From Fintan to Dad: ‘It’s all about paying attention isn’t it?’
Fintan O’Toole, Literary Editor
I was walking through town one day when I met the poet Brendan Kennelly in Hodges Figgis’ bookshop. We were chatting away and he asked me about you. I mentioned that since you retired from bus conducting (at the age I am now) you spent most of your time as a bird watcher. He said that it must be a lovely thing to have a bird watcher for a father. I asked him what he meant.
“Well,” he said, “it’s all about paying attention, isn’t it?” It was the most accurate thing anyone had said about you.
When I was little, you worked appalling hours just to scrape a living for the five of us – often putting in 14 or 16 hours a day at a job that gave you no satisfaction. One of the images we all have of you is of the way you had trained yourself to sleep like a soldier on the frontline. You’d grab your dinner, head for the armchair, close you eyes and fall instantly into a coma. Then, after exactly 20 minutes, you’d wake, grab the battered metal box that held your ticket machine and head for the door. You never needed an alarm – the imperative to get back to work was deeply encoded in the synapses of your brain.
I knew from that how precious time was to you, how little of it you had to spare for the real life of your heart and mind and spirit: Mam and us, books, music, plays, the sea and the sky and the birds whose freedom articulated all your yearning. And I sensed, too, how lucky we were that you shared those treasured hours with us. You had every excuse for distance – a brutally overworked man who loved his solitude. But you never took those excuses. We never felt that you had better things to do than to talk to us and walk with us, to listen to us and take us seriously.
When I had sons of my own, I tried to remember that, to keep in mind that the best gift a father can give a child is not money or things. It’s his time.
Thanks for paying attention.
Your loving son,