I probably don’t always show it in their presence, but I love my mom and dad. Like, I love them to death. They’re not only my parents but at this stage in my life, now that there is a distance between us with me living in New York while they are still in Chicago, they’re like my close friends. I talk to them about just about everything, and I’m the child they say calls most consistently. I get some snarky comments about my bond with my parents from my siblings, but what can I say? I’m the baby of the family. And my parents just love me more than them.
But seriously, my connection with my parents is part of the reason I feel weird about the idea of calling my fiancé’s parents “mom” and “dad.” Lovely people, they truly are, but it almost feels like a slap in the face to my biological mom and dad.
It all started when I visited with my fiancé’s parents a couple of weeks ago to get measured for an aso oke for our wedding. When referring to my fiancé’s father while he was knocked out on the couch taking a nap, I called him “Mr. ___.” To which, his wife, my future mother-in-law, responded with “Who?”
When I repeated what I said, albeit a little nervous as I felt I had said something wrong, with a confused expression, she looked me square in the eyes and said, “That’s daddy. I’m mommy. We’re family now.”
The way she addressed me wasn’t aggressive or creepy at all, but those two words, “daddy” and “mommy,” literally threw me off. So I just responded with “Yes, ma’am,” a smile and a nod, and carried on with other conversations with her. But it stuck in my head for days. Weeks actually. Right up to now, as I write this, I’ve been thinking about it. Yes, I’m obsessive like that.
As Nigerians, it’s common to call elder women “mommy,” older sisters “Auntie ___,” and men in general “Brother ___,” including your actual brother. But did I mention that I’m an unconventional Nigerian in these streets? My dad didn’t really teach us our language (Bini). He didn’t tell us we had to curtsey to our elders. And we used to call our aunts and uncles “Aunt ___ ” or “Uncle ___,” instead of just auntie or uncle, which I was later told was disrespectful by a relative. Excuuuuuse me.
Maybe if I had known all these things and practiced them from a young age, I would have no issue calling my future in-laws “mommy” and “daddy.” But as it stands, a.k.a., me being who I am, it feels like I’m betraying my real mom and dad.
There’s just something odd about bestowing individuals with the title of Mom and Dad when they had no role in providing for me, raising me or supporting me through the ups and downs of my life. They didn’t shed any tears for me. They didn’t work long hours to put food in front of me or send me to college. They didn’t give up their opportunities and jobs to be a stay-at-home mom for my siblings and I. They didn’t clean my wounds. They didn’t wait up late for me on prom night, or any other night when I came home late. They didn’t give me my first job selling traditional Ankara-fabric clothing and handmade jewelry at festivals in the city. They didn’t teach me to drive. They didn’t come to my volleyball games, basketball games, choir or band performances, or my chess matches. (YES, I was in the chess club. You don’t want these hands.) They didn’t stay strong and go on for me after my brother died. They didn’t call and support me during my breakdown freshman year of college. And they didn’t drive 13 hours with me, and all my things, to New York City when I told them I had a dream I wanted to fulfill.
They’re not my mom and dad. Or “ma” and “daddy” as I call them.
They will be, in another way. And if I’m lucky, I will probably create a bond with them that will allow me to feel comfortable with them. To say that I love them. To call them weekly. And to not have a second thought when it comes to calling them my parents. But we’re not there yet.
People might think it’s easy to up and call someone whatever they ask you to refer to them by, but some titles come with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears behind them. And in most cases, they need to be earned through trust and time together. This is just the beginning…