Society celebrates mothers, aunties and dotting grandmothers during Mothers Day. We also have a day for fathers which is not a celebration per se but a day for whiskey distillers, hat makers and cologne companies to make a killing. But we do not have an uncles day. Since our work in Drum Major blog is to blaze new trails, we dedicate the last Saturday of September to uncles and celebrate them.
Where I come from, maternal uncles have a special place in young man’s heart. Reason being that if your mom is estranged with her husband, your maternal uncles becomes your adoptive fathers by default. When a young man in my community needs to have his pencil sharpened, he has to seek blessings from his maternal uncle. Failure to which the operation may be botched. Who wants to start life with a botched pen full of ink? That tells you why this decree which was issued by Gikuyu himself just before he died in 1250 B.C. has never been broken.
Last August, I took a sabbatical in the village, which gave me time to interact with my maternal uncle. We are tight with him, but you will not find the two of us hugging. A fellow who always dons a well-sharpened machete does not go hugging like a sissie. My uncle was hewn from the same granite rock with Okonkwo-the famous Achebian character who believed that unnecessary display of emotion is, well, womanly.
However, that does not mean he loves his nephew the less. He often comes hard on yours truly, but in a fatherly way intended to nurture, not hurt. My uncle demonstrates the truism that it is possible to dote on children without necessarily getting mushy. They say a dad is worth his weight in gold. An uncle is worth his weight in wisdom.
One day, during my stay in the village, he found us having a quarrel with my sister. You know those small tiffs between siblings that never mean much? Such. In his characteristic way, he grunted to tell us that we were making noise for him with our silly arguments as he sat under the ancient avocado tree in our home, reading my old newspapers. Then,without much ado, he bid us goodbye. When I caught up with him the following day, he had a story from the Bible, unlike of him.
Paul was once preaching in Malta. He started the story, tapping the pointed tip of his panga on the wet ground under him.
Which Paul? I asked. He went on with the story; uncles are not to be interrupted.
Suddenly, viper jumped at him and coiled on his hand, and bit him. However, Paul shook it off .The vipers in Malta Island were known to be very poisonous .The Maltese expected Paul to fall dead any moment. But Paul suffered no effect and survived, and the Maltese were impressed a lot by that miracle.
Then he kept silent for me to absorb the short story.
So where do you think the viper’s venom went to? He asked me.
I do not know. I said.
Of course, you do not, and that is why I am telling you this story. Paul cursed all the vipers and their venom went into the mouths of women. He then went to feed his cow leaving me there to ruminate over the story.
Later, I realized he was referring to my earlier verbal tiff with my sister.
The story is from the book of Acts Chapter 28.However, my uncle, like a good storyteller, embellished it here and there to pass a point. Which is a man can’t win a verbal duel with a woman. The story, with my uncle’s embellishment, may look misogynistic-but you do not tell my uncle such a word. You will be in so much trouble to explain what it means such that you will doubt that it existed in the first place.
My uncle teaches like the great master-with simple down to earth lesson that endures in your heart forever. His life is like a lesson that leaves tire tracks in my mind. Here are a few other lessons that I have learnt from him.
When my uncle visits my children, he is all mushy, kneeling like a knight to greet them, bringing them sweet wild berries and fashioning toys for them from bananas stems. When he come to me, his demeanor changes:
Why is this cow not dewormed? Why have you stayed for so long without coming home?
He can be iron outside, but a doting father or grandfather within. To me, this demonstrates that a man can be hard and soft at the same time. And know when each disposition is required.
My uncle has no doubts about who runs his home. If you go to his home and his wife has gone say to a chama meeting, he will tell you:
Nimungianyua caai no mwene mucii ndari kuo.You would have taken tea but the owner of the home is not there. Women run homes. They are at the centre of each homestead-the fire that warms all the rooms in the house. When a man realizes this, he has no business competing with his wife, leaving him with time to pursue other ideals.
Watching my uncle and his wife go about their duties-in the evening verandas of their lives-is a study in synchrony. My aunt -who most of the time wears a white Mothers Union headscarf duties revolve around the kitchen, her small garden and church. My uncle’s life revolves around his cows and goats and the shamba. There’s is a perfect domestic harmony with the man involved in production, the woman in nurturing .There is a domestic contentment where each knows his or her boundaries. When I look at them, they remind me of the three stages of marriage: Dream, Drama, and Deepening. For me, they explicate the Deepening stage so well.
My uncle and his wife are not in Facebook.They are not in Instagram or Whats app. They don’t splash their photos of a happily wedded couple on social media-never will. But that doesn’t make them less happy. My uncle has never taken her to Java. Or Ken Chic for those overpriced bland food they call pizza which they yap about on Tuesdays. But that doesn’t make her feel less loved, or make him feel less of a man. The two are so close that you cannot put a paper between them. Love is not defined by what we consume. Love does not have to be screamed out to be. Love is.
For my uncle, responsibilities are the anvil on which a man is forged. Daily,his cows have to be fed and milked, be it Sunday be it Christmas. You can tell the time by when he wakes up to see that the cows are fed. Or when he milks them. Does he make millions from that? No. But he holds his shoulders high when his neighbors tell him that his milk is the creamiest in the ridge. His face beams when his peers ask him over a drink: how do we bring up strong heifers like yours? Many men have made millions from what they do, but never found meaning in what they do. That’s what makes the difference.
A man needs another man to help him navigate the rough uncharted seas of life. A man who will lead you by the hand and heart through life’s mazes. Nobody does that better than an uncle.
Celebrate your uncle this Saturday.