My song today is ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’. This song was recorded by American singer Whitney Houston for her second studio album, Whitney’. It was written by George Merril and Shannon Rubicam.
The song received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Houston's vocal performance. The single was a commercial success, topping the charts in 13 countries including Australia, Italy, Germany, and the UK. In the US, it became her fourth consecutive Number1 single and sold over one million copies, making it her first platinum single in the USA. and her biggest hit in that country at the time.
Although my Irish parents gave birth to a total of seven children (of who I am the oldest) we were born during three distinct stages of the peak and trough of their marriage. The hierarchical spacing in the age of my siblings strongly suggests that the traditional seven-year itch of newlyweds, would be given a good scratch every four years by mum and dad. The first three children were undoubtedly born during the early years of my parent’s marriage when they were still physically attracted to each other and still in love. I can remember being taken across the fields on our three-mile walk to Brighouse Park to hear the brass band on a Sunday afternoon. This was a marathon trek for three small children with legs so small, but it seemed to be a worth well walk as far as mum and dad were concerned. On our journey across two miles of fields to the park, the three of us would be told by mum and dad to go and play in the long grass for fifteen minutes while they had a little lie down before they continued with their family walk. I was aged around 5 years at the time and my sisters Mary and Eileen would be three and a half and two years old respectively.
My mother probably regarded her first batch of babies as being her blessed trinity; sufficient children to make up a whole family unit. Her three Irish children included myself, and sisters Mary, and Eileen, with each of our births separated by an 18-month gap. I think that deep down, this was as many children as my mum ideally wanted, but being born an Irish Catholic woman during the first half of the twentieth century, her say in the matter carried far less sway than how many children her husband’s love-making may produce, or how many children that the holy Catholic Church considered it appropriate for her to have! It was not unusual for the wife in any 1940’s marriage to disagree with positions adopted by both her church and husband in matters of contraception and the number of children born to a man and wife. Many Irish Catholic men would conveniently align themselves with the teachings of the Catholic Church and refuse to use any contraceptives in their sexual intercourse. Should a man’s wife, however, deny her husband his ‘conjugal rights’ unless he agreed to violate Catholic Church custom and practice, the man would undoubtedly seek to mitigate his culpability in the confessional box, thereby placing ultimate responsibility of placing the stain of sin on his wife’s soul and not his.
Mum believed that there would have been a certain revolution in the Catholic Church centuries earlier had men’s bodies been created with an inbuilt pregnancy pod to house the child for the gestation period of nine months until delivery, instead of merely been responsible for spilling his germination seed on fertile ground, and thereby leaving all remaining lifelong consequences of parenting a child to the primary responsibility of its mother. Nothing new then, ladies?
One of the things that amused me when I was growing up and found myself in the middle of one of mum’s and dad’s marital rows was their degree of parental acknowledgment for having brought me or one of my other six children into the world. How easy it is for the identity of one’s offspring to be temporally changed from ‘Our Billy’ to ‘your son!’ in the heart of the moment, Occasionally I might also get a backhanded compliment when one of my parents might remark about something unsatisfactory I did or the way I did it by saying, “ You are definitely your fathers/mother’s son, that’s for sure!”
The fourth and fifth children to be born into the Forde household were my brothers Patrick and Peter. They were called ‘The Terrible Twins’ by their three older siblings, and although two years separated their respective births, as far as individual traits and characteristic differences were concerned, they could easily have been mistaken for having being born from different parental stock.
The sequencing of the seven children born to my parents reveals a pattern which no eyes can fail to discern. With children one to three, my parents demonstrated a regular feast of marital affection toward each other before their love embers were allowed to die down and almost peter out before their fire of passion was re-ignited. Many Irish married couples often follow traditional farming practices when it comes to bringing a new crop of children into the world. Just as a good farmer will, after several years of high yield harvest, allow his fields of production to lie fallow while Mother Earth rests and recuperates, so has the planting, growth, and harvesting of Irish families between a man and his wife been conducted ever since the days of the Irish Potato Famine in 1845-52.
Four years and eight years respectively, after the birth of Peter, my sixth and seventh siblings came into the world. It could be said that they just appeared in the family lineup without too much parental fanfair and cheer. It wasn’t that mum and dad had suddenly gone to bed together one night and had found themselves falling madly in love with each other again as they had been during the birth of their first three children. No, it was far more likely that they had just become somewhat careless in their old age and having been out of practice for too many years, they merely experienced what is sometimes referred to in a marriage as being ‘a happy accidents’.
I put things this way as I can remember once hearing my mum say, “There are only two types of children, Billy. A mother can give birth to a ’love child’ or just have ‘a child’. This does not mean that she loves one more or less than the other; just differently.”
While my parents undoubtedly had a hard life, the thing that mum probably most resented in her marriage to dad wasn’t losing her slender figure and muscle tone to her multiple experiences of motherhood, or even to the number of children she eventually gave birth to. What she most regretted was the fact that my father never once took her out singing, drinking or dancing, My father had never been much of a conversationalist or a social mixture. It was not that he hated mixing socially; he simply enjoyed his own company more. Growing up in County Kilkenny, Ireland in abject poverty, my father had little formal education and had left school and was working by his early teens. Little time was ever devoted to being taught polite mannerisms or practising social graces.
When it came to dancing, dad had two left feet. When it came to drinking, dad had too many unhappy childhood experiences of his own father battling with the alcohol bottle, and when it came to singing in public, dad had too much respect for the ears of any music lovers within a ten-mile radius, to deliberately offend another. Consequently, would confidently whistle but where singing was concerned, he confined his singing to the bathroom, where he would stifle the overall sound in his muffles notes sung into a towel or beneath the noise of a running bath tap.
However, when it came to all three revelries, my mother more than made up for dad’s shortcomings. Mum loved a drink in convivial company. She enjoyed a good sing-song, and would have danced all night long with any man who knew how to take the floor. If only dad had known that whoever had offered mum all three earthly temptations of drink, dance, and song, under the same moon any night of the month, that she would have willingly given them as many children as they had wanted. She would have given birth to a football team for a good night of song, drink, and dance!
Dad, unfortunately, did not drink, sing, or dance, and being the father of seven children and providing for them would be seen by himself as being his ultimate achievement as a man. It is a sad fact, but dad’s labour of love could be found in the hard work and industrious characteristics of labour itself. Having always worked hard every minute of his life, my father found dignity in feeling that no job was beneath any man, and whatever occupation a man is employed in, he should always do to the best of his ability. Through a man’s best endeavours to his family and his God, and by the sweat of his brow is a man’s worth measured. This was my father’s sincere belief. Dad believed that earthly respect and heavenly redemption were possible.
I have thought so many times, that the happiness and beliefs of both mum and dad could have been much better served had my father been prepared to sing out more loudly, drunk alcohol less modestly, and have danced with my mother more often. Had he only been prepared to take a song to his heart, a drink to his lips, and my mother to the dance floor, who knows what other liberties he might have taken and how many children my mother might have happily given him?
Love and peace