I was seventeen when my mother called to tell me that my father had died. I was in SHS and was getting ready to write my final exams. She added, “I should have waited for you to finish your exams before telling you this. I’m sorry.” I laughed in my head. Actually, I didn’t feel a thing—no sadness, no heavy feeling, no feeling of loss. If anything, I felt happy that he was dead. After hanging up the call, I told myself, “Thank God he’s gone. We can now have the freedom to live in peace.”
Before you judge me as a heartless child, wait and listen to my story first. Maybe after reading everything, you’ll side with me. Maybe you’ll not but that’s not the point of sharing this story—to get people to side with me. I’m sharing this story to get things off my chest and also have a place I can direct my kids to when one day they grow up and ask about their grandfather. I pray they don’t.
I was very young when I first saw my father beating my mother. We were living in a one-bedroom compound house; my parents, me, and my senior brother. Sometimes the fight would start at dawn and go on until they break. They’ll shout at each other and call each other names. My mother was the quiet type. You see her talking back at my father only when the accusation wasn’t true. I and my brother would be in bed praying that the fight should remain only a verbal altercation and not a physical fight. Some days God hears our prayers and the fight stays only verbal. Sometimes God tells us, “I’m tired. They can kill themselves for all I care” and the fight will escalate into a physical fight.
My dad was a tall and well-built man. He did a lot of lifting as part of his carpentry job and that somehow built his muscles. He was a handsome man. My mom told us she married him because of his looks. She didn’t make a bad choice in that regard but apart from that, everything about my dad was thrash. My mom is a very thick woman. She was slimmer in her youth but I think life and childbirth turned her into a plus-size woman. She said she started getting fat right after I was born. Looking at the weight of my mother, it should take a lot of strength to be able to lift her up but my dad did it easily anytime they had a fight.
He would carry my mom up in the sky and throw her wherever he wants. She was mostly at the mercy of whatever was on the ground after being thrown. She would land on rocks and break something in her. She landed on a machete one day and got lucky. She had landed on hot water before. She got burnt. Neighbors would wake up at dawn only to separate a fight between my parents. It was embarrassing but young kids don’t know what’s embarrassing so we lived through it all until we became of age.
He didn’t only beat my mother. He beat us mercilessly over little things. I was in class four or so when my teacher complained to him that I didn’t do my homework. He came home that day and beat me with a saw. He used the flat side of the saw to hit me until I ran out of breath. My mother came from the market and saw how I’d been beaten and got angry. She rushed to him for answers and my dad said, “It looks like I’m wasting my money on her. She doesn’t do her homework.” My mom screamed, “So you’ll kill her because of that? What sort of father does that to his own kids? Are you even the one who pays their fees? What’s your interest that you have to beat her this way?” It turned into a fight. He lifted my mom on the side of his neck and carried her outside. He threw her away and then locked the door. That day we all slept on the verandah.
As for my brother, he was treated like a punching bag because he was a boy. My dad called it training. He said, “He’s a man. He has to be trained well so he can become a hard man.” Little things got him slaps, saw, or belt beatings. He also got his share of the liftings to the sky. We were one miserable family all because of one man, a man we called father. A man our mother called husband.
When I was in JHS my friends laughed at me because of the commotion in my house. Neighbors stopped coming to separate the fight because they too were tired. My brother had completed JHS but my dad didn’t allow him to continue schooling. His grades were very poor so my dad made him an apprentice at his shop. He was learning the carpentry work very well. He did it for a year or so but he became so good that my father was jealous. He started belittling him. He’ll beat him in the presence of customers. He’ll beat him when my brother’s friends had come to visit him at the shop. He’ll do everything to make my brother less of a human in front of others.
One evening, My dad came home from work and food was not ready. He asked my mother why and she gave some answers that my father didn’t like. I’ve forgotten exactly the answer my mother gave but I’m tempted to believe it was about money my father didn’t give. My mom might have said something like, “You put pressure on me for food yet you refuse to give chop money.” Something like that. My dad got angry and started a fight. How the fight started, I knew it would end in my mom being lifted up. I’ve grown old enough to learn the patterns of their fight and determine how it would end. Lo and behold it got to that point. Guess what my mom was using to fight back, ‘papan.’ That thing they used to fan the fire in coal pots.
My mom was left with bruises on her face. She was in the kitchen crying when my brother walked in. He asked me what happened and I narrated the story to him. My brother took off his shirt and dashed out of the compound looking for something from the ground. He ended up picking a long piece of metal rod and rushed into the house again. He started screaming, “Where’s he? Where’s that beast who calls himself a father?” My mom got up, trying to retrain him, “Hey Ato, what has come over you?” He pushed my mom aside and rushed toward the door. My father heard the noise and came out to see what was happening. Immediately after he stepped out, my brother hit his head with the metal rod. Before he could regain his composure, he hit him again in the face. He started bleeding. Everybody who saw what was going on knew my brother’s intention. He wanted to finish him that day.
