It is a good exercise once in a while to take a walk around in someone else’s shoes. This was my experience as I was reading My Father Left Me Ireland by Michael Brendan Dougherty.
Michael, a millennial, unearths his Irish heritage in seven letters to his father, an Irishman who left his mother before Michael was born. The author admits to suffering from the narcissism often attributed to his generation, but he lays the blame on his baby-boomer mother who somehow managed to give her only son a middle-class upbringing that included private schools and college. Unfortunately, his mother had passed away before Michael becomes a father himself allowing him to begin to understand what it is to be a parent. Hard for me to read at times, but as I said, it is good to take a walk in someone else’s shoes. In these seven letters to his father, I read the journey of a millennial to become part of something even bigger than himself.
Michael Brendan Dougherty wants his daughter to know where she came from. He studies the Irish language, which includes a weekend immersion course in Irish in upstate New York. That Saturday night, he and a couple of his classmates go out for a couple of beers. As the evening progresses, Dougherty sings “The Old Orange Flute” and follows with “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, a song which he sings to his daughter. This evening ends with one of his classmates reciting a Bobby Sands poem “The Rhythm of Time”. Dougherty writes – When was the last time you saw a man in his mid-twenties reciting a poem in front of people he had just met and croaking out the words through tears? Noting that all the songs and poems were in English, he goes on to explain that for him and his classmates the Irish language sets them apart. Preserving Irish, Dougherty says, is a “resistance to globalization” and the “reordering of all culture by commerce”.
Michael, Michael, Michael! Searching for one’s roots in language and culture is an ancient impulse. Irish-Americans have been traipsing across the Atlantic to study the Irish language long before globalization was even a word. Immigrants spend money they do not have on classes for their children to ensure they know their mother tongue as adults.
In the last pages Michael has a crucial conversation with his father, as he realizes that his father had missed him. Not only did he miss him terribly, but he had come to see him and was denied access to him. However, this father gently explains to his son that he had withheld this as he thought his son might not have been able to understand this till he was a father himself.
Wise man, there. I would like to read his seven letters to his son.
None of us truly knows what it is to be a parent till we put those shoes on ourselves. Many of us do not know what it is to be a millennial till we walk around in their shoes. As difficult as it was for me to read some of Dougherty’s pronouncements, it was good for me to spend some time with this millennial, for I came to see more promise in his generation than I did problems.