Today, I am going to give you a double treat. I will sing two different songs with the same title called “I’m Sorry’. Both songs were originally recorded by favourite singers of mine, John Denver, and Brenda Lee. We were all born around the same time. I was born in 1942, John Denver was born in 1943, and Brenda Lee was born in 1944.
John Denver’s song “I’m Sorry” reached the Number 1 spot in the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart on September 27th, 1975. The song is an apology for forsaken love. Brenda Lee’s song entitled, “I’m Sorry” was a 1960 hit song when she was a 15-year-old American singer. It peaked at Number 1 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ singles chart in July 1960.
I will never forget my mother telling me when I was a young boy, “Billy, never be too proud to say ‘sorry’ when you have done something wrong.” I also recollect my mother telling me, “Never think that saying ‘sorry’ is a weakness, Billy. It takes courage to apologise!” In my life, I have remembered this motherly advice and have never found apologising to be either difficult or embarrassing.
It is interesting to observe that had it fallen to my father to convey this advice to me, it would never have happened. Dad held only one view where apologising was concerned, and that came straight off the cinema screen from the mouth of film star John Wayne, who was dad’s favourite movie star and screen idol, “Never apologise. It’s a sign of weakness!”. The only person my father ever said ‘sorry’ to in his entire life would have been God when he attended weekly confession at church, and though he will have been sincere in his confessional apology, his words will not have been voiced without a convenient mumble.
If there was only one person to blame about my father’s reluctance/refusal to apologise, the blame must surely be placed at the door of John Wayne. To say that dad was such a serious man in virtually everything he undertook, watching the character of his favourite male film star John Wayne on the screen must have been his fantasy ‘time out’. John Wayne always played the role of the cowboy knight in shining armour, the hero who always came to the defence of a woman being manhandled by some brute. Other character roles played by John Wayne would witness dad’s film idol being the saviour of the small guy who is being laughed at and pushed around in public by the town bully, before stepping in and giving the big bully his comeuppance! Then there was the American army hero character who John Wayne always played in war films. This was the soldier who would disregard showers of enemy fire to go back into enemy territory to save a wounded comrade. This brave fete was never accomplished without the John Wayne character blowing up a tank blocking his path with a perfectly placed grenade, throwing the wounded soldier over his broad shoulders, and killing forty of the enemy single-handedly while ducking and diving between gunfire and cannon shells as he carried his wounded comrade back across the line to safety.
My father saw every film that John Wayne ever starred in. He would learn his lines verbatim, and to the chagrin of my mother, he would repeat them to her at the appropriate moment of a marital tiff, as though the words had never been spoken by any other person except my father. Without a shadow of a doubt, John Wayne was dad’s alter ego.
His most oft-repeated lines to my mother which he had stolen from the mouth of John Wayne came from the Irish film ‘The Quiet Man’. Whenever dad came through the door after his hard shift at the pit had ended, he would say to mum in his most commanding tone of voice, “Get the tae on, Woman, the man of the house has come home! (tae is Irish for tea). If ever any of his children told my father that they had come second in anything they did, instead of receiving the usual fatherly compliment, dad would repeat another of John Wayne’s put-down lines, as he reminded us, “The first is first, and the second is nobody!” ( a line from the film ‘Custer’s Last Stand’). However, his favourite line of all that came from the lips of a John Wayne film character was “Never apologise. It’s a sign of weakness!” I cannot remember which film that saying came from. If I ever knew, I probably forgot it on purpose!
Like many men, my father was a paradox. He was the proudest of men and yet the most modest person I ever knew. While a false sense of pride no doubt prevented my father from apologising, he was a most respected man in the community whose behaviour outside the family home would never result in anything being said or done by him that would warrant an apology. Being very independent and self-resilient, my father would never ask anyone to do anything he would not do or could not do. He was popular with his workmates, considered to be an industrious and diligent worker by his employers, and a person who would ‘have your back’ before ‘go behind it’. Very few people in his life will have ever really got close enough to him to know him, except my mother and his brother Billy, from whom he was inseparable. Dad was a man who did not converse easily with strangers. He had no need to impress others to feel good enough about himself.
The only thing I could never quite weigh up about my mother and father was how two people with seemingly opposite personalities could ever hit it off, or have anything in common? Like most of us, my father was a different person at different times of the day. My mother would tell me that my dad had a hat for every occasion and a different face for every day of the week. Dad was not like my mother. Mum never put on any false airs and graces and was always as one found her, whereas my father was a more complicated person in every sense.
