Last week, we started running a series of interview with Sir (Engineer) Malachy Okechukwu Megwa and his wife, Lady Stella Nkemdirim Megwa, marriage counselors with the Catholic Church, on their experiences in the marital journey which started after their wedding in October 1982. In the second and concluding part, they share with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, in Abuja, memories of their wedding day, first misunderstanding and some pieces of advice for newly married couples. Excerpts:
What do you remember most about your wedding?
Husband: Our wedding was the talk-of-the-town because everybody lent a helping hand. We had almost 100 cars as motorcade on that day. One of my uncles was a manager in a brewery and brought all the beer and Chapman. My uncle’s wife was so happy that she brought a seven-step cake. Our friends rallied round us. The Bachelor’s Eve was organized in my absence by my friends who were happy because I was going to wed the next day. We got married at Joseph’s Cathedral, Kaduna. It was officiated by Father John Brown, a white man. He was the same priest that baptized our first daughter, Kayla, who is today a journalist with Channels Television. In those days, it was the in-thing to have your wedding reception at the Catholic Centre; it was an event centre. Both the church service and reception were full. One noticeable thing that happened that day was that my father-in-law, a priest of the Anglican Church, came in his full regalia. After he walked his daughter down the aisle, Father John Brown, the officiating minister asked him to join them on the podium where other catholic priests were seated to celebrate the mass. Although it was a catholic wedding, he an Anglican priest, was accorded that honour.
Wife: What I remember that day is that my father and I were crying as he walked me down the aisle. I had my natural hair on, which was very long. So when my father opened the veil and saw me, he started crying and said ‘you are very beautiful.’ I didn’t know what to tell him. As we were walking down and he held my hand, I told him he was embarrassing me with his tears. He would say: ‘I’m okay’, clean his eyes but when he looked at me again he would start crying. I really didn’t know why he was crying but he succeeded in walking me down the aisle and handed me over to the priest. During the toast at the reception, my father cried again. So the MC said, ‘Daddy, you have been crying since, what’s the problem?’ He said: ‘I am happy that my daughter is married but I’m not happy because I am going to miss her because she is special to me.’ That made me cry too. During the traditional marriage, my father also cried.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how did you handle it?
Husband: It’s difficult to remember any misunderstanding in marriage because we wanted each other. Except for our relations especially from my side who wanted to bring in disagreement between us over where to first visit whenever we came home on a holiday. Her parents lived on the way; so we will naturally branch there first and visit her parents. But my family showed disapproval of this and it nearly caused distress between us. We discussed about it and saw that it was not a big deal. For our own peace of mind, we decided that we would arrive Owerri first, spend a day or two before visiting her parents in Abia.
Wife: They felt that whenever we got to my parents’ place first we would have given them everything we brought. So the first question my father-in-law would ask when we arrive was: ‘have you seen Ogbonna?’ And, innocently, I would say yes, and that in fact we had been there before coming here. And, when they asked if we wanted to eat we would say we had already eaten over there and they would be angry. Innocently, I didn’t know that I was reporting myself. I didn’t know they were angry until they started calling for early morning meetings and asking me to excuse them. The meeting would be as early as 5am. So I would be restless. I noticed that at a stage he would try to implement whatever they told him at these meetings. And when he came in I would expect him to say what transpired and I would attack him verbally. I said one day they would tell you how to sleep with your wife. When I started having kids and the issues started coming up I felt bad. When it became an issue, I asked: what are we fighting for? After all, I’m the same person that would go to the market to buy things and share them equally among the families. My husband said, don’t worry. We would always go but we won’t tell them when we arrived Owerri that we went to Abia first. I refused. I said I would not tell lies. I said I would not be going home to Abia any more, let’s just stay in Owerri. Eventually, we resolved the issue knowing that there was nothing to quarrel about. He convinced me that if we went to Owerri first, we would have more time to spend with my parents and that was how we resolved the matter.
Another thing that brought quarrel was his brothers living with us. Before I came they were two of them already living with him and his cousin, a lady. We used to live peacefully together until the boys started misbehaving. This led to quarrels all the time. If someone did not eat in the morning and afternoon because he was out of the house, he would want to be served all three square meals for that day in the night. He would taste all of them and carry the rest to the dog. But my husband was not talking to them. They would go out, get drunk and come back with their girlfriends into the room and they would ask me to clean it after they finished messing up the place. I would do so though I would be upset. This went on for over five years. My husband would beg and say please endure. They would eat but to wash plates became a problem. In fact, they would break it even. But it’s funny because they later got married to wives they couldn’t even control. In fact, when one of them got married, one day we went to their house for a visit and met him with a heap of clothes, including that of his wife and children. He was sitting outside and washing them. I said: ‘Oga, why are you the one washing this heap of clothes? Where is your wife?’ He said last night she was not feeling too well. I reminded him how he used to throw away my soaked clothes in the bucket, how he never allowed his brother to get for me even a glass of water because he would call him names. When you look back, you would see that God has a way of doing His things.
