Written by Bunmi Sofola
LOLA didn’t know the real truth about her mum’s ‘marriage' of over 30 years until her dad died a few years ago. "I’d had my suspicion about the relationship between my parents. Whilst a few relatives made snide remarks about the illegitimacy of their union, my mother assured us that though our father was once married, he got divorced before they tied the knot. We somewhat believed her because our half-siblings from our dad’s first marriage visited regularly.” Lola told me, still bewildered at the events that unfolded just after her dad’s passing. “We had what you would call a week-end dad. He worked away in one of the states and only came home weekends. At least, that’s what we were made to understand. But he was a pleasant enough dad and picked up all our bills.
"I was an undergraduate when a new friend became curious and wanted to know if my father was the same one her family knew by that name (on our street). I said he was. Is your mum’s name Fadeke?, she asked, puzzled. “No. She’s Maureen." She looked a bit embarrassed and when next I got home, I asked mum if she knew anyone called Fadeke. ‘She’s your dad’s first wife but they’re divorced now.” I was really curious. “So what type of wedding did you have?” I wanted to know. She’d never shown us any photographs. “It was a simple registry wedding,” she breezed. “We just had close friends as witnesses. So where were the photographs? ‘We lost a stack of photographs - when the house was flooded years back. The few wedding photographs we had were among the ones destroyed,” she said off hand, not quite meeting my eyes.
By the time I finished at the university, our dad’s visit had dwindled and mum had to confess they’d separated. Why didn’t she say anything until now? I vowed to see him when he died suddenly of a heart attack a few months to his 60th birthday. I was heart-broken. I really loved that man. When I saw his obituary in the papers, I was gub-smacked. The name of his wife was given as Fadeke and the three children of my mum were last on the list of seven children. I didn’t show it to mum. She must have seen it anyway. What sort of funeral would he have? I stepped with trepidation into the church at his funeral service. At the wake the previous day, my mum was absent and we were lumped with his other children, all adorned in the same fabric. Fadeke, his estranged first wife looked to me as the chief mourner. As we entered the church, with my two siblings, I hardly knew anyone - only the two half-siblings dad used to bring to our house. They sat with Fadeke, the first wife and they were fassed over and comforted by mourners. Where was our mother? Why was she sidelined in all the ceremonies?
“As the preacher went on about my dad being a loving husband to Fadeke and all his children, I looked around because I felt a movement. It was my mother at the end of the pews, acting as if she didn’t want to be seen. Why wasn’t she at the front too if she was really married to him? It was in that moment that the truth forcibly hit me. Our mum was never a wife to him - she was his mistress! That explained her skulking into her ‘husband’s’ funeral in shame. Back home. I asked why she didn’t play a prominent role in dad’s funeral and she insisted Fadeke was divorced, that she was his real wife. She looked so sad and fidgety. I realized she’d been lying to herself all these years too. I felt as if I was standing on a layer of lies. All I had were questions. Why did my mother wear wedding rings all the time? Did the affair start during his first marriage?
A few months after dad died, we, her three children of her supposed marriage sat her down wanting to know the truth. Our dad’s will had been read and he acknowledged the three of us - not a word was said in the will about her being his wife. She confessed she was 20 and pregnant when dad told her that he was already a married man. Being an unmarried mother wasn’t as easy in those days as it is now, so we just decided to tell people we were married the native way.
He was the one who gave me the rings. In spite of his telling me he wasn’t in love with Fadeke, they went on to have one more child and he simply forgot about a divorce. I had told people we were married for so long that it just felt normal to keep doing it - especially when your dad backed me up. And let’s face it. It’s painful enough to admit that your so-called husband is having an affair, let alone that he’s fathering other children and that you weren’t really married. He left me with you lot to bring up virtually on my own while he flirted between us and his wife. As far as I’m concerned, I did what was right and best for my children. Any lies I told you were to protect you from the harsh reality of being born out of wedlock ..."
I felt really sorry for her but she was a bit of a prude. In this day and age, who gives a hoot whether or not your parents are married. Mum said she was from the era when certain things just weren’t discussed and she didn’t enjoy having to justify her decision to give us life. That if anyone was the victim in all this - love triangle, that person was her. She told us with a final ring to her voice that she’d rather get on with things and put all this behind her. Heavens only know how long it will take us children to do the same.