Mama is always right, except when she isn’t...

A mother-son relationship axis is strange, but a time comes when you have to confront your mother, cut the umbilical cord that shackles you and be your own man.

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Two years ago, I got an opportunity to leave my motherland Kenya. I had been offered a job in Uganda. I was excited, not least because I would do my fair share of integrating East Africa by getting myself a subservient knee-kneeling Ugandan wife—or two. Like any self-respecting Kenyan, the first thing I did was call my mother and tell her the great news. At first, she was excited. Then perturbed. I could pick out some concerns. “Are you sure you are ready to live alone in another country? Why don’t you just use that to strongarm your boss for more money? What about us?”

Concern turned to fear and fear, disappointment. And—was that testiness I heard in her voice?

My mother, Ashioya Sr Empress, was not just a mother, not just a mom. She was a disciplinarian. She was strong-willed. She was a coquettish beauty from Kakamega who loved her children with a power that could pry ribs apart—sometimes a little bit too much. She tended, she administered. Like the government, she loved being up to grasp with whatever her children were up to: Who are you dating, when will you give me grandchildren, why are you getting tattoos—don’t you know that tattoos ni alama ya shetani?

But it was not me she was worried about. It was her. What my absence would mean for her. I understood then that in her efforts to keep me ‘safe’, she had to cut the ground under my feet. I called her because I was weaned, and subsequently dependent on the breast milk of her reassurance. It’s reassurance which subtly conveys that other people’s judgements are worth more than my own, that their words come from on high and mine come from the backwater where The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives dwells, and that my own voice and intuition aren’t dependable. Or as she would say, because I said so.

Now, I love my mother the way the government adores its taxpaying citizens, but it came to a point where I had to cleave from her. For men, this is particularly a strong indictment, with the cases of single-parent homes rising, and more men getting raised by women such that she is the only form of masculine energy in the house. It gets hard to tell your mother no, but it is imperative that a man learns to leave his home.

If you believe the press, they say that mama’s boys are affectionate, kind, caring. But so are dogs. The truth is, the majority of the problems we have in society are because of men who want to eat their mandazi and still have it. Men are shouting from the rooftops that women are taking over, but when they are given the opportunity, they shun away from the responsibility. That’s not how it works. Because while mothers protect you from the world, fathers will threaten you with it.

The dry joke on social media is of how young men have gained a reputation for remaining attached to their mother’s apron strings—enjoying home-cooked food, sharing the family soap, washing and ironing, refusing to leave home. With a respectful nod to the staggering unemployment rate (you know how it is when you don’t know people in this country), the solution is in not getting protected, but getting thrust in. I say this having checked my privileges, and understanding that in a few decades, we will have a generation of men who will only be looking for their mothers (and their mother’s approval) in women they want to marry. And while we are at it, it is these same men who don’t know how to broach the subject of mothers-in-law: one who refuses to give in to ageing and sees her daughter-in-law as a rival, and the other that has dedicated her life to her family and expects payback for life.

As an armchair expert on matriarchal obsession, I put it to you that a mother’s job is to cuckold you, because most fathers are often absent from the home, for a variety of reasons, chief being, point your fingers here, the need to earn a living. See, the mother-son relationship axis is strange—I can, and will, confess without shame that I have looked for my mother in every woman I have dated, that strict, cautious and strong-willed woman, preferably tall with a strong dislike for anything pineapples.

Which reminds me, ladies, be wary of those who wear the tag of mama’s boy with bravado citing ati I’m a tough mama's boy. But you are not a boy, are you? You are 43 with a bad back and missing tax returns. Obviously, you hope a man loves and honours his parents. But lionising is not the same as loving. If his conversational gambit is an in-depth account of how his mother made independence chapos for J. Kenyatta in 1963 leading to the destigmatisation of wheat, be warned. You’ll never measure up. As red flags go, this couldn’t be much redder. (Because I didn’t pay tithe on Sunday, take that as my offering.)

Nothing has protected me like the prayers of my mother. Against the hardships of young manhood in Kenya, against the trivialities of life, against the poisoned chalice of adulthood, she has been the one constant, like the K in Kenya that stands for corruption. But a time comes when you have to confront your mother, cut the umbilical cord that shackles you and be your own man. Have you been with a middle-aged man and seen him twitch after seeing a missed call from his mother? This is not a slight against motherhood. No. It’s a call to arms, to balance the stamp of our mother’s ideals against the best of our masculinity imprints. Because while love can be a saving grace it could so easily also be the stake through your heart.

I am telling you this because I am about to take another risk—no, it’s not getting married to a Ugandan woman, although I am not ruling that out. My people say, the wind will blow and the anus of the chicken will be seen. I am doing something, and I am not asking for mother’s permission, only her prayers.

My mother has been right about many things in life: You can love a person without loving their behaviour. Avocado goes with anything, even another avocado. You shouldn’t propose to someone’s daughter just because she looks good in an Arsenal jersey. But here, she was wrong. I should have taken that job. It is one of those things I regret, along with proposing to someone’s daughter just because she looked good in an Arsenal jersey.