Monday 24 October 2016

A personal moment of Calvary

Published 18/09/2016 | 02:30

Family: How happy I feel when I push her buggy along the canal most mornings. Photo: Getty
Family: How happy I feel when I push her buggy along the canal most mornings. Photo: Getty

I had a bit of bad news recently. For a few days joy vanished - and grief of a kind took its place. I kept it inside. I always do.

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I think I have enough emotional intelligence (or at least I think I do) to know that the further I burrow inside my head, the further I have to crawl back out again. My head was messed from all the burrowing.

And I possibly still haven't fully crawled back out yet.

Men quietly losing control, albeit briefly, in their private struggle with themselves and the world is part of life.

It is neither whiny nor irrational to speak of it. It can be instructive - once you don't turn it into an orgy at a pity party.

You learn, almost imperceptibly, stuff about yourself - about the crap that conceals a core, inner truth about you.

You don't have to quit your job and run off to open an olive farm in Tuscany to find that out (although Tuscany would be nice). You can find it at home, looking at yourself in the bathroom mirror.

The person looking back doesn't appear as disappointed in you as you do in yourself.

My emotional mojo has yet to properly return. I think I've got something else in its stead.

That's what ageing does to you. Along with moobs, love-handles, bad knees, worse eyesight, the nose-hair of an 18th century lunatic in a madhouse, humiliating hair loss (cruellest of all, the hair you are allowed keep is going grey) and various other not-so-visible signs of male deterioration - I almost said decay - that gently gnaw at your self-esteem and your sense of self at my age.

Now that's fecking whiny.

And there's plenty more irrational fecking whininess and belly-aching where that came from.

These kids at the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois, insisted on having their picture taken with me. This was because they thought I (with my unkempt Old Testament preacher beard - re-read the opening paragraph) was Brendan Gleeson. I hasten to add that the kids were not on drugs.

This is not a slight on Brendan Gleeson. It is, in fact, a slight on me. I am 48.

Brendan Gleeson is 61. It was a mortification.

I didn't suffer lightly.

I wore the expression of a Notre Dame gargoyle in the pictures as I tried in vain to convince them that I was not the breathtakingly brilliant, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious star of Calvary.

Be that as it may, I remain enamoured of Brendan Gleeson and his body of work. But I did shave the beard off the next morning.

My beloved wife Aoife and baby Emilia possibly thought there was an intruder in the house when I came out of the bathroom (where my inner-self looks back at me in the mirror).

Indeed Emilia initially wore the expression of a Notre Dame gargoyle as I gave her a bottle, before settling back into the little bundle of joy who emits wave after wave of the unconditional love.

The little angel is as yet unaware - possibly for the best - just how completely she has changed my life. When she grows up she will doubtless come to agree with Oscar Wilde who once remarked that we begin by loving our parents and end by judging them.

But until then, she will just have to know I am trying my best to be the best dad I can be to her (and the best husband I can be to her mummy).

The desire to find a value system, a meaning in life, hits you pretty hard when you get into your late 40s.

Emilia (and her mother) gave me that meaning in existence, that value system, in spades. I can't quite put it into words how happy I feel when I push Emilia in her buggy most early mornings along the canal before work (Why is it only mothers who are asked how they juggle everything?).

In the short 18 months that I have known her, she has taught me more about what Saul Bellow called "the mysterious circumstances of being" than anybody else, including Saul Bellow.

Life can only be understood backwards, as we know, but it must be lived forwards.

The only going forward I'm interested in is Emilia in her buggy, manically pointing at the swans and the ducks - and the doggies jumping in after the ducks - like they are the most fabulous sights in the world.

And they are.

When we take our walks along the canal, when Emilia and I are on the waterfront, we are beholden to no one. Our time, and our world, is our own for that precious hour.

Unless it's Brendan Gleeson. In which case Emilia and I will pull the buggy in to the side of the path and let the great man pass.

Sunday Independent

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