The neighbors started rushing towards my brother. He kept beating my father with the rod until my dad landed on the floor. He was stepping on him when neighbors got hold of him and stopped him from killing my father. I was enjoying it. If I could lend the little strength I had in me to my brother that day, I would have done it. But the neighbors succeeded and pulled him away from my dad. He was out of breath. He couldn’t talk audibly. My dad lifted his head to look at him. He spat on my dad and screamed, “I’ll attack in the night next time and that would be the end of you. You’ll go before you kill us.”
My father couldn’t respond. He was blurry. The blood on his face had covered his eyes. It’s my mom and other neighbors who carried him to the hospital. My brother left the house and we didn’t hear from him again. Months later, he visited me in school. He gave me money. He said he was in Accra working hard. ”I will come for you when you finish school. Learn hard.”
He went to the market too to see my mom. He gave her money and he left. We both knew where he was but we never mentioned it to my father and he never asked.
You’ll think he’ll stop beating us after what my brother did to him. He didn’t. My mom still suffered her fate. One moment she’ll be sitting on the chair cooking. The next moment she’ll be on my father’s shoulder, being carried up into the sky to be thrown to the ground.
I went to my grandparents to report the issue. First, I went to my father’s parents. After narrating everything they told me, “We’ve heard it. We’ve spoken to him on several occasions but nothing changes him. Maybe you kids should pray for him. Apart from God, nothing can change him.” I went to my mother’s parents too. I told them about the suffering and everything we were going through in the hands of my father. My grandmother said, “You’re a child. You don’t understand. When you grow up, you’ll know everything you’re seeing is part and parcel of marriage. You don’t walk away because your husband beats you. Where would you go? She’s staying because of you. So you can have a father who takes care of you.” I screamed, “He doesn’t take care of us oo. He gives us nothing.” My grandfather shouted, “How did you know? He gives the money to your mother to be given to you. It’s the reason you kids don’t appreciate the role of a father. We always give to your mothers before you can have it.”
They didn’t do anything.
I was in SHS one when my father’s arm got swollen. It got terrible by the day. Later, his right leg also got swollen. He couldn’t do anything again. For once, he couldn’t get a leg to stand on and lift my mother. The shoulder on which my mother would rest until she falls to the ground was swollen. Sickness would make you small. Giants look like Lilliputians in the face of sickness. My father became helpless. He relied on my mother for everything. On vacations, I couldn’t breathe free in the house because he was smelling. He suffered that sickness until he finally gave his last breath. I felt no pain when he died. My heart didn’t break. My knee didn’t give up on me for losing a father. I was indifferent. It felt like seeing a stranger’s obituary poster on the wall. It didn’t hit me.
My mom called my brother and gave him the news. He said, “I thought he was a macho man. Why didn’t he lift death on his shoulders as he did to you?” My mom begged him to come home but he never did. I was at his funeral. My brother didn’t come. I was given the funeral brochure and was asked to read the tribute by the children. The first sentence was, “Dad was a special kind of man who never left his kids go hungry…” I said in my head, “I’m not going to stand in front of God and lie.” When the pastor called for the tribute by the children, I didn’t get up. He said, “His daughter is choked with sadness so she can’t read. We’ll therefore call another person from the family to read for us.”
After the funeral and everything, I looked at the face of my mother and smiled. She asked, “What is the matter?” I answered, “How do you feel now?” She gave a heavy sigh. Something that sounded like a sigh of relief. She said, “He was bad to us but he’s my husband. What can I do?” I answered, “You can be free now. You should be happy about that.” She said, “I forgave him before he died. It’s the reason I could take care of him until his dying days. Learn to forgive him too. Talk to your brother. You two have to visit his grave and give him a good parting message so his soul can rest.”
Did we do it? Yes, we did. We didn’t do it for our father. We did it to make our mother happy. She talked about it every day until we got tired. I forgave him but I won’t ever forget his atrocious ways. How he was bent on killing us with abuse.
He died in 2018. My brother immediately assumed the role of a father. He’s the one taking care of my university education. He’s not at the top yet but he does his best to restore calm in our lives.
My brother rented a new place for my mother. A place she can have a fresh beginning. A place where no one knows her story and what she had been through at the hands of her own husband. In the evening, she would sing all manner of songs before she goes to bed. Sometimes I laugh at her, “Mom, you’re messing up the lyrics. That’s not how the song goes.” She’ll respond, “The lyrics don’t matter. It’s the tune that makes us enjoy the music.” I’ve stopped trying to correct her lyrics. A woman who had been through what she had been through doesn’t need lyrics. She needs the tune to wash away the hurt on the inside. She’s on a different kind of shoulder now. She’s on the shoulder of the tunes she sings at night and we can rest assured that these tunes won’t throw her off the ground.