Did my parents abuse me?
Like most of you, I have a mother, and a father. They love me. It’s an absolute sort of love; almost godly, or at least as close to godly as their humanity allows. It isn’t as generous as what’s described in Corinthians: patient, kind, not demanding of its own way; jealous, boastful, proud; not irritable, keeping no record of being wronged, but in everything, they have never given up, they have never lost faith, they have always been hopeful, and they have endured through every circumstance that has arisen. It’s a love that’s been tested in a million and one ways, everyday, gone to court and come out victorious. I wish I could tell you all the ways I have tested the depths of their love, their affection for me, their duty in my service, but I can’t. I cannot lose sight of the fact that my world is an illiberal one, not forgiving of any and every admission, and that you, some of you, the people who read what I write, can be rather unkind.
I love my parents, but my love is imperfect, tainted by hurt, abuse both physical and emotional, and my judgmental heart. Sometimes my feelings about them- the pain I’ve endured at their hand, are strong, so strong that I’m not sure if it’s hatred or love. But I’m still here, in their house, driving their cars, eating their food, using their electricity, paying for nothing, at 30. Making sure to tell my mother, everyday, that she looks lovely, more beautiful than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Telling my father, that I am proud of him, proud of them, regardless.
All three of us live in this house that we call home, with our conflicting personalities and tendencies, our memories of pain delivered both intentionally and unintentionally by the other, but yet, there’s the profound knowledge that even though our love - frequently toxic, simultaneously healing and damaging, is flawed, it is permanent. It knows no cancellation. R.A.O is my father for better or for worse, M.A.O, his wife, my mother, in poverty and in wealth, and me D.A.O, their son, in sickness and in health. It is convenient, inconvenient; fantastic, shitty; It is life - a pot of beans, a plate of lasagna, a chocolate cake. The only thing we can do is eat it, even when there’s a maggot in every bite. I have two siblings, but this changes nothing. We affix the prefix, my, in front of mummy and daddy, an unspoken understanding that even though we share the same parents, our relationships with them are entirely individual. My brother’s father and mother, are my father and mother, but at the same time, not my father and mother. Because of the difference in time between our births, we were not born to the same people. The same can be said of my sister. My brother met his parents when they lived in Opebi, I met my parents when they lived in Ikeja, and my sister came to know her parents when they lived in Lekki. Three different locations, each with its own unique set of circumstances. Our parents are the same, but yet are not the same.
I remember the first time my father hit me. I was 4 or 5. He was watching CNN, but I didn’t want to watch CNN, I wanted Cartoon Network. I asked and he refused. I was furious, livid, completely enraged. “How could it be that that man, my father, and that woman, my mother, had conspired to ruin my Saturday? They had to pay.” My brain already showing some of its natural chemistry, even then, I thought about killing myself. “Too severe.” It seemed. Then, I thought about running away In search of a home that’d let me watch what I wanted when I wanted to watch it.
I grabbed my most prized possession, my pillow, bade them farewell, and marched out of the house possessed with righteous anger. In the driveway I saw my father’s most prized possession, his Mercedes Benz, a very specific shade of green. I realised that I didn’t actually want to run away, I only wanted to return the hurt I felt they’d caused me, so I climbed to the bonnet of the car, and started jumping on it, as one would do a trampoline, denting it with glee. Papa Afam was not pleased. He ran out of the house in his pajamas, yanked me off the car, and spanked me with his leather slipper. I said defiantly, feeling very justified, “It is not paining me.” My father, Papa Afam, said, “Oh! It isn’t paining you...” thought for a moment and delivered the next blow. Again I said, “It is not paining me.” He did it again, and again, and again, until screamed, “It is paining me.” But that didn’t stop him. He went on till my butt was well and truly sore. Somewhere there, is a story of the line between discipline and abuse. I don’t know that it was crossed, but I do know that, parents seem to know the line between the two almost instinctively. I do know that there were other ways that the situation could have been dealt with, and I do know that beating me that day was a choice. He did what he felt he had to do to raise his child. Whether or not it was the right thing to do, is an entirely different conversation.
From my mother I have scars that haven’t faded, even now. I’m not sure that they’re visible anymore, but when I look at myself in the mirror I see phantom marks, from blows delivered by cane, in response to actions I made that she considered difficult and annoying; worthy of correction. Was it discipline, a thing parents need to teach? Was it abuse, a line parents cross? I don’t know. I can’t say. I don’t want to think of it as abuse, because I love my parents, abusive people are bad, so I dare not taint my love with that colour. It is easier to admit that you love good people than it is to admit that some of the people you love are bad. Abuse is bad. Discipline is good. I have framed my world in its most pleasing light, attributing good qualities to my loved ones, and bad qualities to my enemies. I do this knowing that no person is all the way good, or all the way bad. It is all a matter of perspective.
At some point in your journey to maturity, adulting, you realise that everyone is a person just like you, even your parents. They aren’t minor gods providing clothing and food and shelter, they are people, just like you, with wants, needs, desires, virtues, vices, just like you. They carry with them the hurts and the abuses that they have endured. It informs their actions. It is with them as they breathe, as they live, just as your hurts, the chains around your neck, the chips on your shoulder, inform, and to an extent affect what you do.
As you adult, you start to think of yourself as a solitary entity. You own up to who you are, the good, the bad, the ugly, and you begin your journey to your desired end. You take ownership of the things that happened to you, and focus on the person you’d like to be. Your parents bleed out of the narrative of who you are. They can no longer assume responsibility for what you do. If you’re abusive because they were abusive, then that crime rests solely on you. They won’t follow you to prison. If you share your circumstances, they may mitigate the severity of the judgement against you and generate empathy but this really changes nothing. An abuser is an abuser, and that’s the end of the story. We’re all tested in life, it is hard for everyone, but your choices are your choices, take agency, take responsibility. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Choose carefully. One of the best things about being human is that no condition is fixed, not even ourselves. We rise above difficulty. We do good in response to evil. We show our virtue in a vice filled world. We are capable of change. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. This applies to parenting too.
About 3 months ago, I endured a traumatic experience, things I’d rather keep hidden, things my parents didn’t know about me, came tumbling out of the proverbial closet. I packed a bag, ready to flee, to reject them before they had the chance to reject me. I planned my exit, but then I fell asleep, typical me. That moment changed the narrative of our story. To be loved, you have to give people the chance to love you, and show you how true that love is. They weren’t happy, but they’re here. I wasn’t happy either, but I’m here. Lines of communication we assumed shut, reopened. It wasn’t love, good love, as displayed on television, where everything ends brilliantly, and conflicts find themselves resolved in 10 minutes or less. It was real life, with real complicated, tainted love. It will play out over days, over years, over decades; in life and in death. I belong to them, and they belong to me, even if we do not speak, even if we become estranged, it changes nothing. They are my parents, and I am their son.
The other day, my mother, Mama Afam, came to me and said, “We are sorry for creating an environment where you felt that you couldn’t talk to us about everything.” I said, “I’m sorry that I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt.”
Our parents are who they are, and they have done what they have done. We are who we are and we have done what we have done. But as long as there is life, there is hope, for a new beginning and a new end to every story.