This is very inconvenient. Our flight from Heathrow is delayed by over 2 hours so I am stranded in Terminal 3 full of repressed excitement about the prospect of meeting you. This delay is eating into quality “nai nai” time. I’m already counting the hours I will have in which to get to know you and I’m not best pleased with this reduction in my allotted quota.
Of course I’ve anticipated the moment of meeting you for over 4 weeks now and can visualise my emotional reaction as if it’s a memory of something that’s already happened rather than a foretelling of how the reality of your physical presence will impact on me, your new baby smell, the feel of your jet black hair and the softness of your skin. At your early age I will just be another strange combination of sounds and smells, another curious intrusion into your gradually expanding world, whereas to me you are already so important that I can barely recall a world of which you were not a part.
If you could comprehend, what would I say to you? It would be about the small stuff mainly – that you are already loved and precious to your Mum and Dad and your extended family; that you are lucky to be born into such love and to be so wanted; that just for this short while you can grow up to be anybody, any thing – the constraints haven’t kicked in yet, the limitations and narrowing of options that increase with every year. Enjoy that freedom and innate optimism of childhood.
I would tell you that, being of mixed race, Irish and Chinese, you are already destined to be special and to feel a little bit different wherever you are in the world, perhaps not quite as Chinese as some of your first friends at kindergarten or school but not quite Irish either. And here’s the first bit of advice I will give you, from a young friend of mine who is herself of mixed race – you are whoever you choose to be and how you choose to define yourself.
Yes you are likely to carry a little touch of the exotic wherever you go – a hint of the orient perhaps mixed with an Irish sense of irony and humour. Maybe you will inherit your Mum’s keen intelligence, her highly developed visual capacity and her pragmatic and frugal streak. Maybe you will have your Dad’s creativity, deep kindness, warmth and entrepreneurial drive. Maybe you will be a bit of a dreamer.
You will also carry traits from your 4 great grannies and 4 great granddads, only one of whom you will get to meet , my own Mum. But the traditions of those 8 very different people – 4 Chinese and 4 Irish – will seep into the very bones of you and surface in all sorts of unexpected ways – a little gesture perhaps that reminds me uncannily of my own Dad, a way of looking at life that makes sense only to those that know your family history.
I would tell you that the planet you have come to live on is a fragile place so mind it well, try and leave it a little better and certainly no worse than how you find it. I would explain how I fret about the air quality in Beijing, the city of your birth, and hope you get to run in the fresh air and feel the breeze off the sea on your skin. And yet I am glad that you are born into a part of the world where the economy is growing and where you can participate in dramatic change that will sometimes feel slow and sometimes move too fast for any of our liking.
I would explain that the little island that is half your heritage has been battered and rocked in recent years as we’ve tried to make sense of how we got into such a mess and caused so much pain to so many people. But we are a resilient little nation and we are gradually picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and starting over. And maybe this time we are doing it with a renewed sense of what really matters, what’s authentic and real about what it means to be Irish and where we can add value to this world we all live in.
And I would remind you that you too will make mistakes, plenty of them, during your life. And that’s ok too. It’s not the mistakes that matter. It’s how you deal with them. It’s how you learn from them and move on.
I would express the hope that you will inherit some of the best attributes of the Irish – a capacity for story-telling, for language and music, an attachment to the land and nature – as well as that Chinese understanding of food and medicine as two sides of the one coin and of the importance of family and loyalty.
You will face big philosophical questions as you grow up Dermot, trying to make sense of two very different world views. I wish you a capacity for reflection and the ability to be mindful, as you are at this age, and grounded in the present moment.
I would tell you that sad things happened in the O’Neill part of the family just before you arrived in our lives but that you brought much joy, a reminder of the cycle of life and a welcome sense of new beginnings. For that reason too you will always be special.
So while you sleep baby Dermot in your Daddy’s arms, oblivious of the complexities of the life ahead of you and the world in which you live, know that you are loved and cared for and rest happy in the supports you will have as we all hold back a little and allow you to find your own way.