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The Man Behind The Figure

What I came to learn from my relationship with my Muslim father, and how it helped change how I viewed men and fathers alike

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

I can write 101 reasons why I’ll forever love my mother — an extra 100 on why she was the best mum in the universe and my #1 role model — but for my father, well… I’d only be able to come up with a hundred

My relationship with my father is peculiar, to say the least. Coming from a polygamous Muslim, home and having a dad who was in the military, I barely saw him.

A not-so-funny story I often tell people — well, it’s funny to me but some people find it puzzling how I could find humor in it — is about the time my dad came around and my brothers had no idea who he was.

They hadn’t seen him for about three years or so, and they were also really young.

So, for a long time, I couldn’t understand — or see — the need/use of a father. Especially since all the roles they taught me were traditionally assigned to men were already being fulfilled by my mother.

Even after my mother died, I still wasn’t able to see any reason to accept my father’s efforts at forming a relationship with me.

I get to see who the man behind the figure is, and I’ve got to say — he’s a pretty cool guy.

In my head, there was no need for a father if he couldn’t, at least, there was no need for a father if he wasn’t able to fulfill the “simple” tasks that society places on him.

Later on, I would grow to realize I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. A lot of children not only had a strained relationship with their fathers, but were also very much frightened by them.

Ar least in my situation, the strain in our relationship came majorly from my unwillingness to accept his hand of friendship.

Sometimes it felt like he was sorry for leaving most of the parenting to my mother, and her death was the wake-up call that he needed.

If that were the case,” I’d often say to myself, “then there was no need. He’s already a couple years too late”.

So while others would show fear towards their fathers, all I held for mine was contempt.

As the year passed, I would learn that some of his absence was because of my mother not wanting us to mix with the other side of our family. Coming from a polygamous family isn’t easy and there is a lot of conflict that can go south quickly if not handled correctly.

My father, like many fathers all over the world, was done an injustice

My father respected her wishes to the very end, even when she handed guardianship of I and my brothers to my aunt.

I’d learnt that my father wasn’t the carefree man who goes around spreading his seeds, never looking back. He wasn’t some villain who enjoyed pouring baggages of responsibilities on unsuspecting women.

I had learnt that my father — though he had many flaws — was probably the most misunderstood amongst us all.

For the first time I was able to understand how lonely it must have been for him, and how confusing parenting must have seemed to him, especially since he didn’t have a father figure growing up.

This stops us from seeing who the man behind the figure really is.

I often wonder if it ever crossed his mind — like it often crossed mine — that he was paying for all the mistakes he made in his youth. If he was, I saw no reason I should add to his punishment.

I figured he had suffered more than enough, and my continual neglect and refusal to bond was probably hurting me more than it was hurting him — I very much wanted.

It’s hard to imagine now that there was a to imagine now that there was a time I would ignore my father’s calls and rain curses on him in my head — my culture forbids us from daring to go against an adult.

My father, like many fathers all over the world, was done an injustice — by themselves and the world.

The role of the father, fas far back as many societies would care to check, has been provision and protection. If he cannot fulfill this role, he has failed not only as a father, but as a man.

Many men were not taught how to love, or that provision didn’t only mean money. So it’s not uncommon to hear the story of strict fathers or neglecting dads, especially in many African homes.

This stops us from seeing who the man behind the figure really is. We tend to not even realize that he was right where we were — he’s gone through stages we’re going through.

My relationship with my father is still very rocky. There’s the major age gap and even the difference in beliefs to consider. So finding a common ground for discussions has always been a major challenge.

Still, every once in a while I learn something about my father that adds another piece to the puzzle of he is as a person, a man, not just y father.

I’ve learnt that he’s not so formidable and untouchable like I once believed’ He’s very much human, just like we all are.

I get to see who the man behind the figure is, and I’ve got to say — he’s a pretty cool guy.


The Man Behind The Figure was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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