Keith Walsh: ‘My wife and kids would be having the craic, and I felt like an outsider’
Parenting in my Shoes: The radio host’s only parenting regret is not starting therapy earlier
Keith Walsh with Finn, Anna and wife Suzanne. When it comes to parenting highs, Keith says he gets huge pleasure from watching the children enjoy the things they love
“You spend a lot your teenage years and 20s worrying about getting pregnant, thinking it’s the easiest thing in the world and we spent a lot of our 30s thinking it was the hardest thing in the world,” says radio and television presenter – and father-of-two – Keith Walsh, discussing the challenges of trying to have a second child. “With Finn, it was definitely the guts of three years we were trying. I suppose you take it for granted when the first one just comes along, and then you realise it’s not that straightforward.”
Keith’s wife, Suzanne, sadly went on to have three miscarriages. “I think I had to be strong to get through it,” he says. “It wasn’t really something we told anybody. I was trying probably, as a man, to play it down. It’s a weird thing that men try to do. My wife was very upset obviously at losing a baby and I would have probably tried to play it down – best foot forward, move on and let’s not dwell on it. I see looking back now it probably wasn’t helpful. I’m probably more emotional about it now than I was then. I don’t think I was connected to the reality of what was going on.”
Keith believes the need to “man up” was instilled in him as a young boy. “You’re brought up that when you fall over when you’re small, you’re told to wipe yourself down and carry on as a boy. That’s just society and that’s the way we were brought up.
When you’re trying to man up and be on top of everything that’s going on, you’re not engaged with what’s actually going on. The mams are left holding the emotional baggage
“I do think the pressure is on the man to ‘man up’ and to ‘grow a pair’ and to be seen to be coping heroically – nothing is a problem, everything’s fine and everything will be fine. That’s the way I would have felt was the proper way to behave. Especially when you’re a young man and you’ve a wife and children and you’re expected to provide.
“My wife would have thought I had everything together and everything was just great and you just play that role and unfortunately that means that a lot of the time, men just aren’t being honest. When you’re trying to man up and be the big man and be on top of everything that’s going on, you’re not actually engaged with what’s actually going on. The mams are left holding the emotional baggage.”
Following the cancellation of 2fm’s Breakfast Republic show, things came to a head for Keith. “I’d put so much into that for five years. I had made a lot of sacrifices. My children were affected by how I had to behave, how I had to get through those five years to make sure I turned up every morning to do that job. The whole family was geared towards my job at that point. You put so much into something and then somebody else makes the decision.
“I was left in the position where I felt vulnerable. I was probably in shock. I had a few options. I had to go forward. I could have hit the drink, I could have got down on my knees or I could have hit the bed.
“I was vulnerable and I was worried and I was probably in danger and it’s a critical time for a lot of men, because when something like that happens to you in your 40s, a lot of men don’t come back from that. My wife actually suggested I go and see a therapist and it was the best thing I did.”
There was times when the kids were growing up, my kids and my wife would be having a great time laughing, proper belly-laughing in the house, having a laugh, having the craic, and I felt like an outsider
Keith says he was sometimes oblivious to the impact of his behaviour and mood on his children. “Suzanne might turn around and say, you know the kids are picking up on it, they know you’re not great. They’re dealing with the stress. That almost drives you to get better, to take the decision, if you can. I didn’t want to be that dad.
“There was times when the kids were growing up, my kids and my wife would be having a great time laughing, proper belly-laughing in the house, having a laugh, having the craic, and I felt like an outsider. I felt removed from it and that wasn’t good enough for me – for me as a man, for me as a dad.”
Keith says when it comes to talking with his children about mental health and his own personal struggles, he is open and honest with them. “I think with kids, it’s on a need-to-talk basis. It’s just about how I deal with their questions when they arrive and if they want to talk about it, I’ll talk about it and I’ll do it differently. I’d have different conversations about stuff and I talk differently to Finn than I would have before.
“There have been moments where I’ve found myself almost going to tell him not to cry and then going, ‘hang on a second’.”
Keith says he reminds himself now to let Finn “be in that moment”.
“He’s hurt himself, he’s crying, let him just sit with that for a while. It’s me trying to change my thinking and I’ll behave differently towards him and I’ll react differently towards him than I would have before. He wanted to give up football. I would have been very, ‘as a dad I want my son to play football’.
“We had several conversations and I said look, if that’s what you want, that’s what you want. I respect his decision. I’d have dug my heels in before. I’m not trying to force my thoughts on him, and let him make his own mistakes and if he does regret it, he’ll learn from it as well.
I would have had my own childhood trauma from my upbringing. I suppose I grew up in a typical Irish house where violence was used to deal with discipline
“I would be totally honest about therapy and minding yourself with Anna as well. We’d have open conversations about being well and about your mental health and about making sure you’re okay. I’m more aware of other people and that includes my children. I’m more aware of what they might need to talk about at any given time, or not talk about.”
If Keith has any regrets about parenthood it’s “that I didn’t go to therapy before I had a children”, he says. “I would have had my own childhood trauma from my upbringing. I suppose I grew up in a typical Irish house where violence was used to deal with discipline and that was taken to a certain degree.”
Keith has written a play, Pure Mental, based on his childhood experiences which he’s hoping will tour in November/December. “I feel children were second-class citizens in Ireland for an awful long time. I’m not saying it’s the Magdalene laundries, but it’s one of those things that we haven’t quite dealt with and we haven’t spoken about. And there’s a lot of very damaged men walking around in their 40s, 50s and 60s, who were damaged by their own parents and teachers.”
Keith’s experiences growing up made him adamant that “there was going to be no violence towards anyone” in his house. “There are four people living in this house – four people who want different things at any given time. You wouldn’t just walk up to your neighbour and just punch them because you didn’t like something they were doing. Why did we at any stage think it was okay to punch someone because they were smaller? I feel very strongly about that.
“Sometimes you might hear a middle-aged man on the radio saying ‘bring back the birch’ or ‘spare the rod, spoil the child, it never did me any harm’ and you’re kind of going: Well, you know what? It did do you harm because you’re on the radio telling the nation that it’s okay to be violent towards a child.
“The Irish way is to keep all the family secrets locked up and never talk about them and for me this is a huge part of my vulnerability. I want to be the best version of myself for my wife and for my kids.”
When it comes to parenting highs, Keith says he gets huge pleasure from watching his children enjoy the things they love. “My son is amazing on the scooter and I love watching him do that. I love watching my daughter playing football; I love that she loves playing football. I love the freedom they have to express themselves in whatever way they want.”
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