“The day that you find out your wife is pregnant is a huge day altogether,” says TV presenter Dáithí Ó Sé.
“It was probably, up until then, the best thing that had ever happened to me in my life. I was excited about having a family. It was part of the whole thing. The excitement of getting married and the excitement of having a family as well. Even though you’ve big steps on your way, getting married is a big step, but having a child is the biggest step of them all and probably the most exciting.”
Parenthood couldn’t have come at a better time for Dáithí.
“I’d enough of a lot of stuff in my life. I’d had a great time. I got to the stage where I was, ‘okay, what else is life about here now’? A baby comes along and you realise what life is really about. I was just delighted.”
Like many parents, Dáithí received his fair share of advice about what to expect ahead of his son’s birth.
“For a man there’s an awful lot of this thing ‘oh Jesus, you’ll be up all night and oh shitty diapers and everything like that’. Believe me when your child hasn’t pooped in four days, there’s only one thing you want to see and that’s a shitty diaper! It’s all context.”
Dáithí’s wife, Rita, suffered with hyperemesis during her pregnancy.
My mother was wondering why wasn't I going down to see my father
“I’ll never forget. My father was sick in Tralee at the time. He was in hospital and Rita was in hospital in Galway and my mother was wondering why wasn’t I going down to see my father because she [Rita] was only probably around two months at that stage, so we weren’t going telling anyone. But, basically, I had to say ‘look, Rita’s pregnant’.”
Sadly, Dáithí’s father never got to meet his grandson.
“I always say, Jesus if it was only for two minutes,” he laments. “I still believe that when my father left this life and was heading off to wherever he was going that there was a kind of a handshake, ‘how are you doing’? The two lads had a quick handshake as my father went off and my son Micheál landed.
“My father passed away in August, and Micheál landed in March”, Dáithí explains. “We were so sad that we lost my father, but the fact that there was another one coming as well meant a lot, and the fact that he’s named after him as well meant so much, particularly to my mother.
“The fact that there was a baby coming means you have to kind of straighten yourself up. You can’t throw yourself on to the bed and pull the covers over your head. You have to get on with life.
“There was a moment when Micheál landed out and Rita was taken away just to make sure everything was alright and there was just me and Micheál, this little baby inside of the room, just the two of us, and just that moment when these eyes look up at you and you’re going, ‘Jesus lads almighty’. It’s from that moment on that you realise what your own parents went through, from start to finish really.”
Fatherhood has helped Dáithí learn to live in the moment, he says.
“It was the first time that I could actually leave all my problems at the front door. Sometimes I’d come home from work and there’d be things rattling around inside my head. I’d wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, I’d look at my phone, I’d try to go back to sleep again. When Micheál came along I can say with my hand on my heart, I could leave everything outside the bedroom door. I couldn’t give two hoots what was happening outside.
“It was myself and that child looking into each other’s eyes and just being there in the moment. The biggest thing I learned was actually being there in the moment as opposed to, ‘Oh Jesus what are we going to do about three months’ time? That’s coming up. This is coming up. That happened before.’ No, that all stops. We’re here and it’s now.”
But fatherhood has also tugged on Dáithí’s heartstrings.
“I remember bringing Micheál to crèche one day and I was going down to Cork. I turned around and I looked in the window and there he was on his own. There was nobody talking to him. I sat into the car and I dove down to Cork and I almost started crying. I was just so upset going, ‘Jesus Christ almighty, the poor craythur, there’s no one talking to him.
“All day in work I couldn’t think of anything else only the poor child with his hands down by his side looking around and no one talking to him. So I got home anyway and I woke up the following morning and I dropped him into the crèche and I looked in the window and there he was on his own again.”
Looking a little closer this time however, Dáithí realised “they were all on their own! There was no one talking to anyone. It’s not them, it’s us. We’re the problem,” he continues admitting “I didn’t sleep a wink that night or anything, I was so upset.”
Being as present as possible in Micheál’s life is important to Dáithí.
I think the penny dropped, 'Jesus I've worked hard for the last 45 years, but I can see the connection my wife has with the kids'
“The one thing a parent can give a child that won’t cost a penny is their time. My father worked night and day. He drove a truck for six days a week. He played music at night, to make sure that all the ends were met.
