Joe’s Story

I am a 55 year old engineer with a large family. I have a demanding job which at times can be 24/7. The two most important things in my life are my family and my work, in that order.

I was born in the late 1950s with a cleft pallet and a bilateral alternating squint. The food came down my nose and I was unable to speak clearly for many years. My father, a Civil Engineer was 40 and my mother, a family doctor, was 39 when I was born and I was their fourth child. Both my parents worked full time.

Compared to my siblings I was viewed as fragile and so I became the object of my parent’s complete protection. For the rest of my life my mother worried about  health  and both of them privately decided that I needed particular help. They set about bringing me to surgeons and eye specialists and starting a long and if necessary combative struggle to get me all the help I needed. I was sent to speech therapists and was taught articulation.

I was raised in a middle class area of Dublin in a time before central heating, telephones, TV or stereo. There were no cars on the roads. I attended the local Primary School, to which I walked. I remained at that school for the next fourteen years, one of the longest periods of institutionalisation in my life.

My Grandparents lived near our house and I loved their home. On Sundays all of our family had tea in granny’s and there would be treats like toasted muffins and chocolate. Granddad was fanatical about all sports and with him we went to soccer, gaelic and rugby matches.  He was passionately opposed to any kind of prejudice and among his agendas was a frustration with the divisions between sporting codes. His capacity for principled debate was not shared by his wife, my granny, but it was handed down to my mother who always loved “talk” and music and politics. In the evenings in granny’s we all played cards (rummy), listened to the radiogram and on occasions when people came around we did party pieces. In 1966 grandad bought a black and white TV on which we watched the world Cup. My Father was a farmer’s son. He was intelligent and enormously charismatic. In contrast to my mother he believed in no argument and avoided politics.

When I was four my mother had her fifth child, my younger sister, and became ill afterwards. She was left paralysed for nearly two years. One of my earliest memories is of my father carrying my mother in his arms down the stairs.

As a child I was left in no doubt about my parents love for me. We were tactile and hugs and kisses were the norm. My father cooked breakfast and took us on holidays camping. My mother took me to doctors and campaigned for me. There was no surgery available for either my eye problem or the clef palate. Still the palate was corrected by the time I was 5 and my eyes when I was 10. Christmas was dad’s main event. He could ice a cake or build a wardrobe and he could make Christmas happen regardless of what happened. He loved comedy and endless repetition of what were a succession of his “family jokes”

My parents were enthusiasts and very brave. Despite lots of adversity they never gave up. They liked a party, especially a musical one. Eating together was a must. They encouraged us “to say our prayers” but their piety was very private to us. Faith gave them both an enduring hope and a meaning to life. They loved travelling and they enjoyed the cinema. Rows were settled by more talk (mother) and less talk (dad), but they were settled. They believed in the family. Music and drama were their interests and they encouraged us to take them on in life fully. They were interested in everything and they maintained a circle of friends life long.

My love of my own family was born in the family life I loved as a youth. Having a successful loving relationship is the mainstay of this love. The greatest challenge to my own emotional health has always been anxiety. Resolving this has been important.  At 55 I have learnt many skills to keep myself emotionally healthy but laughter, particularly at myself and a sense of humour have been life saving. I learnt many things from the love of my parents the greatest being that the struggle for what is right is always worthwhile.