Indo col 60:
John Banville famously once said that writers make bad fathers. Clearly, I am no John Banville, but I can see where he was coming from. I was a bad father long before I became a bad writer, but my creative process involves me disappearing inside my own head. I become introverted, distracted and short-tempered – a fact brought home to me when my three year old sat up at my computer one day and shouted ‘for god’s sake I’m trying to work’ at the point on the floor where he would normally be standing. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
My introversion when writing probably explains why this column has often seen me go far beyond navel gazing and actually commit a kind of emotional harakiri, spilling my guts onto the page. An old friend pointed out that I had mined myself so deeply that it was probably only a matter of time until I wrote a detailed account of my next colonoscopy. Oh, how we laughed.
I was quite late in life discovering that I had a significant family history of bowel cancer on my biological father’s side of the family. It was quite the revelation, given that I had ironically managed to place myself right in the line of fire thanks to my poor life choices – stress, smoking, alcohol abuse, and dietary choices that were almost exclusively based on their function as soakage. As I near the age my biological father was when he died, I decided to get myself checked out. It was just another sad irony that they date the hospital gave me was the day after Father’s Day, meaning that on a day when I should have been eating a large fry, quaffing imperial stout and kicking back for a Star Wars marathon, I was imbibing litres of moviprep and scuttling around the house like the bad guy in a romcom who had eyedrops put in his soup.
The preparations for getting a colonoscopy are fairly basic – a good old fashioned spring clean of your gut, and a dressing gown for the hospital. My wife pointed out that there was no way I would be wearing my tatty, Big Lebowski style dressing gown. Surely I would be ashamed to be seen in such a garment? I pointed out that as I was basically going to have the crew from Primetime Investigates crawling up my backside with full lights and camera, shame was a remote concept. So it was on Monday morning that I found myself curled into the fetal position, wondering why the sedatives hadn’t knocked me out, as I stared at a monitor showing a fairly in-depth tour of my lower intestine. After about ten minutes I was done, wheeled back out to my bay to lapse into a mildly traumatised slumber. I woke up later, had my first food in 36 hours (‘the best tea and toast in Cork’ is how the nurse accurately described it), before getting a belated Father’s Day gift – a nurse telling me to break wind as much as I possibly could. Finally, I had found a judgement-free zone where men can just be men.
After my 21-gun salute to manliness, I got dressed and had a chat with the doctor. It was at this point I realised how scared I had been. In fact, I had spent more than a year convincing myself that there was something wrong, that I was sick. It was constantly there in my subconscious, anxious whispers that I was going to die young, that this was my inescapable fate. Apparently, I was wrong. So why did it take me so many years to just get a health check? Why was I so scared to say that I was worried? Why are men, in general, so bad at talking about our mental and physical well-being? Last week was Men’s Health Week – the fact that we need a week to encourage men to talk about basic health issues show that masculinity needs a reformation. It’s not just about being able to discuss having a camera shoved where the sun don’t shine, but about our fears, our stress, our worries. But through all of my worrying, in the back of my mind was one thought – if I die young, how will my kids remember me? As the angry guy, sitting at the computer, shouting at them every time they need attention? Perhaps I should follow David Simon’s stinging riposte to Banville’s comments on parenthood and writing – family is family, the job is the job – and accept that being a half-decent parent and a half-decent writer are not mutually exclusive. After all, it would appear I have plenty time left on earth to work on getting better at both.