In these many years past, on each of those birthdays that I rarely celebrate, I wonder if I have accomplished enough at the age I have attained. Have I really earned it? Am I still the basket case of my large extended family? Am I ahead or behind my age mates in primary school or my class mates in college, or my peers all over the world? These may be idle questions that occur to me in those rare moments of introspection that quickly follow whenever my children remind me that it’s my birthday again.
I am a child of October, the 10th to be precise. So what? What is this day in October meant to venerate? The love and wisdom of my dear parents, Mazi Onwudiwe Achigaonye and Nwamgbede Onyegbule Achigaonye, both now happily in heaven after leaving for my only sister – Ijeuru – and five brothers a lot of wealth to grow and to enjoy. Or is it meant to commemorate a kingdom, united here on earth that made them Nigerians – ‘just like that’? It doesn’t really matter.
What’s important is that the event of my coming into the world was efficiently organised by my mother and father in blessed moments of pleasure right here in this beautiful part of the earth cobbled together with the Maxim gun. Each time friends from every nook and cranny of my past years – men and women of all tongues and faiths – patched coarsely together as one by force and trade, and by tricks and treaties gather to celebrate my new number, 40, 50, 60 (and counting), I am always forced to interpret our lives together as the years have rolled by.
Every October 10, at the glorious event of my birthday, I have always been grateful to these family and friends who come together to remind me – not only about the kindness of God for my unearned longevity – but also of the reality of my unremarkable existence, despite bountiful gifts from my parents and blessings from God.
That cannot mean that birthdays should only be celebrated by great achievers who have not stupidly frittered away the great gifts they are blessed with. No, that day of birth is for everyone to eat, drink and be merry because we all emerged from our dear mothers by the will of God, not by our own effort. On birthdays, we must celebrate the givers of our lives; God and our parents. That’s what we must be thankful and grateful for on all birthdays.
Ours is to reflect on our duty and purpose in this transitory life of ours. What, for example, is the significance of our existence? Should a person at the ripe old age of 60 or so still be carrying on like an over-grown toddler — his room in terrible disorder and not a care in the world about tomorrow? These and more are what my wife wrote on the birthday card she gave me at 60. “What do you mean ‘toddler’?” I thundered, “When? Where? How?”
“Calm down, let me explain.” she soothed, just as you would a kid. “You are sixty, but you are not more independent than any of our children when they were babies. As we speak, you are the head of this family according to your Bible, but frequently you need more babysitting than some prodigal teenager whose innate abilities are to think only of his stomach and his pleasure.”
Now, I always suspected that my wife didn’t like my biblical rights as the head of the family. But these accusations must stop before the children start listening to her impending rebellion! I told her exactly that.
She shook her head in exasperation, looked straight into my eyes and said, “They are already there, honey.” “Wake up, my leader,” (something she only calls me when there’s trouble in the house). “Where is their enthusiasm for your birthday? Please listen to me. Make a New Year resolution to end your self-absorption because it is slowly killing this family. And your profligacy, especially since you are retired and don’t work anymore.”
“At the age of 60, you are still planning to take a mortgage to build another mansion in Owerri! What is wrong with you? How are you going to pay for the mortgage?” None of this made any sense to me. “The children are there, are they not? What I borrow to buy and enjoy now will be theirs! After all, aren’t we one indivisible family?”
Softly, and almost in a whisper full of love and concern she said: “Don’t take that for granted, dear.” Then she hugged me and said, “Happy Birthday, my leader!” Women!