After a lively 17 years of marriage that has survived three children, three doctorates and various highlights and challenges, Mary Deasy has come to a firm conclusion about her husband Adrian Millar. "I am as much in love with him now as I was at the beginning, and maybe even more," she says. "We still enjoy each other's company, and I like the fact that he thinks differently about everything and is interested in me as a person."
They're an unconventional and charming couple in many ways. Mary (52) is from a nice housing estate in Bishopstown, Cork, where her dad Joe, 90, and mum Gretta, 85, still live. She holds a doctorate in chemistry from UCC, and has been a lecturer in the applied science department at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght (ITT), for 21 years, and previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a research and development chemist.
Adrian (56) is a northerner who grew up in the middle of what he describes as "a difficult war zone" in Andersonstown. His mum, Bridie, is 85, but his dad, Sammy, has now passed away. His aunt owned a house in Belfast, and rented it out to a Japanese man and French woman, and it was Adrian's job to collect the rent. He made friends with the couple, and developed an interest in languages that saw him go on to study French at university in Manchester, followed by a degree in Japanese in Sheffield.
Adrian got a job teaching in Japan for four years, and obtained a PhD in Japanese. He then returned to Dublin and decided to become a priest, joining the Jesuit order. He was 32, so it was a late vocation, but after five years and a lot of soul-searching, he decided to leave. At the time, he wanted to go to Belfast to work in the conflict that was then still raging, but the Jesuits wanted him to go to Limerick and teach boys in a school. "I said no but there was no compromising," he says. "The whole thing about the Jesuits is missions and obedience, and they decide where you go, and I couldn't really do it because I didn't join the order to teach."
Adrian completed a PhD in politics at UCD, and went on to become a college lecturer at ITT. He and Mary met when both were lecturing there in the 1990s. "At the time, all the science students had to do a language, so Adrian and I shared a lot of the same students and worked together," says Mary. "I liked his analytical side, and found him a good listener. He was also attractive to look at and his physique was amazing."
Adrian liked Mary's eyes and lively personality. They went to Antrim together for a weekend, where they realised that they really liked one another, but had a false start. Adrian backed off for a while as he became panicked about becoming involved in a relationship. "I had a lot of hang-ups and things to deal with after the Jesuit thing," he admits. "I took some time out and then came back with fire and passion. I took Mary on a date and told her that I wanted to marry her and have babies. It was only our first date and kiss!"
When he moves, Adrian moves fast, laughs Mary, as within a year, they had become engaged, gotten married and she was pregnant with their first child. He became a stay-at-home dad when Aisling, now 16, was born in 1998, and she was followed by Rebecca, 14, and Ciara, 10. Even Yuki the dog is a girl!
"With my past experience, I am supremely qualified for the job of child-rearing," he jokes, "involving, as it does, an awful lot of politics, a wing and prayer, and what seems like a lot of Japanese, for all my kids ever listen to me."
Some people didn't understand the stay-at-home-dad thing, says Mary, but even though Adrian was a great lecturer, he wanted to do it and she didn't, so they tried it and it worked. "I found motherhood very fulfilling and felt bad not wanting to give up work, but something inside me kept me going and we just had to run with it. Our daughters are so strong, and are so sure in their opinions. At work I am very assertive and fully in control, but at home it is very different - I am bottom of the heap!" she says.
Adrian has also managed to fit in writing two novels, penning a weekly column on being a stay-at-home dad for several years, and becoming a Huffington Post blogger. His newest book, The Beauty Of Everyday Life, contains inspirational stories which he says will make readers cry, laugh and reflect, while reminding them of the beauty of their own daily lives. Contributors include Joe Duffy, Frances Black, Mary Kennedy, Gerry Adams, Bressie, Luka Bloom, Fr Peter McVerry, Donncha O'Callaghan, Colm O'Gorman and Maura O' Connell. The royalties from the book go to Teen-Line Ireland, which provides a freephone helpline service for worried teenagers.
They've had ups and downs, including a car accident that injured Mary, but Adrian says that they have learned over the years to accept each other's good and bad points on a deep level, and know innately that they can get through difficult times together.
"Mary is friendly and sociable and people are drawn to that," he says. "She loves a giggle and would dance for hours at weddings or parties. She adores me and I love it, and always gives me a big hug and a kiss before she leaves the house. She is assertive and fiery too, and she goes mad quickly, but then lets it go just as easily, so she keeps us all on our toes. She goes crazy if she comes home to a mess and we all run for cover. She stands up for me as well though, and when I struggle or find something challenging, she is always there."
Mary laments that Adrian is someone you can't argue with, as he has an answer for everything. "He has to have the last word, and is very good linguistically, so he will twist something around in a way that I wouldn't think of in an argument," she sighs. "In saying that, I am delighted to be growing old with him and it just keeps getting better and better."
The Beauty Of Everyday Life is available in Dubray book shops and from www.amazon.co.uk and www.lulu.com