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I Broke with Tradition to Find My Other Half

by Helen Fosam

To all the ladies with a significant other who respect and support them in everything they do, join me in thanking our partners. I guess I’m biased when I say my husband stands at the pinnacle of all the wonderful men out there. His love and patience that began more than three decades ago know no bounds. So, please, let me share our story, which has nothing to do with medical writing but has everything to do with my success as a medical writer and my MiLHO Initiative journey.

“You’ll be the mother of my children.” That was his chat-up line! Chaii! Can you believe it! It was the first week of postgraduate study at Sheffield University in the UK. I was leaving an Afro-Caribbean event, still high on the beat of the African rhythm that reaches deep down into the soul. He caught up with me as I exited the Student Union building and introduced himself – BF. Obviously, he must have been watching me. But I was busy eyeing someone else.   

I later learned that BF was a math major and a PhD candidate in statistics. Super smart and sensible. While I worked hard and played hard on a 50%:50% split, BF did the same on a 100%:0% split. He was dedicated to numbers. Stochastic equations and random number theory excited him as much as mathematical proofs. He wrote complex mathematical equations, which, to me, looked like organized chicken scratches with letters and numbers inserted at strategic places, and understood by those with a mind like his. For BF, 1+1 always made 2, no compromise. He did not mince his words. Precise, direct, and carefully vetted by his brain before leaving his mouth. No padding or sugar-coating of truths to make them less painful or more palatable, even if they come out sometimes sounding blunt or a little socially awkward. In contrast, words full of padding, like a thick mattress to soften the landing, and then layered with the sweetest candy to make bad news less bitter, were more my thing. I’m happy to compromise. So, I’m okay with 1+1 making 3, or 4, if necessary, especially if it has anything to do with social events.

My friendship with BF grew. His department was the adjoining building to my biological sciences building, where I was a PhD candidate in physiology. He found every excuse to be in my department. Squash was my sport in those days, taking up a significant portion of my 50% hard play. BF soon took an interest and wanted to learn how to play. I taught him, and we played regularly together. He became my best friend. The person I relied on for emotional support. But I was not ready for sensible. So, I settled for reckless. A relationship with that student I had been eyeing. When tears flowed from arguments, BF was there to console me and wipe away my tears. Repeatedly. Two years had passed, and I was still in my reckless relationship. Like an itch from a mosquito bite, sweet to scratch until you draw blood. 

Just before I defended my PhD thesis, my father came to visit me. This visit brought home the cultural obligation I knew I had to face as the first-born female in the family — the Ada. This obligation limited my potential suitors to within the boundaries of my hometown. Defying the obligation was like – hmmm, how can I put it – abdicating the throne after a lifetime of careful grooming. Not aware of this cultural predicament, BF, who is not from my hometown, or country for that matter, announced that he would meet my father to make his intentions known. What? Wow! Can you believe it? I was not even in a relationship with BF. We had never discussed marriage, and that chat-up line years ago about me being the mother of his children was long buried. I told BF I wanted nothing to do with his plan. I guess he knew something I did not. That my reckless relationship did not have a future, all he needed was time and patience for me to get reckless out of my system. And patience? He had a bag full of it. I only found out that BF had gone through with his plan when my father told me about his visit — all by himself. I have no idea how their conversation went, but judging from the look on my father’s face, he was not impressed or pleased.

After graduation and with a newly minted Dr. in front of my name, the emotional rollercoaster with reckless finally ended. I traveled to my home country to be introduced to a potential suitor my parents thought checked all the boxes. With nothing in common with their choice, I returned to the UK to pursue a postdoctoral research position. BF had taken up a lectureship position at the local polytechnic. Steady and unwavering, he remained my best friend. Five years had passed since that chat-up line. I asked BF why he did not move on. I’m not looking for anyone else, he said. He said he would move on only when he saw a wedding ring on my finger given to me by someone else. I cried. I cried again when he told me he would stay home – house husband, they called it those days – if I wanted to pursue my career. He kept his word. 

He was right. I am the mother of our children. Until we could organize childcare, he looked after our newborn when maternity leave ended, and I went back to work. And for more than two decades, Saturdays have been his day in the kitchen to cook. We have known each other 32 years. We celebrated 27 years of marriage in December 2022.

I broke with tradition to find my other half. I disappointed my parents, but I would not have it any other way. BF remains my best friend, the solid rock on which I stand. Encouraging, supportive, and incredibly patient. BF has played a big part in my career, in my success as a medical writer, and in pursuing my passion — the MiLHO Initiative. 

On reflection, I can offer nothing to anyone about something as personal as a relationship. I can only say that if you have a perfect significant other, don’t let them go. Instead, commit to working together to build the future you want and deserve. I was lucky that Bekia Fosam saw our future together long before I did, and I cherish that luck every day.