“But that left my mother minding us all the time, so therefore there’s a stronger bond with the mother, because the mother is with you all the time. And I do believe that when my father retired then that, I think the penny dropped, ‘Jesus I’ve worked hard for the last 45 years, but I can see the connection my wife has with the kids’. I think he kind of regretted that a small bit coming towards the last few years when he had retired and he was at home, because my mother had done all the legwork.
“So that was one thing that I wanted to make sure wasn’t going to happen with me and Micheál, daddy working all the time.
“I remember getting this call from a company ‘will you come to Dublin to do this event?’, Dáithí continues. “They were offering me a lot of money. I said ‘Jesus sorry, there’s under-six hurling training that night and I can’t go.’ It doesn’t matter like, you have to draw a line. If there wasn’t bread on the table you’d have to go to work, I accept that.
“My father went to work all the time, but I certainly think he felt cheated by it, that there’s something missing because he was working all the time, not that he was gone. Dads were working. Dads were working very, very hard to make sure that we had food on the table and that we went to college. We can’t dismiss the dads like that, that they were gone”, Dáithí adds. “No, they were working. They were working very hard and that’s important to say as well.”
When it comes to parental guilt, Dáithí admits that he’s far from immune.
“Women have been stealing this for years,” he jokes. “I never forget when Micheál was born. The show finished a week before he came along, so it was great. I had to go back to work in September. I was at the door going, ‘Jesus Christ, I don’t want to go’. I just wanted to stay. I wanted to hang out with him all the time. I was jealous of Rita then because Rita was hanging out with him all the time.
“I was annoying Rita with questions. ‘What’s he doing now? How is he? Send me pictures, send me pictures.’ And that hasn’t changed. Micheál walks me to the door every morning, gives me a big hug and then we’ve to hug through the window – that’s part of our ritual now as well. He lets a big shout, ‘have a good day, have a great show and love you’. Then I have to hoot the horn. Then when I hoot the horn he can go in.
“If I stay away it’s worse again. We have to do Whatsapp video-calling all the time which is great craic, and then Micheál gets bored and leaves me there and I’m kinda talking to myself. Dad guilt yes, I suffer from it. But do you know what, the dad guilt makes being at home all the better.”
Christmas is a parental high for Dáithí, he says.
“I think I’ve waited for this for all my life, waiting to see my son go out to see Santy, or to see what Santy has brought.” “Watching Micheál’s face when he sees now what Santa has brought him. That will always be the high and it gets better every year.”
In contrast, the memory of Micheál in hospital some years ago, having a “freddie” [canula] put into his arm, still upsets Dáithí.
It was just the anxiety in his face, 'dad why aren't you helping me'?
“I start welling up even thinking about it now”, he says. “Two nurses had held him down while the doctor put it in and he was screaming and he was looking at me to do something. Now he forgot about it about two seconds later, but Jesus Christ, straight into the heart. It was just the anxiety in his face, ‘dad why aren’t you helping me’?
“The one thing I’d really like to stress, particularly for people who are pregnant for the first time and are reading this,” Dáithí says “is they’re in for the biggest treat in their life”.
“And don’t believe any of the sleepless nights or anything. That’ll come and go. The main thing is once your child is happy and healthy, there’s nothing in the world like it.”
Parenting in My Shoes
Part 1: Vicky Phelan
Part 2: Lynn Ruane
Part 3: Keith Walsh
Part 4: Victoria Smurfit
Part 5: Billy Holland
Part 6: Joanna Donnelly
Part 7: Eileen Flynn
Part 8: Matt Cooper
Part 9: Hazel Chu
Part 10: Ciara Kelly
Part 11: Dil Wickremasinghe
Part 12: Alison Curtis
Part 13: Dáithí Ó Sé
Part 14: Brendan O'Connor
Part 15: Anne Dalton
Part 16: Gary O'Hanlon
Part 17: Paula MacSweeney
Part 18: Stephen McPhail
Part 19: Michelle O'Neill