Timothy Munyao Makau, 59, and his wife Phyllis Wanza Munyao, 57, do a lot of talking and laughing together. Their friends often ask them what they are always talking and laughing about. Married for 34 years, the couple could easily be mistaken for newlyweds. They take FAITH MATHENGE-MURIGU through what has been a most joyous journey despite its fair share of challenges.
They dotingly refer to each other as dad and mum, which surprises me. I cannot imagine calling my spouse ‘dad’. “Should it not be honey, darling or those sweet names people in love constantly call each other?” I wonder loudly. Phyllis quickly responds, “What we call each other at any given time evolves over time; at marriage I called him ‘T’, short for Timothy, later he became Tim, then when our son was born he became baba Eric, and when children started calling us mum and dad, we picked that and it has stuck. It’s a sign of our love and respect for each other and also denotes the responsibility we hold as parents…”
Found each other in school…
Phyllis: I was born in Machakos County on April 16, 1955 and my parents relocated to Makueni County when I was still young. In 1971, I joined Mumbuni Mixed Secondary School in Machakos where Timothy was also a student. I became the school’s head girl in 1973 while in form three. My responsibilities included enhancing discipline in school and punishing those who went against school rules and regulations. One Friday, Timothy sneaked out of school to a nearby shopping centre, which was illegal, and one of the students alerted me. When Timothy came back, I summoned him and gave him a punishment equal to the crime – to water flowers in the school compound.
He half-heartedly did the punishment under my supervision, while all the time looking at me suggestively but I ignored him. After the punishment was over, he came to me and whispered to my ear that he wished me to be his girlfriend. I just laughed it off. We rarely met in school as we were in different classes.
At the time, one of my teachers wanted a relationship with me but I was not interested. I recall a time when we were in fourth form and we went on a tour to Tsavo National Park. At night, students went to do different things – some went into pubs and others to a discotheque. We sat on some benches a few metres from where our school bus was parked and braved the chilly weather with four students who, like me, were born-again. Some students told me in the morning that the teacher who wanted a relationship with me had been looking for me at night and even went further to make claims that I had slept with Timothy who was one of the boys who remained in the bus. He vowed to report us to the headmaster.
True to his word, when we returned to school, the teacher announced during assembly that some students had misbehaved on the tour and would be punished. He called out our names and asked that we see the headmaster. Timothy was so angry that he confronted the teacher and a fight broke out. The headmaster intervened and when he found there was no basis of the teacher’s accusations, he did not punish any of us.
The teacher was so furious that he threw me and other students involved from his class. It took the intervention of our parents and the headmaster for the matter to be resolved. Eventually the teacher was sent away from the school, as he seemed hell-bent to frustrate me for refusing to be his girlfriend and was so jealous of Timothy whom he assumed was my boyfriend. It was this intimidation by our teacher that brought Timothy and I closer. We thought if the teacher thought we were lovers, then why not? We started dating before we completed form four.
Beginning of a lifetime journey…
Timothy: We completed high school in 1974 and by this time Phyllis was officially my girlfriend. I got a job with Marshalls East Africa in Nairobi in February 1975. Phyllis and I were in a serious relationship and talking about marriage. Phyllis went to college after high school and got a job as a prisons officer in 1976. By coincidence, Phyllis’s father and my father worked together at the Kenya Meat Commission in Athi River and it was, therefore, easy when we told them about our marriage plans. Our wedding plans started in earnest in 1977 and dowry and all the other cultural requirements were fulfilled. We got married at a colourful wedding ceremony in Nairobi on October 1, 1977.
Our children, our joy…
Timothy: We started a family soon after marriage. I am proud to be a father. My children add so much joy into our marriage. I have been a present father since their birth. I accompanied my wife to hospital during all the deliveries. I changed my children’s diapers, fed and bathed them, did homework with them and dropped and picked them from school. I take my role as a father very seriously and would urge all men to do so.
Raising healthy and happy children requires that you listen to them and make them feel safe. You achieve this by praising and affirming them when they do well. You should also spend quality time with them. It’s also crucial to be consistent with your children. My wife and I set realistic house rules, which we expected our children to adhere to at all times. We also try to be good role models to our children because we know children are natural imitators and grow up with values they learn from their parents.
