-law, he desperately wanted to stay clear of the rest of his family altogether. However, being the only male child left, there was no one to pick up his responsibilities. His sister and half-sisters (I still can’t recall how many there were) all depended on him as the man of the family. Although this made it impossible for him to abscond like he always wanted to, he decided to stay out of his inheritance altogether. He believed money begets enmity even between siblings and he wanted to prove to them that he was capable of caring for them without taking a dime from his father’s stakes. So, he relinquished his right to his mother, sister, and other wives.
Despite such a gesture from my father and the undeniable fact that he remained generous to his family, it was shocking that they didn’t wish for his success. How justifiable it was then, that he always wanted to make a getaway from his family, constantly trying to flee before the unfortunate incident that claimed the lives of his brothers? He was probably aware of how much duplicity he was surrounded by, so it was reasonable for him to reckon he was better off on his own. Nonetheless, why the elaborate housewarming if he clearly understood this? It didn’t make any difference if it was either his idea or grandma’s idea. My father was the type of man who made his own decisions, at least to the best of my experience with him.
It is impossible to appease to the practical demands of people, and so it was between my father and the rest of his extended family members. Post-housewarming, my father was excommunicated from the family. He and grandma had not only unintentionally reminded the women of the tragedy that took their sons away; they had awakened the darkness and anger that sometimes comes with bitterness in humans. There was nothing he could do to please them, a lesson he learned too late. However, they tried to pin their actions against my dad on other reasons. Initially, for not showing interest in the monthly meetings, and later, his consistent absence from the annual remembrance of his father and brothers at Ijaye.
On several occasions, grandma tried to persuade dad to heed the call of the family. It was his responsibility to do so as the only living son. What never occurred to them was that every year, my father secretly visited the graves of his father and brothers in Abeokuta. I never blamed him for always turning them down. He was only trying to make sure he didn’t suffer the same fate as his brothers. Still, there was nothing he could do to please them.
People hurt people,
Yet pain only makes them
Stronger and better
At the end of it all.
Don’t get me wrong
‘cause my pain won’t last long.
Sorrow won’t last forever,
But memories will always linger.
Finally, the lessons
Will open your eyes to your blessings.
It’s all for a purpose,
That which fate proposed.
You may never realize
Until the right time –
Judging from my dad’s troubled childhood, and all that he went through to survive, no one expected him to make it to the top on his own. There was so much envy and bitterness in the air that Grandma, Mom, and my aunt became worried for my dad. Knowing what the family was capable of, they puzzled over what the family intended to plot against my father after the party. My dad didn’t seem too worried about the drama. He continued to quip around with a drink in one hand in disdain of the obvious. He later said to his mother, “The damage is already done.” It was prescient, like he knew what was coming. My father came to believe that his father’s wives, or someone in his family, had put a black magic curse on him. A year later, my mom gave birth to a baby boy following severe complications as my father’s business began to take a downward turn. Though he’d become known in the community for his generosity; a man who’d helped so many, but no one would come to his rescue.
Copyright © Deji Ayoade 2020