It was a sunny afternoon, the kind when the nearest Fan-milk bicycle man is your friend. I had walked the long distance from our house to the gate near the road, busy seeking one such lifesaving men when I heard the shouts and the noise coming from inside the house.
“Leave me alone. I want to go away from this house!” She screamed.
“You can go”, her mother replied.
I abandoned the dream of my ice cream on a Sunny afternoon and ran back to the house to see what was happening. Through the air vent, I peeped into the house…very reluctant to swap the sunny heat for the flaming hell therein.
In his ever-calm manner, our father walked up to my screaming sister and said “stop shouting…stop crying, come and tell me what your mother has done to you so we can talk some sense into her”.
“Do not touch me”, she screamed. “You are not my father…. I want to go to my father today!”
Now, this was just too much for me to be a bystander. I ran inside the house… “Sister, sister, what did you just tell daddy? How can you say he is not our Daddy?”
My big sister glared at me with two hot coals where her eyes ought to be.
I looked at my Father and he smiled. He said “Oh…do not mind her, she is just angry”.
I glanced at my mother who adorned a look of boredom, one that any parent would give a stroppy teenager. “Let her go to her father. No one is holding her. By the time she sees what she cannot stomach there, she will run back”.
Now, I was thoroughly confused. A child of about six years, I could not understand why my sister who is ten years older than me, suddenly had another father.
And she left.
For two days, I kept looking at my mother and father, not daring to utilize my vocal cords and give voice to the questions in my brain. It was my father who however, saved me from my curious misery. He called me the third day following the self-imposed exodus of my big sister.
He said to me, “I am not the biological father of your big sister, but she is my daughter for life. Your mother was married before, she suffered so much domestic violence in that marriage that she could not cope. So, she left. Your sister is her child from that marriage.”
“Wahoo daddy, I never knew. If she had not acted the way she did, I never would have known. But Daddy, why did she leave?”
“She has been having issues with mummy – just the teenage rebellion as well as the fact that there comes a time in one’s life, when you just want to be in touch with your roots. I mean anyone would want to know and spend time with their real father” Daddy explained.
I looked at him and smiled.
I did not understand, yet I nodded and lied…. “I understand Daddy”.
How was I supposed to suddenly understand what my “biggest and ‘bestest’ sister” as I call her, screamed to the streets that she is not my father’s daughter while my father was there telling me that she was his daughter though borne to another? That mummy was married before?
My father raised stepchildren. He was such a fair man, loving man, who believed in equity and fairness. So much so that people never knew any of them were his stepchildren. He raised them just like his own if not a tad better. He did this in his quest to make them feel very loved and not miss anything or anyone. My Daddy was not the problem…. no. He was the true father to us all.
The problem I found and still find, was and still is the stepchildren and the Society.In the case of my eldest sister and I, there is a certain sense of self-alienation and loathing. Almost like an inadequacy and a short supply of self-esteem. How can this happen when the man who is raising you is even more dedicated and devoted to you than your biological father would ever be?
It took me some years to glen the right answer. The reason for all the drama is deep rooted in societal stereotypes. As a stepparent, no matter how hard you try, prepare for that day when the child in question will mount pressure on you that they want to go to their biological parent(s). This pressure is transferred from the Society. It is family members and friends of the family who will come in and sow the seeds of discord or dissent.
“Do you not know your father /mother is in Lagos?” Why do you not go and say hello to him/her instead of serving another man/woman here? “Sorry oo…they are using you to raise their other children”. These are some of the ways Society gradually seeps igniting thoughts through the ears and eyes of these children, that when processed in their hearts then leaks out through their mouths in rebellion against their most loved ones. The question we should ask Society is, if these children were living with or being raised by them, would they have done any better? In my own case, I am yet to meet other people who raise stepchildren the way my father raised his. To the extent that even I did not notice a difference in sibling-ship. So, I would answer this question with a NO! Oftentimes, Society would not fare as well raising these children they sow hatred in. However, Society will always be Society….it is individuals who must take the reigns of their affairs into their own hands and discard crowd mentality.
The key is not to pick any offence but rather, to empathize and show the person more love. Over time, I sometimes put myself in the shoes of my sister. I pretend I am wearing her glasses and living in her world. I realize how alone she may perceive herself to be, despite all the love around her. Her first impression of anything her siblings do or say, is tainted with the paint of societal whispering that has long resided in her head. How bad this gets, is a function of the innate personality of the individual in question. If you are the personality that always blames others for your misfortunes in life, then you will fare much worse than if you are sunny side up and take things in your stride kind of persona.
So, to all the stepparents out there, struggling with the hiccups of step parenting, I want to say, be patient. Take everything in good faith. Adopt an expectant poise and prepare to use the approach of the prodigal son’s father.
Oh yes. My reference book of my Christian faith tells me that the prodigal child was a biological child. Yet, he rebelled. However, his father never minded. The day he developed insight, he arose and came to his father. How much more stepchildren? Stepping up to stepchildren, means stepping down. Oh yes! In my case, you can see how my father handled my big sister. When she eventually came back….as was predicted she would, he never acted like she ever left.
Till date, I love my stepsister. However, I always have to wear her glasses to deal. Conversely, do not ask me why she does not wear my glasses; but if you ask the answer might be because in every relationship, the dynamics never quite balance out and someone is often more insightful than the other. Am I saying you should sell out yourselves?? No…far from that. You all know how I preach and practise self-love. I would never be anything other than myself. However, if my sister is in trouble, I will surely lend a hand. There is no trouble worse than that which is self-imposed by years of societal brainwashing that has bred gross inadequacy.
So, please, stepparents and step siblings, swap the glasses and look at life through each other’s eyes. That is the lifestyle to step things up in harmony and for good in our lifetime.
I am my father’s daughter.
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© Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor (Author of the book MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER and Chief Editor Loretta Reveals writes from Sheffield, United Kingdom