Husband: I told her to bear with them that they would soon graduate and leave the house. Nowadays, couples don’t know that with patience, six months imprisonment can be over in a twinkle of an eye. I told her that she shouldn’t worry about them, that they would not live with us forever. I said they would get married and leave on their own. Today, they are on their own. One of them has even more children and grandchildren than I have. That is how we also endured our son. Even if he lived with us for 10 more years, when the time comes he would fly away just like an eagle.
What’s your husband/wife’s favourite food?
Husband: It’s very simple, yam pepper soup especially when it rains. She likes it with dry fish and all the spices you can think of. It warms people up especially when it’s cold.
Wife: His favourite food is rice and beans with stew. He prefers it with meat but as one grows older you avoid beef. So He prefers fish especially dry fish.
And, what do you like most about her?
Husband: She is a very gentle woman. She is one of a kind: she is not quarrelsome. She is not fanatical about her feelings, needs and requirements. She is flexible: superior arguments can always win with her.
Wife: I like his sincerity, truthfulness; he sticks to his words. He doesn’t play games with his words instead he would keep quiet.
What advice do you have for a young bachelor who intends to marry because marriages today are between a bully and his nurse?
Husband: You must marry someone you like either physically or intellectually. Marital love is not natural love; it develops; it is something you work on. So marry your friend, don’t allow your family choose for you whom to marry; it doesn’t always work out well. We have seen situation where somebody brought his wife back to the Rev. Father and said, ‘take, I don’t want her again.’ Getting married to someone is not a decision that happens in an hour or a day but years. Be patient with each other. I tell couples who want to marry that you cannot change anything. For instance, if you knew the person drinks and smokes and you say you will change him, you cannot. If you cannot endure the habit, don’t marry him. But if you think you can endure his habit, then marry him.
What advice do you have for a spinster who intends to marry?
Wife: Like my husband said, marry your friend. Be ready to endure. This is because there is nothing like marriage between two equals. The Bible has said it all: the husband is head of the wife. The Bible didn’t say the woman is the head of the family. When marriage started, the children were not there, the husband was the head. There is no apology. We tell couples during counseling that the man is the head, the woman must accept that. If there is no head, there will be no ‘ship’. My husband is the coolant in the family, whenever there is crisis in the family he is the one to say: ‘stop it.’ The woman must be ready to listen to her husband, develop a mechanism to cope when she is boiling over an issue. Develop a way to communicate your feelings.
Husband: But being the head does not mean that your wife is your maid. Being a head doesn’t mean you should flog her with koboko. In one of our counseling sessions, I asked a young man: why did you marry this lady in the first instance? He said she was a younger sister of his neigbour and because she was not hard working, he was beating her at will after they got married. I told him angrily, go and look for a wife to marry because this one you brought is your house help. Marriage is an equal partnership but the husband is the head. Even in a company that is a limited liability, that has board of directors, there is always the head. Someone has to make the decisions, else the place will be on autopilot.
But should one of the spouses be violent, will you advise they separate?
Husband: Well, when one’s life is at stake, we will advise temporal separation to see if that will cause them to long for each other so that when they come together the second time, they would have learnt the value of each other. For us Catholics, we have what is called annulling impediments and if reported to the church, the marriage will be annulled. For instance, if you mistakenly married a blood relation, someone who concealed things about his or herself like infertility or being impotent on the part of the husband, you can annul the marriage.
We have recorded a lot of incidents of violence especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, so what happens?
Wife: When we talk to couples on our parish, we give them live examples. We have someone who is today languishing in Kuje prison. One day, he beat the wife so much that she fell down and died. In order to cover his tracks, he bought Sniper and poured into her mouth to make it look as if she committed suicide. But the family of the girl insisted on an autopsy and it was discovered that she didn’t ingest anything. If you marry and you have these issues, report to the church and let them step in to settle your differences. If it doesn’t work out, you can go your separate ways because if you say you want to endure, it may end up in disaster. And if it has to do with fertility issues, those things can be addressed medically nowadays.