Life lessons with Mark Cagney
As co-anchor of Ireland AM on TV3, Mark Cagney (58), rises at 3am on weekdays to ease the nation into the day. The eldest of eight children, his first wife Ann died of a brain haemorrhage in 1991. The broadcaster from Cork is now married to Audrey Byrne, and they live in Dublin with their four children, Gerald (22), Sophie (15), Daniel (11), and Mary (9).
I went to live with my aunt Mary at 15 as I had difficulties at home. She told me I never had to lie, no matter how awful things seemed. She had performed all over the world as a professional singer, and said there was nothing she hadn't seen or heard before on the road. She also taught me to apologise immediately if I was in the wrong.
I'm brutally honest, which isn't always appreciated. I'm not a good liar anyway, although I can exaggerate and be melodramatic at times. Things have to be embellished every now and again or life would be very mundane.
I learned from my difficulties with my parents that there are no absolutes where children are concerned. They wanted us to be happy, but felt they knew what was better for our happiness. Our expectations were mapped out for us. My father wanted me to be an engineer, but I rebelled as I wasn't interested in that.
My wise grandfather said that while education is no burden, ignorance is. All you can do for your children is give them the best start in life and a good education, and help them find what makes them happy. The more doors you give them the opportunity to open, the more choices they will have, but ultimately the door they walk through is their decision, not yours.
As I discovered what being a father was like, I had more respect for my parents. I was the eldest and my father was incredibly strict on me. When we finally had a reconciliation, I was amazed at how loose and cool he had become.
My father was an amazing man and I would give anything to have another few hours with him. He was a fantastic musician, and I'd love to show him my guitars and get a music lesson from him.
You can't get to my age without having looked in the mirror long and hard a few times. If you're logical, you'll see what's there, warts and all. The warts are as much of a manifestation of our humanity as the good bits because no one is perfect. So you try to control the warty side of your personality, and not allow it to hurt people, and if there are more good points than warts, well that's not bad, on balance.
Life can deal you some dreadful blows, but it will also do some very nice things for you. I've had my own bouts of tragedy and trouble so I appreciate what loss is, but I've learned that you can't really appreciate the sweet unless you've tasted the bitter as well.
When my first wife, Ann, died, I was incredibly angry for a long time. She was the best person I had ever met up to that point and her life ended at 38. I was 35 and in a position where I could have made life sweeter for her and given her all the things I felt she deserved, and then it all got taken away.
It seemed so unfair that she died while scumbags walking the streets seemed to go through life with impunity. But once I got my head around it, I realised I was blessed to have what I had and I decided to be grateful for it, rather than being bitter for what I had lost.
After I lost Ann, it was very difficult to open myself to love again. When I met Audrey, I didn't think that anyone else would bother with me. This was allied with the idea that having another partner would be a kind of betrayal or would tarnish Ann's memory, which conspired to dig the hole even deeper for me.
I couldn't give up although I wanted to. It would have made a mockery of the fact that Ann had kidney problems and had fought for her life since she was seven. It took a long time for me to work out what the point of being here was. Then Audrey got pregnant and it began to dawn on me that maybe this was the point.
I had run from parenthood up to then - I was absolutely terrified of screwing it up and I still am. I don't know if I was cut out for it, because I think the lives of kids are a sacred responsibility and I would still have huge doubts about my abilities as a father. All I can do is be there for them, keep an open mind, make them the best human beings they can be, give them a moral compass, and if they're in trouble, try to fix it.
The three most influential people in my life have been women - my aunt Mary, Ann and my wife Audrey. At crucial points in my life when I needed saving, I'm so grateful that they loved me enough to do that. Without them, who knows what I would have become?
When I started going to the gym, I didn't realise how much better I'd feel mentally. I used to be a very heavy smoker, but gave up when Audrey was pregnant and put on four stone. I went to the gym to lose it and it replaced my addiction to nicotine, and I go now on average three times per week .
Inherent in a meteoric rise is a meteoric burn-out. While I would have loved that shooting star thing, I know it would have died out years ago. The ability to get up without fail at 3am for 16 years shows stamina. If I make up my mind to do something, wild horses won't stop me.
Gerry Ryan was the most flagrantly gifted broadcaster I've ever known. Vincent Hanley could light a room up, and Claire Byrne is possibly the most gifted female broadcaster I've ever worked with. My talents are not as obvious initially, but I suppose they reveal themselves over time. I have an empathy and an awareness of my frailties, which makes me tolerant of other people's. I'm not judgemental, because there's too much wrong with me to ever judge anyone else.
'Ireland AM' is on TV3, weekdays 7-10.00 am.