He was the lord of his manor. Whatever he said was law. His children feared him. His wife trembled at his feet. He was a god in his private shrine and decreed that he be accorded the appropriate worship and sacrifice or he breathed fire from both nostrils. He ruled his home with an iron fist and he was feared more than respected, avoided, not loved. For 33 straight years, his wife put up with his excesses. His children watched their mother endure her marriage. She wore a smile that eventually became a grimace but she soldiered on. Nobody was going to raise her children while she still had breath. She cried herself to sleep most nights, most of those nights were lonely ones anyway but she stayed the course. She bore it for her children.
Now at 59, she’s in Canada on her first ‘omugwo’ journey (omugwo in Igbo or ojojo omo in Yoruba are terms for traditional after-birth care of newborns) to take care of her first grandchild. There were grunts and whispers about how she left ‘Daddy’ alone to fend for himself while she enjoyed all the fruits of the labour of the old man. But her version of the story revealed that ‘Daddy and Mummy’ stopped being a real couple a long time ago.
‘When our twins arrived, he said I had to quit my job so I could take care of them. They were a handful, so it was not difficult for me to agree. But even when they started school, he refused to let me go back to work. He had a repertoire of reasons why I could not or should not hold a nine-to-five job. I wouldn’t have minded but I eventually concluded that my husband simply wanted me to be dependent on him for every penny I needed. I needed his permission to use the car because he had to fuel it. I had to agree to his choice of school for the children because he was paying the fees. We rented apartments that suited him and eventually built our house in a rural area. I had no say in anything. I was unhappy for years. I did not want to raise my children without their father, so I stayed in there, sick both physically and emotionally. My husband lived a full life while I lived like a glorified maid. He travelled within and outside the country on business but I never left Nigeria until I became a grandmother. My son, Kehinde hauled me off to Canada. I was there for six straight months until the family doctor blackmailed me with my husband’s health, saying it would worsen if he continued to eat junk food and stare at the wall and ceiling all day. I must confess that I didn’t miss him and totally enjoyed being away from under his thumb and bullying for those six months. I’m already looking forward to accompanying Taiwo’s wife to the US to have her baby. If I was fine with Daddy’s way of doing things for 33 years, he will be fine with me doing my grandma duties ’
Molayo’s abuse was physical. Her husband beat her regularly, even in front of the children, sometimes with neighbours as spectators.
‘I thought the abuse would stop as we grew older but it didn’t and each time the children tried to defend me or correct him, he would threaten to lay a curse on them. I warned them to stay off his path of anger. After beating me, my children and I would go into my room and cry together as they massaged my arm or put cold compress on my swollen jaw. He would deny me of housekeeping allowance if I crossed him or refuse to talk to me for days for not waiting up for him if he got home late. And he kept many late nights, slept out many nights too. If I dared to ask him questions about his whereabouts, he either beat me or gave me the silent treatment. My marriage was harsh and hard. It also took a toll on my health eventually, for which my children blame their father. I made sure they never disrespected their father for as long as I could. But the day my first daughter gave birth was the day they moved me to her house. It was the perfect excuse to rescue me. I returned home after three months for about two weeks and I’m back in my daughter’s place. My medications are more effective now that I sleep better and nobody is bullying me.’
The seed for this piece was actually planted in August 2022. It was at a party and I found myself at the same table with four gentlemen who were worried at the rate at which wives were ‘abandoning’ their husbands to go and do grandma duties. They are all in their 50s and fairly comfortable financially.
‘It is becoming a fad. These women just wait for you to pay the hefty school fees in dollars and then they disappear for months to do that omugwo thing.’
‘Yeah, and you have to learn to eat fast food.’
‘And sleep alone.’
‘Maybe we should get new wives to bridge the gap.’
‘Nice idea, my guy. A young girl to warm you up on rainy nights when madam abandons you,’
Men, why do they think all problems can be solved by newer models and fuller bosoms?
I did my best to explain the logic of laying your bed the way you want it to feel when you lie on it.
You see, not all wives disappear for omugwo without a backward glance. Not all wives make irreversible transition from wives to grandmothers. Some women, and I know quite a few, just want to be wives and remain wives of their husbands all the days of their lives. They do not know how to be anything else. These are women who will be lost without their husbands. Their husbands are their lives because they are men loving and devoted. Yes, they feel blessed and privileged to live long enough to transit from wives to mothers and then grandmothers but this set of women never forget they started as wives, that the vows they took before God, men and tradition was as wives, before all other functions. I also admit that this group of wives are fast fading. But they are still here.
Now, don’t you go jumping to conclusions that those forever wives are obeying the Bible or the Koran. No, they are just responding to their environment, to their marriages. They are just providing the second palm with which to effect a clap.
I have friends, peers who will go and do their omugwo and be back in a jiffy. One month tops and they are back in the arms of their husbands. I also have friends who are just waiting for their first grandchildren to ‘pop’ and they will, like bat out of hell, disappear, relocate for at least six months. There it is, omugwo for many women is a legit escape from marriages and men they had been wanting to escape from for years. Omugwo is like a release, albeit a temporary one from the men they did not have the courage to leave for years. The situation is even made worse if the children see the arrival of their babies as opportunities ‘to free mummy from daddy for a while.’
My dear brothers, how are you preparing for your old age, those twilight years when the only real faithful friends you’d be able to rely on are your wives and children? Are you your wife’s friend or albatross? Do your children see their mother as your wife and partner or a slave to be rescued as soon as they can muster the requisite fund? Are you living as if there is no tomorrow? Your wife of 35 years should not feel and flee like a free bird just because you both have become grandparents. If she has been in London for the past five months, leaving your 72-year-old ass, pardon my French, in the care of a maid and gateman, you were not a good man. Period. If at 75, your children feel it is time to bail their mother out of your cell, who can you blame? A man who mismanages his yesterday will pay the price tomorrow.