Dad, Mum…You Failed Us!

Mrs. Jatau saw the light on her phone before it began to ring. She was almost sure it was her first daughter calling. She was not wrong. ‘I am just putting the last touches to my makeup. I will soon be there’, she rushed before her daughter could say anything. ‘Okay Mum. We are waiting for you.’ Annabel responded as she dropped the call. Mrs. Jatau sighed. She could not put it off anymore. She took her keys and purse, sent a prayer to heaven and left her house.  She was going to her daughter’s wedding introduction. *** ‘Daddy, come out of your room now! Ha ahn! Do you want the guests to come in and wait for you?‘ Sandra all but shouted. She was the last child of the Jataus’ and had grown up when their parents had gone soft. She could say anything to them; which was slightly different from her four elder ones. ‘I said I am coming now! Go away and leave me alone.’ he responded in his rich tone. ‘Daddy, if you are not out in two minutes. I will break your door oh!’ She returned, pouting her lips and stamping her feet. She may be 20 years but she was all child. ‘If you like, burn the house sef. I will only come out when I deem fit. And I can see that mouth that you are pushing up. I have always told you that it makes you look like fish…a Tilapia.’ Sandra laughed and walked away. Mr. Jatau sighed. He could not hide in his room anymore. He admitted he was scared. But if he remained in his room, that would be awfully rude to the guests he was expecting. Though he had never had a good relationship with his oldest daughter, this was not the time to completely ruin what was left of it. He sucked in air into his large tummy and opened the door. The sooner he got over this, the quicker he could go to the club house and share some laughs with his cronies. He walked down the stairs to his living room. *** This was the first time in 18 years that the entire Jatau family was seated in one room. Oliver, the first child, was reclining in one of the sofas. Tall, buff and selfish, he managed to look like a king. The three daughters sat together on the sofa, with Robert, their adopted brother, sitting in between Annabel and Elizabeth while Sandra sat on the floor. The sitting arrangement was such that both their parents sat opposite them. Mr. and Mrs. Jatau managed to sit as far apart as possible without looking like they were trying to do. Annabel sighed. She cleared her throat and began. ‘Dad, Mum…before our guests turn up, we have some things to tell you. I will start and my siblings will join in.’ She looked from one parent to the other and then her sisters. Her parents were trying all they could not to squirm but it was not working. It was as uncomfortable for them as it was for her. She sucked in her breath, stared at the floor, and started talking. ‘Today is exactly 18 years since you got divorced.’ The finality in her voice had a ring of judgment to it and it got the desired effect on her parents; guilt and shame. Even though they had been divorced that long, Mrs. Jatau maintained his name because in Africa, you are better off with a ‘Mrs.’ attached to your name. ‘I will start with you, Daddy.’ This time she looked straight at her dad. He dropped his head and put his arms between his thighs; the classic pose he took when he was insecure, sad or contemplative. Annabel knew she had to get the edge off her voice. ‘Daddy, you were never nice to Mummy…well, not never. But in most cases, you weren’t. I grew up seeing Mummy pick up the slack when you should have been taking care of us. You were more a man-about-town, spending for other people, than you were in catering to your family’s needs. Mummy never let us go hungry, even if you never brought in any money’. That was Elizabeth’s cue. ‘Daddy, all through our stay in school, you never paid school fees on time; sometimes paying the first term fees in second term. We got to be known as one family that alwaysdefaulted in fees. It was so bad that one teacher came into the class to drive students who had not paid school fees and as soon as he entered, he said “Elizabeth Jatau, I don’t need to look at the list to know your name is on it. So pack your books and go home.” I wanted to die Daddy! Everyone in class laughed. I acted like I was okay but my spirit broke’. ‘Even when Mummy paid our school fees, you beat up Annabel for daring to accept the money’, Sandra said. There was a catch in her voice and that pricked her father and mother. She was their baby, and they were all fiercely protective of her. Mrs. Jatau started crying. She didn’t plan to but her eyes couldn’t hold back anymore. Mr. Jatau maintained his stoic expression. He still had his head down. Annabel continued. ‘When the divorce finally pulled through, you banned us from seeing our mother. When, after less than three months, you married again, and our lives became a living hell. Your wife would maltreat us…’ Annabel’s voice wavered. The tears were about to drop, but she controlled it. She sniffed just as Robert rubbed her back. She smiled at him and faced her father again. ‘I remember when Mummy bought us school scandals. You came home, went straight to our room like you knew Mum had brought us things. You rounded up the scandals and poured kerosene on them. With one strike, they went up in flames. We watched them burn, knowing you were not going to

Dad, Mum…You Failed Us! (2)

