When I was in psychiatric hospital in 2002, I met a mild-mannered, middle-aged man who had vaguely known my grandad when he was alive. People in psychiatric hospitals don’t always talk about why they’re there, especially older people, but this man freely spoke about why he was there. His son had got into college, into the local Institute of Technology. He was the first person in his family to get into college and his father was really proud. But the son wasn’t grateful for the opportunities he had. He didn’t like college, so he dropped out and got a job. This saddened the man so much that it pushed him into a severe depression and made him suicidal.
The power we have over our parents’ happiness is terrifying.
Today was my first “normal” phonecall with my mother since I accepted a 12-month contract in Vietnam four weeks ago. She seems to be coming to terms with it. Hostilities are easing.
For a while, I was worried I would have to withdraw from the job. There’s only so much sadness you can inflict on someone you love.
She has tried to persuade me that it’s too far away (What if you get sick?) and that it’s dangerous (I think she has some kind of Bangkok Hilton storyline in her head, where I get arrested for carrying drugs that were planted on me and end up spending 40 years in an Asian prison for a crime I didn’t commit.) I also think she’s not comfortable with me living in a non-Christian country.
Most of all, she can’t cope with the fact that it’s not the secure lecturing job that she presumed I’d get after my PhD. “What about a pension?” She keeps suggesting I apply for jobs in Limerick or Waterford. I don’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t apply for a university job in Limerick because the idea of reading Durkheim in the rain in a suburb of the Mid-Western metropolis made me feel physically ill. She can’t understand this. Like the father I met in mental hospital, she just doesn’t understand why I’m rejecting a secure future.
It makes me sad that she doesn’t understand.
And there’s such a gulf between us anyway.
I don’t know how I came across him, because we’ve never met, although I know from stalking him on Facebook that we have friends in common, but there is a fourth year Trinity English student I follow on Twitter called Jamie Tuohy. He’s the first person whose tweets I check every day and he makes me so happy. His two main interests in life are Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian, followed by clothes, Celia Holman-Lee, and being glam. He is fabulously gay, entirely consumed in pop culture and fashion, but still intelligent and witty. He frequently posts pictures of himself with his mother, the two of them together, shoe shopping, chatting about the Jenner-Kardashians and booking facials together. And I’m jealous.
I’ll never have that.
Next year, Ireland is having a referendum on whether people like me should be allowed to get married. My mother, and the rest of my family, will be voting against my marriage.
It’s a massive gulf. And I’m making it worse by going off to Vietnam and not being a sensible person with a pensionable job in Limerick.
But I’m doing it. And I’m delighted to do it, but there’s nothing easy about snipping another strand of that umbilical chord.