Columns

March 18, 2023

The plight of widowers

The plight of widowers

By Francis Ewherido

The dominant notion in Nigeria is that it is a man’s world. I will not dispute that assumption. Nigeria is a country where most ethnic groups are patrilineal. Consequently, the focus of NGOs and faith-based societies many a time is on the weaker sex who need protection. That is good, but I just want to remind us today that “the rich (men) also cry,” they also need shoulders to lean and cry on, they have challenges and needs; they also need help from the society. Today I want to focus specifically on the plight of widowers (men who have lost their wives). 

There are many NGOs, church organisations, corporate organisations and others with various programmes to support widows. The fact that there are more widows than widowers might be partly responsible for the lop-sidedness. The other reason might be male ego: “man no dey cry,” they used to admonish us while growing up. Meanwhile,edey die inside. This disposition has led to depression, physical and mental illness, and the death of some widowers. Widowers go through a lot, their age notwithstanding. 

There are widowers who lost their wives during childbirth or when the children were young. Raising young children by men without their wives is tough. Where does a man get breast milk to give a new born baby? There is baby formula all right, but it is no comparable substitute for breast milk. Breast milk remains the best nutritional choice for infants. In fact, children who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives are thought to be healthier than those not exclusively breastfed. Beyond that, how does a widower take care of an infant? Those from supportive families do have their burden of bereavement and caring for young children ameliorated.

Then what next? It is like a football team forced into the transfer market because of a long term injury to a key player. There are no guarantees. Sometimes, you do not get the quality you really need. Some young widowers are forced to remarry early because of the need for companionship and someone to help them take care of the children. Sometimes things work out, at other times, the new wife behaves like a sheep during courtship and during the early stages of the marriage. Once her own children come, she becomes as ferocious as a wolf. I have seen the children of the first wife being converted to “house helps” and mercilessly maltreated. Many a time, their father watches on helplessly. I have also seen fathers join their new wives in maltreating children of the late wife. Some Nollywood movies have featured this problem. If the late wife does not come from a caring and strong family that can stand up to the man and his new wife, the children are in trouble.

It is not easier for men in their 50s and 60s who lose their wives. At that age such men have their children in school and look forward to seeing the children through school so that they can be free of school fees which will free some money for them and their wives to enjoy some luxuries like boat cruise, travelling round the world and other luxuries they could regularly afford when the children were in school. All of a sudden, their wives die leaving them stranded. Life can become very hollow for such men. Where do they start from? At such an age many of such men cannot live alone. In fact many men are lost in their own kitchens. They do not even know where things like pepper, salt and other basics are kept. They need someone more than just a cook. The house needs to be organized. There are also sexual needs for those who are deeply religious and do not engage in sex outside marriage. There are also emotional needs. God said it is not good for a man to be alone and therefore made provisions for a wife. But the wife is gone! They have to remarry, but there are factors they must put into consideration. One is the age of the woman. This has many implications. You cannot tell a young girl in her 20s, 30s or even 40s to get married to you and not have her own children because you already do. I do not know of any girl who would accept that. You just want her to take care of the children from your late wife, cook for you, organize your home and meet your other sexual needs. That looks selfish, cruel and extreme to me.

Sometimes, the wife and the man’s grown up children do not see eye to eye. They put the man in a position where he has no middle ground. He either takes side with wife or the children. If the man is comfortable, he can take just and equitable decisions, but if the children cater for him, he who pays the piper will inevitably dictate the tune. I have seen men in such agonizing situations. Husbands and wife are supposed to be one, “no longer two,” but this biblical pronouncement can make you lose your benefactors (children). It is agonizing for such men. 

There is no good time for a man to lose his wife. For me it is one of the scariest things that can happen to a man. I believe that women cope better when they are predeceased by their husbands. In most marriages, the men are older so they should go first. What is important is longevity for both spouses before the inevitable departure. It is just unfortunate that we are not in a position to determine who goes first and when.

My last group are men who lose their wives in their late 70s and above. I always wonder, where does he start from? Does he remain unmarried or remarry. If he decides to remarry, how old should the woman be? I believe such men should marry mainly for companionship. The implication is that they should marry women beyond child bearing. A man married in his late 70s and fathered three children. One was in secondary school while the last two were in primary school when he died. His older children had to see the children through school. They were not happy about it because they warned their father against marrying a young girl, but he rebuffed them, saying he was still sexually active and wanted a “young blood.”

One thing is clear, widowers also have needs and need support from their families and the society. NGOs and church organisations need to come up with more groups andprogrammes devoted to widowers.

Addendum: There is a madness currently going on. Some women abandon their aging and aged husbands and travel abroad to take care of their children or daughters-in-law who just had babies (omugwo)and grandchildren. Some stay back for a year or more. That is wickedness. At that age  of your husband, you are not only a wife, but a caregiver. These women should know their priorities and behave their age. It is a sordid behaviour. For the children, your father made sacrifices to bring you up; now you “seize” his wife in old age for your comfort and that of your children. You are wicked.