By Bunmi Sofola
How would you feel if your dad slept with your best friend? It happens all of the time but it’s no fun when you’re at the receiving end. ‘To say that my father, a great raconteur, often put on a show for my female friends would be an understatement.
From the moment they stepped through the door, he would turn on the charm, directing all his wit and humour in their direction,” recalled Uchenna, now in his 40s and with her own family. “Usually it was me who basked in the glow of his unfailing good nature and I knew how special it made me feel.
But when friends came over, his spotlight automatically beamed on them.
“I’m not suggesting that his behaviour was inappropriate. He wasn’t flirting at this state. It was more a desire for some sort of adulation from my peers. He would flatter them and bowl them with his charisma.
It drove me absolutely mad. So mad that it took a recent article in a foreign glossy magazine to bring all those dormant emotions flooding back three decades on. In a feature entitled ‘Ten Charm Rules’ the magazine’s teen supplement blatantly encourages girls as young as 15 to flirt with their friends’ fathers, telling them that ‘the big secret of getting on in life’ is to make other people’s parents like you. It advises young readers to ‘take half an hour to flirt (gently) with the opposite sex and then write a witty thank-you letter – bingo, you’re a winner.
Word will get out and you’ll be invited everywhere.’
“My family didn’t qualify for rich, but that didn’t stop my friends simpering at my father whenever he happened to stroll into a room – and the older we got, the worse it became. He didn’t need my encouragement and neither did they. How I wished he would just go away and leave us alone like other dads did. And to my horror, my friends were always more than keen to stop talking to me about fashion or boys and turn their attention to whatever my Dad wanted to bore them with – usually tales of his brief career in Nollywood or some other equally tedious anecdote from his past. I mean what girl wants to hear her father stealing the limelight? And why couldn’t my friends at least look a bit bored?
“By the time I turned 17, my Dad had turned to open flirtation with one of my more attractive school friends. Why, I have no idea. At the time, his marriage to my mother seemed happy; perhaps he thought it was funny. At any rate, I found it excruciating and so spent a lot of time at my friend’s house instead, where her father largely let us get on with things. Sadly, I couldn’t keep my friends and my father apart forever. And to my horror, when I was 19 a friend of mine took a shine to Dad. Mum had recently taken an out of station promotion and we were left to carry on as best we could until her fortnight visits.
“My father was a bit lost for a while as Mum was always tidying after him. I was waiting to get admitted to the university but worked briefly in a private school where I befriended an outgoing girl called Ify. We had been at the same school but she was in the year above me. Until then we hadn’t had much to do with each other. That changed as we bonded over lunch breaks and then, one night, she stayed over late and it was decided she could sleep in the guest room as it was a weekend. I remember the following morning, standing on top of the stairs, hearing dad tell her a joke in the kitchen – the first time I’d heard him laugh in weeks. I glanced over my parents’ bedroom, its door was wide open, bedspread rough – the bed had clearly been slept in on both sides. This door to the guest room where Ify should have spent the night, was firmly shut. Was the room slept in at all?
“All that it would take was for me to turn the handle and look. I would have seen the bed still made up and not slept in. In that moment, I hated them both – her for betraying our friendship, and him for crossing a line that I never in a million years thought he would dare to cross. During the next few days, I confronted both of them and they vehemently denied anything happened.
“A few weeks after, I popped out one lunch time with Ify to buy my Dad a birthday present – a new radio clock for his bedside table – and Ify asked: ‘Has his other one broken?’ The truth finally came out! The look of horror on her face at this flip would almost have been funny if I hadn’t felt so shocked and betrayed. To her credit, she did beg for my forgiveness and tried to explain that it was a moment of madness – a one-night stand she deeply regretted. But I felt they had both acted with complete disregard for my feelings, then treated me like an idiot by lying about what happened. Part of me felt vindicated – I’d had been suspicious all along. But I couldn’t get over this overwhelming sense I’d been let down in the worst possible way. It was supposed to be Ify and I sharing secrets, not Ify and my father!
“It was a relief to live on campus and get away from Dad’s lecherous ways. I still saw Ify but we no longer socialise. I just couldn’t get over the image of her having sex with my dad. Of course we were all adults by this stage and you might argue that I had no good reason to feel so wronged. Yet it’s still hard to explain how devastated I felt. Things with my Dad eventually improved – you can’t choose your family, after all. But I chose to avoid Ify and haven’t spoken to her for years
“Now I have three teenage daughters and I suppose it’s natural that I’m more aware of how my husband behaves around their friends.
Thankfully, he pays very little attention. I’m sure they view him as middle-aged and full. Which is as it should be.”