Taking a detached attitude to coming home for Christmas
RADIO:At this time of year, more than any other, there is an uncomfortable ring of truth to Robert Frost’s dictum that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there / They have to take you in”. Far from being a joyous occasion shared with loved ones, spending Christmas with the family is for many a stressful obligation that cannot end quickly enough.
This, at least, was the impression gleaned last Tuesday from The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), when the newscaster and psychoanalyst Michael Murphy turned up to offer survival tips to those listeners who view festive reunions as endurance tests.
Anyone expecting a warm glow from the item was quickly disappointed. According to Murphy, the key to a happy Christmas was to approach the season of goodwill with cold self-interest. For Maeve, a single woman who dreaded spending a week with her mother while her married siblings came and went, he had a simple solution. “Don’t go home.”
Even more striking was his advice to the parents who had decided not to invite their son, a 30-year-old homeless heroin addict, home for Christmas, so difficult was he with them and their two other sons. They had made the correct decision, Murphy said, as “we have to take care of ourselves”.
This coolly detached attitude seemed to rattle Murray, a man of such on-air jocularity that even Santa might feel he overdoes the ho-ho-hos. Wasn’t this the time to show generosity, the presenter wondered? Murphy was having none of it. Addiction treatment was something to be spread over the whole year: if the son did not co-operate, there was no point in “one big gesture on a particular day”.
It might be cruel, but their son was now an adult who had made his own choices. They had to put themselves and the rest of their family first.
Later, after Murray mused that opening the home to all-comers at Christmas was “the Christian thing to do”, Murphy responded with a slightly mirthless chuckle. The “kernel” of the story of the crib, he said, was that “you, your wife and your baby have to come first”. Until the baby grows up to be a heroin addict, presumably.
Murphy’s ethos of preserving one’s psychological wellbeing might have appeared callous, but it was underpinned by admirable elements of self-responsibility and common sense. “Christmas is just one day,” he said. “You shouldn’t put colossal expectations on it.” Talk about home truths.
Of course, the familial hearth is not always necessarily a Hobbesian arena of self-preserving ruthlessness. On Tuesday’s Tom Dunne (Newstalk, weekdays) the presenter spoke to Pat O’Mahony about being a full-time carer for his wife, Margaret, a polio survivor. The interview that followed did not, as one might have reasonably expected, relentlessly tug at listeners’ heartstrings but was, rather, a gently meandering account of the couple’s experiences together, with just the occasional sting in the tail.