I recall seeing a mystery film as a young teenager called ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ (1957). It was about a woman who had a ‘dissociative identity disorder’. That film gave me the initial notion that we all have many different sides to our character which we publicly display, parade, and use to disguise and hide the real ‘us’. There were four sides of my father that I knew of.
There was Paddy Forde, the miner who commanded the respect of all his workmates for being a man of honesty and integrity. Then, there was Mr Forde who the neighbours saw and thought they knew. He was a perfect gentleman and the husband of Maureen Forde, and father of their large family and a good provider for them. Then, there was Dad Forde, a parent of strictness, stubbornness, strength, resolute conviction, religiosity, and a man who would never change his mind once he had made it!
Then, there was Paddy Forde, the loner who knew everybody but who preferred his own company when not with his brother Billy (after whom I was named). This was the man in his early twenties who courted my mother when she was an 18-year-old colleen called Maureen Fanning from Portlaw. He was the budding footballer who played soccer for County Kilkenny where he lived, and who also went on to play in the Irish national squad. A young man with little money to his name, he would cycle 33 miles on an old bike as often as he could, at least twice every week from County Kilkenny to meet up with my mum secretly behind ‘The Metal Man’ in Tramore, Waterford, before cycling back 33 miles in the dark after walking mum back home the 12 miles to Portlaw where she lived. Whatever mum and dad had going for them during their Irish courting days, they kept it going for many more years and it stayed with them, at least until after they had parented seven children.
Indeed, as I once remarked to my youngest brother, Michael (the second youngest of seven siblings), although we had the same mother and father, we never experienced the same parents! I told my brother Michael that in my youth, I still recall mum and dad walking four of us across the fields during the summer months. Partway on our walk, we would stop for a short break, and while mum and dad would lay down in the long grass, we would be told to run off and play among ourselves for ten minutes. Mum’s three eldest children (myself, Mary, and Eileen) grew up during the years when my mum and dad loved each other to bits. By the time my brothers Patrick and Peter arrived on the scene, I guess there were as many ‘keep-to-yourself’ days between mum and dad as there were ‘give-us-a-cuddle’ days. However, by the time that my two youngest siblings, Michael and Susan came along, mum and dad had gradually grown physically apart. Had a stranger witnessed the different experiences we seven children/siblings had growing up in the ‘Forde Home’ between 1942-62, he would have concluded that we had been born to different parents at different times and had grown up in different households! My two youngest siblings never experienced the same happy upbringing that myself and the next two oldest siblings enjoyed.
By the time that the two youngest children were born and arrived on the family scene, mum and dad had ‘loved each other out’. Unlike the romantic tangles, our parents would frequently encounter when they kissed and cuddled in the long grass of my youth as we went on Sunday afternoon walks across the meadows, mum, and dad had now entered the fallow stage of their marital union. This is the period in all life-long marriages when times of harvests become rarer for a man and his wife and fewer seeds are sown during the more romantic months of spring and autumn.
During my discussion with my youngest brother about our different experiences, I reminded my brother Michael of the cruel timing of being born at the tail end of an old dog’s wag. He and his younger sister grew up unfortunately at a time when mum and dad were growing apart and were also growing less tolerant towards the worse sides of each other’s character. This is the decade that all life-long marriages go through, where the ‘lovemaking’ between husband and wife stops and is exchanged with increased rows, lots more shouting across the room at each other, and the occasional flying plate being thrown before shattering in pieces against a nearby wall (that needed wallpapering again anyway!)
After my parent’s seven children had grown into adults and left home to establish and live out our own lives, as so often happens in lengthy marriages, the man and wife start to remember what it was about their spouse which first attracted them to each other in the first place; during their days of wild courtship and sweet romance. While they never return to those heady days of wild physicality with each other, they do find themselves starting to like each other more easily and holding hands as they walk out in public side-by-side becomes a more natural thing to do. They even find their mutual tolerance level increasing. The raising of voices in anger becomes a thing of the past, never more to return. Their newest and strangest discovery of all is a welcomed and reassuring friendship that develops in their relationship; something they never previously knew or would have ever believed possible.
When the first parent dies, all the children rally around the remaining parent, and love them to death, until they also pass away. Angry words and bad sentiments are never again voiced between parent and child, and even the siblings end a lifetime of squabbling as disagreements between brother and sister no longer come into play. The family becomes as closely knit a unit as any family can become without being thought incestuous, and each member is prepared to go to any length to protect the family name, their siblings and bereaved parent.
In a strange way, the remaining family learn that actions speak louder than words where love needs to be shown. It is as though all remaining family members have learned how to say “I’m sorry’ for any past wrongs they may have done by means of their kind and considered actions toward each other without there being any need to vocalise those apologetic words.
Love and peace