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16 Aug 2022

This Father’s Day is your opportunity to make it the first day of the rest of your life

This Father’s Day is your opportunity to make it the first day of the rest of your life

I suffer from mental health issues. Admitting this was a journey and a journey that continues to this very day.

Recently, Joe Wicks, the fitness instructor of lockdown fitness fame, discussed his past and mapped out how his parents’ mental health issues impacted upon him and his family; this was like looking in a mirror for me and no doubt many others.

My Mum and Dad suffered from mental health issues, but they were never diagnosed. Derry was a different place 40 years ago. We were in the middle of a conflict and many people were impacted in many different ways and dealt with this in their own way.

When I look at my parents, my father dealt with his mental health with alcohol and my mother with tranquilisers prescribed by her GP, all to allow them press pause in their lives. Would they have suffered with depression and anxiety if we had of lived in a ‘normal’ society? Yes. I have no doubt about it.

When my parents pressed pause with medication and alcohol, this impacted upon my life and the lives of my siblings. My Dad worked; my mother was a house wife. They were emotionally removed from us, something I never realised until I spoke about my past with a counsellor as an adult. They were there in person, but not emotionally present.

As a family we were an average Derry family that had its ups and downs. We were lucky to be able to get by and get runs to Buncrana in the summer months and able to make some good memories, but the downs where an ever-present shadow at home.

Dad would go to work at 7am and come home at 10pm after visiting the pub. Dinner would be ready and never ate. Coronation Street would be on in the background and Mum would exist at home in a medical mist. We would live our lives with other kids in the streets doing what kids do, all perfectly normal, we thought.

As I grew up, I didn’t understand mental health. I thought it was a condition that meant that you had to go into Gransha and you never returned to society – a serious misgiving, but no one discussed the subject with us at school, community centres and definitely not at home.

I never understood mental health until a friend of mines mother took her own life in the 1990s.

“She was depressed” was the community diagnosis. This was explained to me by an uncle who was visiting Derry at the time and his words came back to me after I took an overdose and sat in hospital: “People need to understand people, but they need to understand themselves first”.

This, I believe, is very important. I drank fit in. I drank to find confidence. I drank to retain friendships. I drank to feel emotions, false emotions, I must admit. I became addicted to alcohol; Does this stem from my childhood experiences? Yes. Yes, it does.

Children are vessels that need filled with knowledge, understanding and love. I never felt these emotions as a child and as an adult it stunted my emotional growth and in turn unconsciously, I sought solas in people and situations that allowed me to feel as an adult.

I don’t feel any ill will towards my parents and their lack of emotional connection with me, as I now understand they never had it in their lives, and admittedly I was emotionally removed from my children until I realised that I have an opportunity to make a positive impact on their lives.

As a parent, I would appeal to parents/guardians to make an emotional connection with their children. Listen to them. Become interested in their lives. Make time for them. In order to do this, you have to connect with yourself.

I done this with the help of Men’s Action Network and their counselling service. Talking about my past has allowed me look to the future and connect with my children. It’s not easy, but it’s worth every minute, trust me.

Don’t worry if time has passed. Explain to your children that you are now there for them and make amends for the past by being honest about your past and your combined futures. It will change so many lives and give you an insight to your life that you have never experienced.

This Father’s Day is your opportunity to make it the first day of the rest of your life.

Men's Action Network are celebrating all fathering figures this Father's Day, and are hosting a special event at the City Hotel, with Free admission, food and entertainment. RSVP: admin@man-ni.org or telephone (028) 71377777.

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