Phyllis: Parenting can be challenging, particularly when bringing up teenage children. It takes grace and wisdom to be a good parent. Each of our children has their unique personality and needs, which we recognise and deal with accordingly. We had five children but our last-born passed on in 2001. Eric Makau, 33, our first born, is married and has one child. He is a long-distance truck driver and also works in a motor vehicle show room. Our second born, Edwin Munyao, is an electrical engineer. He is married to a German woman and they have one child. They were staying in China but relocated to Germany recently. The third born, Esther Munyao, is an instructor in the prison ministry. She studied medical laboratory and is a mother of two. The fourth born, Evelyn Munyao, is in her final year at Kenyatta University.
Good values keep marriage grounded…
Phyllis: We consider the most important values in our marriage to be forgiveness, patience and understanding. By embracing these values we have lived harmoniously, executing our different roles as well as joint ones to create a marriage and family that we can say without a doubt are proud of. We have been blessed to both hold jobs most of the time since marriage as this has contributed greatly to our financial stability. We share all financial responsibilities, and I am lucky to have a very generous and responsible husband who does not withhold anything from his family.
We desist from the blame game in our relationship, as we know this can ruin a marriage. We never shout at each other or use abusive language, but instead solve our problems amicably through love and communication. We do not keep a record of wrongs but instead strive to forgive and forget.
Timothy: Healthy communication is a vital ingredient for a successful marriage. We communicate with each other in gentleness, kindness, concern, love and care. If you keep things to yourself, then you destroy your relationship. However, communication should not stop at talking about your emotions, but should include getting interested in your spouse’s daily activities and discussing them. A fulfilling relationship is one where you love your spouse enough to be honest with her about who you are and what you want in life.
On financial management…
Phyllis: Money is never enough. It requires combined effort to have stress-free financial planning and management. Money decisions can build relationships as easily as they can break them. My husband worked in the hotel industry for most of his working life – The Norfolk, Grand Regency, Windsor and several others. He was usually on contract, which meant there would be times he would be out of work. We have never operated a joint account, but our incomes are transparent. I work as a prisons officer at Industrial area and my husband is currently a businessman. Our most difficult time financially was when three of our children were in high school at the same time. Paying school fees was tough but God’s grace saw us through.
Timothy: When we face financial challenges, we remain open to each other. We have no secrets in our lives. We have remained faithful to each other. I consult my wife regularly on various issues.
Maintaining a healthy balance…
Timothy: I have lived peacefully with my wife since I married her. I have never abused her psychologically or physically because my parents taught me that a wife should be respected at all times. I am proud of my wife. She is a woman of great wisdom and very supportive to everyone in the family. I would urge men to love their wives wholeheartedly without any reservations. If you have a disagreement, learn to stay calm until an opportune time presents itself to resolve the issue.
Phyllis: I consider my husband the head of our family and I am the neck. As we know, the neck can turn the head in any direction and I usually seek God’s wisdom before taking any action in my marriage. We have mostly lived in free government accommodation in Nairobi as part of my work entitlement, and because of that we were able to save and buy land in Kibwezi. We have put up our dream house in Machakos. We have also invested in many other projects. But one of the things we are really proud of is having educated all our children.
Timothy: For a healthy marriage, intimacy must be present. Development of intimacy is a journey that lasts throughout your married life. For this to take effect there has to be mutual trust, acceptance, and open communication, caring for each other, apologising and seeking forgiveness.
Phyllis: Many Christian women struggle with the bible’s command to submit to their husbands. This should not be the case. Being submissive to your husband does not make you a lesser being. Submission is a way of respecting your husband as the head of your household. It translates to respectfully sharing your opinions with your husband.
Timothy: The reason most women have a problem with submission is because most men mishandle this noble task. They fail to consult their wives on matters that affect the family and still expect their wives to agree on all decisions they make alone. That is not leadership but dictatorship. A husband is expected to love his wife unconditionally as Christ loved the church. When he does so, the woman will have no problem submitting to him.
Published in May 2012