I actually had begun writing today’s column on a totally different subject when a girlfriend called to update me on a case. She was pleased to report that a certain gentleman, having been given the “she-or-me” speech, had chosen to cleave to his wife and had cloven himself asunder from his girlfriend. (You know the definitions of the word “cleave” actually contradict each other, right?) The only fly in the reconciliation ointment, however, was that the feller, while involved in the triangle, had added a fourth corner to the relationship – in the form of a bouncing baby boy.
Now, while my friend was pleased that the husband had done the right thing, so to speak, she was equally annoyed that the wronged wife, apparently, was still hung up on the matter of the child.
“What else she want?” my friend asked, plaintively. “After all, he already chose her!”
As luck would have had it, just prior to this conversation I had been talking with another sister, who had been commending her own mother for having not merely accepted the existence of her husband’s “outside children,” but raising several of them inside the marital home alongside her own.
“My mother was a large woman,” she’d commented, “because I don’t know that I would have had the heart to do any such thing.”
It’s a hard call, Sisters, and I, for one, sympathise greatly with the wife in the second paragraph and take my hat off to the one mentioned above, because I know I could not deal with either situation. My resistance is grounded in the principle of equality; for I have never had a feller or a husband, who could have accepted me having a child or children by another man while in a relationship with him. And what’s sauce for the gander, I strongly believe, is gravy for the goose. So don’t come to me with any double standard… .
True, I have heard of fellers who got involved with a sister whom they met while she was pregnant and some who “take back” their women after they have had a child during a period of separation. But a man who stayed, consciously, during the time his woman was straying and making bones outside? Well, I never met him! And if you were to point him out to me, most likely it would be your speculation and not his! Because, pride and ego being what they are, the coal-black man with the red-chenky baby will tell you that the child “takes after his great-grandmother; they say she was a Portugee.”
So if a man finds it so hard to accept, so unpalatable, that he will lie even to himself, why should a wife simply accept, or “deal with,” the flesh-and-blood evidence of her husband’s infidelity? She might have been able to close her eyes to, refuse to believe, or believe and brush off his having an affair or running around with a series of women; but a child is a forever thing, a connection that remains even after the relationship between its parents ends; a contender for, and possible winner of, the contest for a man’s affection and attention. For whereas his ex-lover might not dare call a man’s house past 10 pm, the “mother of his child” can get him out of his wife’s bed at ten past midnight if that child is running a fever or having an asthma attack… .
On the other hand, if the child or children a man brings into the marriage or relationship is sickly, or needs special attention, or is just plain rude, isn’t there bound to be some resentment on the woman’s part? And isn’t it only natural that she will favour her own, even unconsciously, when there is a choice to be made, especially if resources – money, clothing, food, whatever – are limited? Yes, yes, I agree that that child is as “entitled” as those belonging to the wife, since he is not responsible for being born – or, as we say, “ah nah he mek heself.” But does that make him the wife’s responsibility?
There are many, many instances among Caribbean families of the lines being happily blurred and women getting to the point of making no distinction between their biological children and those of their men, and of the kids, themselves, showing a marked preference for the women who parented them, as opposed to those who birthed them. But do not make the mistake of thinking, because such relationships evolve, that the pain of their beginning goes away. No matter how a woman comes to love a child – in her head, in her heart, in her belly that did not give birth to him – she can never fully forget … nor fully forgive.
For try as the wife might to forget, the memory remains of the time she accidentally came face to face with the other woman, big with child, at the corners of High and Market Street; and time will not erase how her heart twisted when the woman caught her eye and smirked knowingly, as if to say, “You think is you one?” Every so often, she will remember the night she confronted her man and, shamefacedly, he asked, “Well, is what you want me to do?” and how she cried herself to sleep, in her daughter’s bed, for weeks on end, because she couldn’t bear to lie beside him in what was supposed to be theirs. And, when, finally, she allowed him to make love to her again, how she wished he would just have a heart attack and die … because he had killed something fragile and trusting inside her.
No, it’s not an easy call, at all, Sisters. For after such trauma, sometimes the relationship can be repaired; although, just like a body after pregnancy, the stretch marks will show. But sometimes, at other sad times, try as they might to resuscitate it, the relationship simply dies in childbirth… .