Sunday 25 June 2017

Breffny Morgan: My amazing single mum

On the eve of Mother's Day, Breffny Morgan pays tribute to his beloved mother Geraldine

Breffny Morgan

A conventional family is a rare thing. Most people perceive their family as stranger than the norm. There always seems to be a spanner in the works; something that the elders dwell on obsessively in their private thoughts; something that the young may consider in passing as they notice that they have oddly different situations at home compared with their peers.

One of the largest elephants in the room is the single-parent household. I write from personal experience as I was raised solely by my mother and her lovingly supportive extended family.

By signing the contract to participate on 'The Apprentice', I made every aspect of my life public property. All of my ambitions and vulnerabilities were exposed on TV overnight. A couple of weeks into the televised deconstruction of my personality, the controversy of being from a single-parent family landed on page two of 'The Sunday Independent'. Not batting an eyelid, I was glad that my family history was spotlighted. I have nothing but pride for the mother who raised me.

Geraldine Morgan showed me the very definition of commitment by putting every effort into rearing me, and doing so to the highest standards imaginable. She was younger than I am now (early 20s) when she became pregnant, and took a commendably mature course of action by transferring a huge amount of her own youthful ambition on to me.

When it comes to parenting, the adage of quality over quantity certainly applies. One very good parent is really all you need to get on in life. When my primary-school teacher refused Geraldine's petition to have me skip from fourth to sixth class, Geraldine -- herself a qualified teacher -- pulled me from the school and taught me the sixth-class syllabus from our living room.

Putting in 10-hour days at home side by side paid off for us when I sailed into a top Cork secondary school and finished first year with straight As and with a year of spared youth on my side.

In my experience, the single-parent, only-child combination leads to an indestructible bond. The nuclear family may be the staple of society, but there is something very special about the tone life takes between a child and their solitary parent. Both realise they are the only members of a two-person team and they have an in-built motivation to lead successful lives in order to defy the conventional logic.

When circumstances leave you isolated, you toughen up. When you get tough, you work hard. Hard work helped me gain admission to Harvard University on a needs-based scholarship, graduating in 2008 in biology.

Hard work also allows my mother to teach languages internationally. She now works in Russia and has found love with a fantastic man in Moscow, Igor.

However unorthodox I view my upbringing, my circumstances are not unique. According to the Department of Health and Children, one in eight Irish people lives in a one-parent family, with roughly 10,000 new additions to the roster every year.

I'm not going to speculate about the reasons behind this shift, even if the decline in influence of the Catholic Church is a factor staring us in the face.

Some one-parent families are less taboo than others. Roughly one-third of lone parents are simply widowed (2006 Census). The majority after that are either separated/ divorced (30pc) or single (36pc), which means most Irish one-parent families arise from a loss of love, or a lack of love in the first place.

Be it loss or lack, any absence of love between parents is a bitter pill to swallow, making this issue such a taboo.

Why?

Because the fundamental currency of family units is love, and if there isn't an interconnected web of love and shared living arrangements between a set of people and the offspring that create, something feels amiss.

Possibly the worst form of single-parent scenarios is when an existing nuclear family disintegrates, leaving what I would describe as the 'nuclear-bomb family'. It's one thing to never witness love between a mother and a father, it's another for a child to see it removed from the equation.

One of my completely unromantic evolutionary biology professors at Harvard would argue against my point, saying that love has a sell-by date and isn't essential between baby-making partners. While parents have good cause to love their children, partners do not necessarily need to love one another like two devoted swans.

In spite of this, the more a parent loves their offspring, the more they tend to provide for them. It is in your genes' best interest to nurture your immediate descendants. If a parent has any dealings with their child, then their love is almost invariably unconditional -- it's hard to fall out of love with your child.

However, sustaining love for one man or one woman till death do you part is arguably less essential. A couple doesn't share any genes, only an attraction based on a partner's potential for good breeding.

So once a child is raised, then poof! Congratulations, your genes have successfully secured places in the next round of natural selection -- there's no longer any need to remain in love.

This summarises the theory of a hard-nosed, highly renowned biologist that struck me as cold, but the frequency of one-parent families in this country (one in six) certainly lends it credibility.

Maybe it's time to admit that the rise in atypical families does not spell inevitable doom for our society.

Although not everyone born to a single-parent will have as motivated an environment as my mother provided for me, popular culture hints that adversity in the family circle can be positive.

Hip-hop, albeit the most assertive of music genres, champions the cause of single-parent households.

Consider the lyrics of Tupac: "I finally understand/For a woman it ain't easy tryin' to raise a man/You always were committed/tell me how ya did it There's no way I can pay you back/But the plan is to show you that I understand/You are appreciated".

Consider also the success of such television shows as 'Two and a Half Men' and 'Gossip Girl', where atypical families prosper. If this was abhorrent to us, then ratings for each show wouldn't be so high.

My ambition to succeed is by no means tinged with resentment for circumstances prior to my birth. As much as a man shouldn't drag personal issues through the press, I don't want to leave this story half-told.

As a point of closure and recognition of courage, my father recently volunteered to meet me. I accepted. It was a great occasion. In all aspects of human struggle, it is good to look for resolution. I was fortunate enough to reconcile with the parent who was, for a long time, only a shadow.

The meeting was not essential, but it facilitated what you could call a happy ending.

Nevertheless, I still consider myself the proud product of a single-parent family. My hope is that others raised in similar circumstances can relate to that sense of pride, and that they won't consider society's views as any barrier to success and fulfilment.

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