Family Praying in a Church.Image: The Catholic Sun To get acquainted with the Jatau family, flip to the beginning; ‘DAD, MUM…YOU FAILED US!’ She returned with chilled glasses of orange juice for everybody. ‘I diluted yours Dad, Mum. Y’all are too old for such sweetness.’ No one but Oliver seemed ready to take their drinks.  Oliver gulped his and reached out to take Annabel’s. The look she gave him would have quelled a more sensitive man. He shrugged and reclined further into his seat. Elizabeth felt she could continue. ‘Mum, as much as you love us, you do not want us to have a mind of our own. You want us to look like you and act like you do. My personality is similar to yours but even at that, we are very different. The more different we are to you, the less tolerant you are of our views. You may have taught us to be strong women, but you only want us to be strong as long as we are not going against you. That is not fair mummy.’ ‘You asked me for my view before you divorced dad and that was the only moment I felt connected to you.’ Annabel continued immediately. ‘You spoke to me like an adult and when I told you I would rather have you alive than dead, I meant it. I am also glad that you did not wage a custody battle for us. You knew that, with the messed up constitution we have, you would not have stood a chance’.  Annabel gave a sign and her sisters came to her. They were now facing their parents again. ‘There are so many issues that we can mention but we will let them slide for now. This is the summary. Dad, you were not a good father to us. You were selfish, unbothered and inappropriate with us. Gosh! You used to bring your girlfriends to the house for sleepovers! You disrespected us and treated us no better than strangers. Mum, you took your anger out at us and sometimes beat us to the point of abuse.  We understand that you grew up in a different generation with different values and different ways of life but we have friends whose parents were in your generation and are completely different from you!’ After a quick breath, Annabel continued. ‘Dad, Mum…’ her sisters rallied closely around her. Robert stiffened. Something major seemed about to happen. Mr. Jatau looked up and looked at each of his daughters. For the first time that night, he also looked at his ex-wife. They shared a look and quickly looked away. Somehow, they knew that the next words out of Annabel’s mouth would shatter them…probably more than they could bear. The tears started flowing again from Annabel’s eyes. ‘…I am not getting married. There is no one coming in for any introduction. This was just a ruse to get both of you in one room to talk about this family.’ It was Oliver who reacted first. ‘What?! WHAT?! ARE YOU MAD?! ALL THE HUGE PREPARATIONS AND NOTHING IS HAPPENING?!’ ‘Shut up Oliver!’ both parents shouted. It was a sync that was long coming! Oliver shut up faster than a hat could drop. He mumbled a bit to himself and finally became quiet. Mr. Jatau looked sharply at his children and sat up straighter. A shiver of fear ran down their spines; all of them. They might all be grown up but they knew that no one messed with their father. ‘Can you say that again?’ His voice was quiet yet menacing. Annabel couldn’t find her voice. She was shivering and fidgeting. She looked at her sisters and Robert. Robert looked away. Sandra squeezed her hand and Elizabeth coughed. No one seemed willing to be the one who would dare respond. As Annabel fidgeted, Elizabeth cleared her throat and continued. ‘You know how in Africa, you don’t just marry the girl/boy, you marry the family? Well, you raised us poorly and worse, you put your business out there for everyone to see so, if we were to go by your history and African values, we are not a family that anyone would like to marry into.’ Drawing courage from Elizabeth, Annabel found her voice. ‘You messed up our lives. You refused to think of our future. Many men have come for my hand and turned away because their family didn’t want such a dysfunctional family as in-laws. So I only dated men who were as broken as I was so that I wouldn’t have to face the pain of rejection again. Our family is too warped to be good enough for any other African family. And that is why we are here today.’ She paused to fill her lungs. After exhaling slowly, she continued. ‘We grew up hating you; most especially me. I hated you dad, as much as I hated mum. I couldn’t stand you. As soon as I got an opportunity to leave the house, I left for good. I wouldn’t have come back home if Sandra hadn’t spoken to us’. She looked up at Sandra and smiled. She ruffled her hair and faced their parents again. ‘She might be the youngest, but she is the wisest of us all. She has been praying for the restoration of this family and when she came to live with me a year ago, she got me talking about this family. Soon, we invited Elizabeth and Robert and we started having family sessions to iron things out.’ ‘You might have hurt us but it turned out for good. We are all intelligent, independent girls who have learned to be the best to ourselves and to the world. While we suffered lack in the house, we never resorted to selling our values for our needs. We learned to make do with what we had and have. Most other girls would have thrown them self at any Tom, Dick or Harry to make ends meet. Not us! Our situation made us develop self-esteem that was far above what

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