Anne Hailes: Congratulations to Jim Neely and Thomas Cherry on their honours

We hear a lot about single mothers but not so much about single dads

I GREW up listening to rugby matches with commentator Uncle Sammy Walker – he was a friend of my dad. He was brilliant and there was no doubt his love for the game and his championing of Ireland in their rugby union games.

Listening to his slightly biased and always boisterous commentary on the old wireless in the dining room in front of a crackling fire was a feeling of security and being in the middle of a loving family.

I was reminded of Uncle Sammy the first time I heard Jim Neely covering rugby from Lansdowne Road, the same joy and enthusiasm, and I immediately became a fan. Now he has been rewarded for his work with an MBE in the recent honours. I congratulate him.

Another to receive this reward is Mr Cherry, Geoffrey Thomas Cherry MBE, principal of Pond Park Primary School in Lisburn. He’s a remarkable man.

I first came across him when he appeared in the Arts Theatre Christmas show in 1982. He was one of the primary school children who joined the cast on stage and sang their hearts out. There were appearances with the Lisnagarvy Operatic Society where I was a chorus girl!

Geoffrey Thomas Cherry MBE, principal of Pond Park Primary School in Lisburn

A few years ago, through grandsons, we met up again and I heard the inside story from children on just how brilliant he is. Then last week I came on the Pond Park website and there were the school’s Christmas videos and they are so happy and uplifting.

Teachers are going through difficult times – never an easy job and such responsibility. Hats off to them all and may their lives get back to some normality as soon as possible.

Daddy’s girl

WE HEAR about single mothers a lot these days, the difficulties of bringing up children without the support of a partner. We don’t hear so much about single dads and their stories – dads like Jack.

Jack (not his real name) has never married. He met this daughter’s mum on a gap year in New Zealand when a group of British and Irish students were at a party and a love affair began.

He came from Belfast, she came from Donegal and their relationship continued when they came home. The result was a beautiful baby girl but there was tension in the relationship; Jack was commuting between Belfast and Donegal and it became too much. He was tired and the strain effected them both so when their child was just over two years old, they decided to separate.

The child’s mother wanted to work again and after much discussion Jack agreed to bring the girl to live with him, to grow up with her dad back in Belfast.

“Our break-up was traumatic, there were many tears, there was a lot to consider. I’d been paying for everything, which was fine, but I was losing out on being a good father so when she decided to go back to work there was no option but to bring my wee girl home with me.

"It has worked out well but there are drawbacks. Social services were a nightmare – so much time wasting. People still give me the feeling they felt I shouldn’t be bring up a little girl on my own.

"I’m thankful to my parents and my sister who are helpful so I was able to keep working. But I was getting overwhelmed and depressed. I’ve tried all the things recommended – mother and toddlers clubs. for instance. Now that was difficult. I was the only man and some of the women resented me being there; others were delighted and quite honestly I felt the pressure of being chatted up, still do.

"I’m 28 and most of the women were around the same age and older and even when I go to playgrounds and you’re watching your little one on the swing another mother will put their child on the next swing so you’re stuck beside each other and it’s awkward.

"After fifteen minutes you run out of conversation as you’ve nothing in common. I don’t talk fashion or shopping and they don’t do football.

"When we go out for a walk I take the back roads so I don’t meet anyone. It can be a lonely life and now with the new lockdown it’s going to be even more difficult.”

Jack recalls trying to persuade one of his friends to bring his son along to a mother and toddler group so the children could bond and he’d have some male company.

No-go area

“He came with me but after 20 minutes he asked me to mind the child as he went outside for a smoke. Half an hour later he hadn’t come back. My mobile rang it was him asking me to bring his boy out to him as he was going home – apparently the whole thing was stressing him out.”

Jack is a very switched-on parent. His six-year-old is much loved, still in touch with her mother and has caring grandparents. Diet is a big subject in our discussion and one of Jack’s bugbears is in the supermarket when sweets are placed beside the till.

“Weight is a problem in children these days and sweets are just an introduction to an addiction to sugar. The kids are on a high and are on the road to diabetes so I watch her diet very closely and I remind the family, 'no treats'. Luckily I quite like cooking and she and I make mealtimes special.

“I wouldn’t change anything. We’re happy together and I don’t think she’s losing out on anything.”

His smile reflects his love. “I’ve plenty of friends so she gets a good social life and she loves primary school. The teachers are pleased with her progress and her ability to socialise so I’m happy. I don’t want to meet anyone but I don’t know what to expect in the future except I know we’ll manage – with a little help from our friends."

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