Volume 2 Number 2
01 February 1989
I was determined that my father should not get away with his action and I gradually turned my younger brothers and sisters against him and his second wife.
By JUDITH 'ROBO' UKOKO
I am one of thirteen children born into a relatively comfortable home in Nigeria. With six brothers and six sisters and parents who loved me as much as I loved them, I grew up to be everybody's favourite.
My family belongs to an indigenous Christian Church group which permits polygamy if the first wife consents to it. When I was 16 my father decided to take a second wife. He got my mother's consent, but they did not include us children as they were not sure how we would take it. When we were eventually told, it was too late to do anything.
I was determined that my father should not get away with his action and I gradually turned my younger brothers and sisters against him and his second wife. Whenever he got back from work, we left his sitting room and went into Mother's to sing and laugh loudly together. My mother did not attach any extra significance to this because, as a family, we like singing together in the evenings. But it made my father lonely and his second wife felt insecure and unsure of her place in the family. My mother loved her and tried to make her happy but we were always there to make her feel guilty and unwanted.
Early one morning, my father got us all up and told us of the pain he felt at our uncooperative attitude. Honest and loving though he sounded, I felt he deserved all we had done to him and I did not give in. My relationship with my father deteriorated to one of getting my pocket money and school fees. When I had no need for money, I had no need to talk to him.
Two months before getting into the university, I went into hospital to have my appendix removed. During that period, I could feel my father's love. He ordered my favourite meal to be prepared for me as soon as I was allowed to eat. He took time off work every day to come and see me, bringing my brothers and sisters in turns, as he knew that would make me happy. I really wanted to forgive him and love him the way I did before the other woman came in. I tried hard but could not. I realized that I was not only angry with him, I was bitter against him.
While I was at university, our drama lecturer invited me and some friends to do a play for him, entitled The Next Phase. I acted the part of a woman whose husband always came back from work late and drunk. They had a series of endless quarrels and fights over trivial issues. Eventually, this man decided to live a better quality of life. He asked his wife to forgive all the past wrongs. She apologized to him too and they found a loving and peaceful relationship which had farreaching effects on their friends and employees. The secret of their peace, she said, was the time of quiet they took every morning to ask God to direct them through the day.
I knew this play was based on real people's experiences so I decided to try having this time of quiet, not knowing what to expect. In the silence, I realized that I needed to forgive my father and his second wife and to restore unity and love in the family. I did not like this thought and it took me five months to carry it out. My father and mother were both sitting out on the balcony and I went and knelt down in front of them. I told my father all that I had done wrong and how sorry I was. I told him how I would like to be a better Christian and do all that God asks of me. I told him I was not only sorry but determined to make up for all we had lost.
It took my father three days to digest what I had told him on my knees that night. Meanwhile, I had been talking to my brothers and sisters and my father began to notice the difference in their attitude. Somehow, we all knew it was the beginning of a new family life. My father's second wife made things up with my mother and now discusses things with her and us before taking major decisions. We also include her in our plans.
Now we are able to help each other through difficult times. My father is a tailor and my mother a dressmaker, and we came to a point where we needed to look at the future of their business together. One of my younger brothers decided to take after my father and one of my sisters, my mother. They keep the family business going. But they have found that they both enjoy the work and are very good at it. They create all kinds of designs which my parents would normally not have thought of.
In these last five years we have learnt that the source of rich family life is not `living happily ever after' but a readiness to face challenges as often as they arise.