My mother had an affair with a married man. An affair! A married man! It sounds like the stuff of movies was happening in catholic Auburn Road way back in 1980. But things are only ever as sensational as you want them to be, and the arrival of this man to our house on foot of my father's untimely death, was, well, something happy in the house for a change.
His name was Tom for the first 17 years, but when I named my own son Tom ( yes, a child named after somebody's illicit lover), rather than the usual 'Tom junior' being donned to my child, mother's Tom became known as 'big Tom', and that stuck.
Big Tom. I can only say what they all say about illicit love affairs: 'It's not like you think'. But really, I swear, it wasn't like that. You see, Big Tom and my mother were an item before either of them ever got married. They went out. She was never the mother to get close to her children and talk facts, so all I know is that he took her to Bray Head and she needed the toilet but was too polite to say. There were other things that I had to read between the lines. I think that she was worried he wasn't good looking enough for her, and despite the fact that he had his own business, he wasn't an academic. And if that might seem incidental to you or I, to an academic snob it was detrimental.
Poor (Big) Tom. I believe that while she was dating him she met and ran away with another dude. He was the dude who became my father, so ironically, without this twist in the affair there would be no blog about it!
And then, and these are things that I picked up as a teenager when she was half twisted and I was still a teetotaler, well then, my mother eloped to the UK with the dude who became my father and married him, and on the way to their honeymoon, apparently at a bus stop, (Big) Tom turns up looking for the mother. But the deed was done and the rest was history. He went back home and got married himself. Apparently unhappily and childless. That's what I was told anyways.
There are only a million and something people in Dublin and they all know each other, talk about each other and bump into each other on a regular basis. So about a year after my mother was widowed it was no surprise that the two ran into each other seeing somebody off to the ferry, or walking the pier or in a pub or something. And then (Big) Tom was in our living room and I was being a 15 year old and my mother was about to throttle me and he was being lovely to me, but not in a creepy way. He was actually the first adult, I recall, who seemed to find me cool.
The rest is history. This is a (fucking hypocritical hateful) catholic country. The mother never really let him into the family, he was a badly kept secret. She was afraid of it. But to me, he was a grown up who genuinely listened and took me seriously He never tried to impress, he was modest, he lent me books that I never gave back. He was the only person I knew in Dublin, apart from myself, who actually read Plato. He took us out to dinner. My first ever dinner in a restaurant - Chicken Maryland, or something in a basket with chips. It was the most exotic thing I'd ever eaten. All of a sudden I was in the real world!
When my mother, my teachers, my siblings, all came the heavy on me, his comment was merely ' I think we have a blue socks here'. I had to find out what that meant. And then I was gobsmacked that somebody could actually see me. SEE me! Somebody actually thought about what made me tick. Somebody cared.
He was shy. But for a man who was predominantly a listener, when you got him on his own, he could tell stories to beat the band. He had a natural sense for something that I myself later needed to learn and appreciate: Unconditional Positive Regard for all of Mankind. He really did. He loved people
Every Father's Day hurt. I knew that I'd had a father, one who probably loved me, but not one who had really impressed me. I wanted to send Big Tom a Father's Day card, because he was my idea of what I thought a father might be. But I couldn't. And I understood the math, but still...
Years later, big Tom came to Galway. It was a golf outing. At that stage a retired golf outing, but we met up and we sat outside a wine bar in Quay Street. Just two glasses, but looking back, one of the most halcyon days of my Galway time. One of those rare moments in life when two people can express how damn much they regard one another, knowing that there will never be words for it. Just staring out in front of you at the world go by, and knowing you are going by with it.
You see, because the mother never let him properly in, because there was the (semi estranged) wife lingering in the background, because, because, because... it was hard to ever formalize Big Tom's place in my life. But did I need to?
I only know this: the man was inspirational in my life, and it is based on somebody taking an interest in me rather than judging me. Maybe because he was that bit on the outside it made it easier. I always find that the blood relatives can be overly eager to judge.
Big Tom spent his last months in one of those supposedly upmarket, yet pathetic nursing homes.
We went to see him before we left for Germany. Despite the dementia, he was incredibly lucid that day. We chatted about all of the good old days and he told me about the ins and outs of the nursing home. I told him he should keep a diary. He said he was thinking of it. I told him he should write a book, he agreed with me. He said he might. We said we would meet up again for the mother's 80th in four months time.
I knew, I just knew, when I hugged him, that this was going to be it. I knew that it was goodbye, and I knew that neither of us would ever say that.
About six weeks later I was sitting on the terrace of a hotel in Luxembourg. My mother called me to say that big Tom had passed away. I said that I was sorry to hear it.
My new colleagues from my new high flying job asked me if all was ok.
I told them that yeah, all was great, just that a friend of my mother had passed away. Her partner, kinda.
'Was he old', they asked?
'Yeah, 80 something.'
'Ah, good long life.'
I ordered another beer and talked about leadership development.
When you're involved in an affair you do your crying in private.