Paul and Caroline Udenyi, founders and lead counselors, Paul and Carol Family Ministries, have been married for 40 years. But after four children and six grandchildren, they are still exuding love for each other. The secret of their happy marriage is what the man, an architect and his wife, an educationist, shared with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE in this interview held in Abuja, recently. Excerpts:
Could you tell us how you met before two of you got married?
Husband: We were both members of the same Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) at the Ahmadu Bello University main campus, Zaria. The actual incident that brought us here was a get- well card I innocently sent to her as a sister in the fellowship when she was once ill. That sparked off some form of suspicion and gossip from the other fellowship sisters in her hostel block, Queen Amina Hall. She may wish to fill in more details in this area.
Wife: Paul and I met in the University as early as 1978. We were both members of the same Fellowship of Christian Students. He was one of three friends who usually escorted some of us back to our hostel after fellowship to save us from embarrassments from other boys lurking around on the way. One day, while I was ill, he sent me a get-well-soon card and the other sisters started asking me what was going on. Really, there was nothing between Paul and me in the way they were thinking. But because of their insinuations, I decided to ask him if the card he sent was intended to start a relationship with me. He was shocked too because that was not his intention. I said I would not like any such thing to come in as we are friends. Unknown to me, he had been telling God since he was in secondary school that in order not to make mistakes in marriage, He should make sure that the girl who would be his wife would be the one to first talk about marriage. After that day, I forgot about all that and we continued as friends. It was much later that he came back to propose to me. It took me months to give him an answer because I decided to pray about it. God dropped it in my mind that Paul and I were meant for each other. I told Him why it was not going to be possible because of my parents. Secondly, I was not thinking about marriage at that time because I thought I was not ready. I had given my life to Christ in 1972 and so I have a relationship with God. I also asked senior Christian brethren I respected to pray for me and to tell me about their spiritual assessment of Paul and his character. I desired that their answers should be negative but all of them gave me positive answers about him. So, I eventually said yes to his proposal.
Was there opposition from anywhere – relatives, friends – concerning your marriage?
Husband: There was. My mother naturally raised an eyebrow over the fact that she was not from our locality or even tribe. She was from Osun State of the Yoruba ethnic nationality while I am from the Idoma stock of Benue State.
Wife: There were serious oppositions on my side. My parents wanted me to marry from our tribe and Paul was not from my tribe. Being the first daughter, my mother did not want me to go far away from her. They were afraid of cultural differences too. Other family members that were of the same mind backed her up. When I told my parents about Paul, the obvious answer was no! I decided not to disobey them. So Paul and I decided to hold on and pray to God to help us with our parents. I never told my parents anything about him again. After some months, my mother called me and told me that I had so many Christian brothers around me with whom I went out for evangelism. But I had never told her that I wanted to marry anyone of them. So, for me to say that about Paul, I should send for him so she could have a chat with him. Meanwhile, I had the conviction that God was going to use my mother to favour us. After their conversation, the permission was given to me to start a relationship with him. Patience, humility, and honouring one’s parents were vital as we waded through that stage.
What made you decide to go for your wife out of the many ladies available for a pick within that period?
Husband: From early in life, I was overly concerned about God’s choice of wife for me because I was so gripped with the phobia of making a mistake, and ‘picking’ someone other than that particular spouse God created just for me. That was going to spell d-o-o-m starting here on earth. In fact, I was so scared that without even knowing who she would be, I prayed for her every Friday, without fail, throughout my secondary schooldays to 1978 when we met. If you pray for someone that long, when you meet her, you will know her – it worked for me. Like she told you, there was an agreement I had with God – something, in particular, that would identify her for me. If you like, I had placed a fleece before the Lord like Gideon did in the Bible in Judges 6:36-40. The very moment I saw what I had agreed with God as the sign of His choice, I knew that she was the one.
What qualities made you choose him above other eligible bachelors or suitors within that period?
Wife: We were friends and we related well. The foremost was the fact that he was sincere about his walk with God. He exhibited integrity, Christ-like behaviour and lifestyle. He also communicated effectively.
What do you remember most about your wedding day?
Husband: Two things: one, she was most gorgeous! The picture of how she looked is still in my head – after 40 years. Two, I remember going out early that morning with my best man, and the car we were in got stuck in muddy water somewhere in Lagos, I cannot even remember exactly where in Lagos right now. It took us almost forever to get out of the mess that day.
Wife: I remembered that those we asked to assist in setting up things were dedicated and did things well. It rained early in the morning but stopped in good enough time for the occasion on that day. Few drops of tears ran down my face when I was saying yes to the vows because the seriousness of what I was saying dawned on me. I knew I had to trust God to help me. When I was escorted to my husband’s house and my family left me behind, I realized that marriage is a journey of faith in God and in each other.
