Lifestyle

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Of chips and old blocks

BRENDAN O'CARROLL recently showed his 12-year-old son Eric an old family photo. "I don't remember that," Eric said, looking at what he thought was a picture of himself presenting a bouquet to the bride, at a wedding he couldn't recollect. It was, in fact, a photograph of Brendan, aged seven, on his older sister's big day - and while Eric is told all the time how much he resemb

BRENDAN O'CARROLL recently showed his 12-year-old son Eric an old family photo. "I don't remember that," Eric said, looking at what he thought was a picture of himself presenting a bouquet to the bride, at a wedding he couldn't recollect. It was, in fact, a photograph of Brendan, aged seven, on his older sister's big day - and while Eric is told all the time how much he resembles his father, in every way, the snap still came as a surprise, though a pleasant one.

"He just worries that he'll be bald by time he's 30," Brendan jokes and his son laughs and rubs at his reassuringly full head of sandy hair.

"I see myself in every mannerism of Eric's," Brendan O'Carroll continues, "every bit of him. I see shades of myself in the older two, Danny, 21, and Fiona, 24 - but Eric's more holistically me."

A confident, likeable boy, Eric looks like his dad and has plans to be a performer, but the similarities and sympathy go deeper than that since he was assessed as dyslexic six years ago.

Eric distinctly remembers the trouble he had with school work before his diagnosis. "I couldn't do my spellings and I kept getting zero in everything," he says. He was aware that lessons came more easily to his classmates, but he didn't say anything at home.

After tests, Eric was assessed as "classic dyslexic" - which meant he had difficulties with reading and writing and sequencing.

"I didn't even know what they were talking about," Brendan says. "They said he'd need resource teaching and maybe some extra teaching outside school and I was nodding away and then the expert said, 'You know dyslexia usually runs through the male line of the family?' It didn't click for a minute, I thought, 'God, how stupid was my da?' Brendan was given a page to read and told he had the reading speed of a 10-year-old.

"I always knew I read slowly," he says, "But I thought it was because I was really concentrating. I told her I'd written four novels, six screenplays and four plays and she told me that William Butler Yeats was dyslexic."

"And Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein," Eric pipes up.

Within days, Eric, Brendan and Danny were diagnosed with dyslexia. Brendan recalls that before Danny was tested, he said, "Da, I hope I am dyslexic, because if I'm not, I'm just a dope."

Eric laughs at this memory with the confidence of a kid who has been regularly reassured that he's clever, capable and very smart.

Soon after they learned about the dyslexia, Eric moved to Rathreagan National School in Batterstown, where he's very happy and receives daily, individual teaching. "I started getting 20 out of 20 for my spelling and my tables and everything," he says. "And it felt kind of cool, because it was like something new went into my head."

"My kids are very lucky," Brendan starts, then pauses. "Because we're like you," Eric teases. "Thanks, love," Brendan replies, "but no, because they're not afraid. For my kids, finding out they have dyslexia hasn't been a scary thing, it has been like a light coming on. It made so many things make sense."

Fiona and Danny were 12 and 9, respectively, when Eric was born. "I had mixed feelings, I suppose," says Brendan of discovering there would be a new baby, when the other two were heading towards their teens. "We were starting to have more free time to ourselves, but really, I would have happily had 25 kids. I love them and I don't know what motivated me before them. I don't know why I got up in the morning before I had them."

Every healthy baby was "a bonus" after the death of Brendan and Doreen's first baby, also Brendan, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. The couple had been very young, only into their 20s, when that tragedy occurred - and it was a very different experience to become parents again in their 30s. One that had its advantages. By 1992, when Eric was born - quite premature, but otherwise perfect - Brendan's stand-up career was beginning to take off, they were more secure financially and a bit more mature to boot.

"As a baby," says Brendan, "Eric lifted my heart, but if I'd known he was going to turn into the boy he has, well, he's fantastic and there isn't a moment that we don't connect."

Unusually, Eric is unabashed by this outpouring of feeling and it's obvious that there's nothing his dad can say in front me that Eric hasn't heard before. He doesn't cringe when Brendan talks of his talent at football and acting and painting. He's used to it, it seems and there's little that's taboo between them.In particular, this becomes clear on the topic of Brendan's split, six years ago, from Doreen. Brendan talks about it as a sad, but sensible parting of the ways, "square pegs in round holes" and how he and Doreen realised they wanted different things out of life. "All I remember," says Eric, "Is we were all out in the car and dad stopped for the paper and the front said 'Brendan and Doreen O'Carroll Split'."

It hadn't really dawned on six-year-old Eric that his parents had split up until he read it. And he knew what this meant from kids at school whose parents were apart, he understood the implications. "I told them you have to not stop talking," Eric says, "And I tried to get them back together a few times."

He laughs, slightly embarrassed, at the last bit, but Brendan jumps in with reassurance. He explains that it's normal to want things to go back to the way they were, but that life doesn't work that way. Things change, but that can be good, mostly things work out for the best.

After the split, Danny went to live with Brendan and, later, Eric followed. These days, Eric shares his time between Doreen and Brendan, has two of everything, lots of friends at both homes and a good relationship with Brendan's partner, Jenny. "We never separated, not me and him," Brendan says.

Eric plans to be a performer, like his father and older brother. Eric nods enthusiastically when Brendan points out Danny's achievements as an actor who has won every role for which he has auditioned. "Me next," Eric says with a laugh.He enjoys being a chip off the old block. As a small boy, he loved joining his father on the road to the extent that eventually Doreen and Brendan had to tell him the airlines had new rules about unaccompanied minors.

For the last two years, Eric has played Bono, Mrs Brown's grandson, in his father's videos and soon he will audition for a role in the Artemis Fowl film. Proudly, Brendan tells me that Eric has read all the Artemis Fowl books.

"I'm very proud of him," says Brendan. "And I'd be lost without him. He started off 2lbs 5oz and I can't believe what he's become. He started off a little bag of sugar and turned out a big bag of sh--."

Laughing so he nearly falls over, Eric finishes off the word for his father. The bad word, of course. Like father, like son, in so many ways.

In order to raise funds for special teaching for disadvantaged children with dyslexia, Brendan O'Carroll has called on primary schools and workplaces across the country to support National Game Playing Week, October 22-29. Registration ends Friday, October 15. More information about National Games Playing Week can be found on www.nationalgameplayingweek.ie

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