If you are lucky enough, you will understand everything about the beautiful dynamic of the father-son relationship. When you are young you look up to him, learn from him, like when he holds the back of the saddle on your maiden voyage down the hill, or stands over your shoulder when you’re struggling with long division.
Then you get a little older and you begin to rebel against him, because obviously in your 15 years on this earth, you’ve seen it all, and done it all. You know better now, and you simply have no time for your ‘oul lad anymore. Anything that seems cool in his world is just ridiculous in yours. You are your own man- you’ve even started shaving- you can take care of yourself! Unless of course you are short a few pound, or you need a lift to training.
Then you get older- and wiser- and as you go through the real ups and downs of life, you realise that your father is always the first port of call. Good news or bad, he is the first person you call upon for the chat.
I used to look up to professional athletes for inspiration. Those who stared in the face of adversity, laughed at it, and banged over an injury time drop goal at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, or brought their team from the brink of embarrassment to Champions League glory. These are all inspiring instances yes, but in terms of true, profound inspiration, they don’t come close to my father Séamus, or Shem as he is known to those closest to him.
I honestly don’t know where to begin.
He put his body through immense physical torture for many years, working long hours in demanding jobs that he didn’t particularly enjoy, just so myself and my two brothers could be fed and watered, and could receive an education to get a leg up in life. I never fully appreciated it when I was young all that he went through. He would spend 15 minutes with us eating in the evening before heading off to bed- broke up from the long day spent travelling the length and breadth of the country. I didn’t realise it at the time, because he never once complained. He simply kept going until we were gone and could stand on our own two feet, and only then did he feel that he could rest his body. Although, we still come and go from time to time and have a poke around the presses for food!
He has taught me valuable lessons down through the years just from the examples he sets, and continues to do so to this day.
The way I see him with his wife Trish; a very strong woman herself who has had her own battles down the years, living with bipolar for the majority of her life and most recently was diagnosed with an eye condition which has left her with barely enough vision to be able to sit and watch the news of a wet evening. He has loved and cherished her since the day they met; they have been married for 30 years and have experienced tremendous highs and crushing lows, and are still madly in love.
I have witnessed first-hand how Shem has touched lives not only in Ireland, but abroad too. On a trip down to Toronto for a few pints I was meeting a pal in a bar on Roncesvalles Avenue, in a completely random place I’d never been to. I arrived at the place thanks to Google maps, and after ordering the scoops the woman behind the bar proceeded to look me up and down, and she told me how familiar I looked. Then with a loud shriek, in Asian infused English, she proclaimed, ‘I have it, Séamus Hyland! You’re the image of him.’
I was speechless. She came around to the other side of the bar, sat down and told stories of when Shem gigged there back in the day, and told me to make sure that Gin, Bill and all the gang were asking for him.
I didn’t know who these people were but at that very moment I thought, ‘Jaysus, Shem must’ve had some craic over here!’
If it were not for Shem I would never have went over to Canada for work experience. In 2008, when I had just started college, Shem happened to get chatting to a random man one night at a gig who turned out to be working in the field I was studying. I crashed in Shem’s friends place for the short time I was in Toronto, and I constantly met people who came in contact with him, and couldn’t speak highly enough of him. My time over there made it even clearer to me, how proud I am to be his son.
Everyone knows Shem as a great musician amongst other things. He recently decided to go solo after having spent years in various bands, and perhaps not really feeling fulfilled with his music. This is a feat which he told me he would have never undertaken 2 or 3 years ago, due to the anxiety of being on the stage on his own. I would never have known this, had he not told me.
When I saw him up there playing a mix of Tom Petty, The Beatles, and some of his own material, an immense feeling of pride came over me. He blew us all away, and it was a completely different atmosphere to when he used to be crammed in the corner of a dark pub, wrapped in wires, making sure the sound was right for 4 other musicians, whilst trying to play the guitar himself. It was just him, his guitar, a small speaker and pint of water, and it was an unreal experience. He played his own music and the music he loves, on his own terms, and it was just incredible! All I could think of was I have the coolest father on earth, and I wanted nothing more than to go back in time and slap my 15-year-old self for ever thinking otherwise.
Any time I receive a text or a call from friends, one of the first questions I am asked is, ‘how are Shem and Trish?’ For years Shem opened his door to the droves who had travelled up for weekends of carnage, and they were always welcomed with a handshake, a mug of tea, or a bottle of beer. He is an incredible judge of character, and always knows who are going be good influences on us, and he wouldn’t be shy in telling us if he didn’t like the cut of someone’s jibb. The fact that all our friends see him as one of the boys speaks volumes. I can go on and on, and could talk all day about the influence Shem has had on my life, or the influence he has had on his nieces and nephews and wider family. The way he adapts to new lifestyle choices and ways of thinking, losing a great deal of weight by embracing healthier habits, going to college at the age of 55 constantly learning and growing, taking up yoga- he sets an example to everyone around him.
There aren’t enough good things to say about Shem. If I am ever in a tough spot, he’s the first one I phone. He is more than just my father, but he’s a great friend, someone I spend hours chatting and laughing with.
A rock, a legend, a hero. Simply, an inspiration.