Friday, February 3, 2023

On the occasion of my son’s wedding

(The following blog is an expanded slightly polished version of an off the cuff speech I recently gave at my oldest son’s wedding)

I first met Paddy 33 years ago. Those of you who know Paddy’s age (38) are probably thinking 

“What a terrible father, not bothering to see his son til he turned 5”

The reason though is when I met the woman of my life, his mother Mireille, Paddy (or Aurelien as he was called at the time) came as an outgoing hyper friendly bonus. I anticipated some difficulties getting him to accept a weird 25 year old Irishman he had nothing in common with, not even a language, but Paddy gave me the benefit of the doubt. Even at that age, he was the most forgiving person I know alongside his mother. When I fucked up, as I often did in my role as new father or nouveau pere, he’d simply shrug, smile, and suggest we play a computer game together. I won him over with many hours of Accolade golf and GP racing on my first PC, as he sat on my lap cheering me on in German. He spoke French and German but no English at the time, and when Mireille heard how bad my French was she forbade me from butchering it in front of him, so German it was. My German was terrible, much worse than my French, and he was 5, so we didn’t have enough words between us for many long deep conversations. Those came later once his English improved. 

Paddy made new fatherhood easier than it could ever possibly be, but I still fucked up constantly, so his ability to forgive and forget was vital. Shortly after his arrival, we went for a walk along the Dun Laoire sea front where we lived at the time. Paddy was always an adventurous boy, and he therefore thought climbing down some steep slippy rocks to take a closer look at the sea was a great idea. As a clueless nouveau pere, I saw no possible problems here. That changed when the tide started to come in and he came to the conclusion he couldn’t climb back up the steep slippy rocks. As I gazed down helplessly at him mentally preparing my “honey our boy drowned” speech, a young girl of 9 or 10 passing by offered to help. In my cluelessness, I decided that I was pot committed here and one drowned kid wasn’t much better than two, and told her to go for it, now adding a “and another kid who went to help also drowned” addendum to the speech I was mentally rehearing for my beloved and, I anticipated, the authorities.  The girl turned out to be quite the little acrobat and motivational speaker, and she got the job done. As Paddy and I trudged home to play computer games, we had our first shared life lesson: men are the weaker sex and when in doubt its best to turn to a female to bail us out rather than muddle on in our stupid masculine bull headed way. 

At the time, we moved every few months for my work. This made it challenging for Paddy (or Aurelien as he still was at this point) to make friends. The name didn’t help either, apparently unpronounceable to Irish kids, and a visible stamp of foreignness. When he expressed frustration at both these points, I suggested they could both be resolved by a simple name change. 

“Next time we move, just tell them all your name is some Irish name”

“Can I choose it?”

“Of course. More fun for you, less hassle for me”

“Ok. I choose Paddy”

I bit my lip and suppressed the impulse to tell him to pick a less stereotypically Irish name for the love of God. From that day forth, he was Paddy O’Kearney. 

His ability to connect with anyone and everyone was evident from the start. Apart from getting dragged around due to my work, I was still in my chess phase so he found himself dragged to tournaments most weekends in the early days. His restlessness and adventurous nature meant he tended to wander off given half a chance. On one trip to London, we thought we left him sleeping soundly for the night, only to arrive back to find him perched on the front reception desk explaining to the utterly charmed receptionists in broken English that his parents had disappeared. He’d drawn surprisingly accurate pictures of us on hotel stationery for search party purposes. 

On another trip to Tipperary, he forced us to go room to room in the hotel searching for him. We eventually found him literally in bed with the reigning Miss Ireland, Siobhan McClafferty, showing her how colouring worked, in German. She seemed very disappointed when we took him away. 

Other than his wanderlust, he was such an easy child to be a father to I took up bragging. When I poo poohed friends complaining of their own parental difficulties they invariably said

“Wait til his sister is born”

“WaIt til he’s a teenager”

“Wait til he turns 16/18/21”

All those milestones came and went without any transformation other than a gradual positive one into the kindest most emotionally intelligent man I’ve ever known. In a family of prickly quirky individuals Paddy has always been the emotional centre through which we can all relate and have our differences explained and tolerated. The calm empathetic glue binding us. The happy carefree forgiving boy turned into the man who cares deeply about everything and everyone, but forgives us all our prickles and flaws. His ability to relate to everyone has always extended way past family. 

On one trip to Vegas he shared a car to the grand canyon with me, and two poker friends older than me. The age difference didn’t faze him in the slightest. The fact that the other two were a committed nationalist from Northern Ireland whose brother had been a hunger striker and an English Maggie Thatcher loving football hooligan who had run guns to the loyalists in Northern Ireland made for an explosive car cocktail. I’ve often thought since that Paddy’s presence alone averted disaster. 

Paddy and I started with almost nothing in common and even now we couldn’t be more different. He lacks the competitive drive completely, still very much the kid who prefers to cheer on others and be happy for their success. He lacks any trace of materialism or drive for personal conventional success, yet despite this he’s done more for the good of humanity than anyone else I’ve ever known, at least in my extremely biased opinion. He’s incredibly good with his hands, able to build, fix, fashion or make anything. In a post nuclear apocalypse he would be the most important man on the planet. He has marched to his own recycled drum through an eco warrior phase, an urban farm phase, and many other worthy projects where the motivation is never money but making the world a better place. I’m intensely proud of the man he is. It annoys me beyond words when others criticise him, thankfully an infrequent occurrence. When he drew criticism for his environmental protests I went on national radio to argue with his critics. When one of them conceded “well, at least he’s proper Irish, not like all those new age German hippies” I chuckled inwardly at the thought that the name on his passport is still Aurelien Schmeltz, born in Germany. 

In my negligible, um….I mean extensive research for his wedding speech, I discovered there are only 72 O’Kearney’s in the world. It is with great pleasure I welcome the 73rd, Niamh. In her Paddy has finally found the strong active type we both realised was our type that day he had to be rescued in Dun Laoire. She is wonderful in every way but one: the wretched siren has lured our son to San Francisco. He leaves today. We will miss him terribly, but visit him often.



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