Could you remember your first misunderstanding in marriage and how did you handle it?
Husband: Yes, I do. It happened soon after we resumed work following our honeymoon. We both had our NYSC primary assignment at the University of Ilorin. On returning from work together, she would go straight to the kitchen to get lunch ready while I sat on the couch to read the dailies. Little did I know she soon began to build resentment towards me – that I was not helping her in the kitchen knowing that we came back from work together. I think she can better recount how we handled it.
Wife: Our first misunderstanding was about Paul not helping with house chores. We both went to work and I would come back to do the cooking and other things. I felt bad and I started to resent him. I did not discuss it because I felt he should know, and all sorts of ideas started flooding my mind. Thank God for the Holy Spirit who rebuked me and asked me if I had discussed the issue with him? When I did, I was shocked to know that in their culture men were not allowed in the kitchen – women’s territory. He apologized, and we kick-started what God would have us do, not tradition. He picked some areas of house chores he could help with, including washing plates at times and he stayed with me while cooking and we had fun working together. It brought a lot of understanding, compassion and more time to communicate.
What were the major roles each of you played in raising your children?
Husband: We realized from the onset that the area of raising children could be a very touching issue in a cross-cultural marriage. So we made up our minds early enough that we were not going to be sentimental about it. When it comes to acting on decisions taken, either of us takes care of assigned actions as and when due. In situations when discipline is required. Carol does not need to say: “Wait till your father comes, then I will report you.” No, she takes the appropriate sanction I would have taken if I were around. Waiting “till your father comes” would erode the power and authority she was supposed to command. If that authority is not properly established and maintained, the children will disrespect her and see their father as the tyrant. Secondly, if she took an action that I considered inappropriate, I would not reprimand or openly disagree with her in the presence of the children. That would be on the agenda for discussion in the bedroom. It is my responsibility to protect my wife’s authority before the children and wards.
Wife: Paul and I tried by God’s grace to live our Christian life by example and where we made mistakes, we apologized to the children and we were open to them for correction. Daily, together as a family, we had a family altar (devotion) where the scripture was read, explained and practical steps outlined. The children were punished whenever they went wrong. But that would be after explaining the reasons and getting a firm promise from them not to misbehave again. The punishment was for them to remember their promise. My children never liked me for that, and I had to apologize later in life, especially to my first daughter who I held responsible for most of their misbehaviour. My belief then was that if the first is spoilt the rest would be affected. We had family time together. We ate breakfast and super together at the dining table. Each child had a day of the week to receive special attention and treat. When they were much grown, this exercise changed to having a day of the week to cook. They were encouraged to ask and discuss anything with us. We were open to them about how the home was run, especially the financial and logistics of running the home. Their talents were discovered early, and we tried to help the much we knew. We sought their opinions in some matters and learnt to respect them. The problematic issue of house helps was a pain in the neck. Some of them were not just it! So, my children learnt to do house chores early. Some of my in-laws were around at times and were helpful.
While raising the children, which language did they learn to speak: Idoma or Yoruba? And what factor was responsible for this?
Husband: The issue of the language the children speak can become a serious challenge in cross-cultural marriage relationships if not handled properly. Naturally, because the children grow up being closer to their mothers at the early learning stages, they are quicker in speaking their mother tongue, especially when the mother is yet to be fluent in her husband’s language. Generally, women would enjoy hearing their children speak their husbands’ language fluently as an expression of their love for their husbands. The other reason women would want their children to speak their father’s language is to avoid being accused of wittingly dragging the children to their own side of the cultural divide. In our own case we were more deliberate about the choice of the language we taught the children. We did not want to succumb to the fear of partisanship but rather considered what would be most beneficial to them when they grew up. As my wife, Carol, was not fluent in Idoma just as I was not in Yoruba, we decided to teach and communicate with them in English. We taught them standard Queen’s English so that they would have the advantage of a head-start in their studies in school.
How did you successfully handle your finances as a family?
Husband: We realized that most marriages that break down have their initial cracks from issues related to finance. Most couples enter marriage very unclear as to how to handle their finances; so each spouse would hold their individual pre-marital sources of finance so close to their chests with the vow never to be cheated. This fear gives birth to all manner of ideologies about who should spend how much money on what in marriage. Well, within the first one hour of our starting the relationship, we walked down to the Samaru branch of Barclays Bank, now Union Bank Plc, and opened a joint savings account with the mandate that either of us could operate the account fully. We both emptied our individual accounts into it. We run a joint account till date.
Wife: Thank God for helping us to love each other above money and material things. We realized early that we were more important than what money could buy, and our value was in God, so we focused more in that area.