Reflection from Hume Family on the First Anniversary of John Hume’s Passing.
August 3, 2021 12:00
We have been asked many times throughout our lives what ithas been like to have John Hume as our father. In response, our mostly mumbledanswers of ‘grand’ or ‘good’ were always somehow lacking, never quitefulfilling the expectations of the person asking. He was just our Da and thefact that he was a politician was just what he did. That he was on TV or thatour house was regularly attacked were just part and parcel of life growing upin our family. To put it in context, other families were facing even morechaotic times, and for many, these were marked by terrible loss. For us, hispublic profile blended with everyday family life. The thing is that we and oursister and brothers have no point of comparison. We only had one Da and weloved him.
Our childhood was marked by a level of daily chaos which weall took as normal. Until an office was eventually rented in 1979, there was aconstant stream of people calling at the house. The phone didn’t stop ringing. At times there could be a TV crew in oneroom, someone needing advice and support in another, and a list of telephonequeries to be answered. We also learned to recognise and negotiate hostility inthe community from a very early age. None of us understand just how our mothercoped; Dad was often away and when at home was very often preoccupied. Despite working full time, she managed torespond to demands from all sides and maintain a core of sanity, on which weall leant heavily. Her capacity for warmth and humour amidst all this madness,as well as the support of neighbours and friends went a long way to keeping usall sane.
Despite being often preoccupied in these years, Dad had areally kind heart, and the stories people have shared with us since his deathcame as no surprise. He was the least materialisticperson we knew and was generous to a fault. We saw him empty his pockets for homeless people on many occasions.Nothing pleased him more than welcoming people into our home – obviously thelogistics of feeding and providing beds for the same people was left to ourMum! Stories of him giving lifts tohitchhikers across Ireland also resonated in a particular way, given the manypeople who had given lifts to Dad as his dementia progressed.
Interdependence, andthe need to support one another, were unquestionable, foundational beliefs forhim. As a child he experienced homelessness and his parents were given a roomin a two bedroomed house by the family who also lived there. Three of theirseven children were born there, and when they got their own two-bedroom house,my grandparents gave the front room to Granny’s brother and his wife. Theseexperiences influenced his work with the Credit Union and on the provision ofaffordable housing. Gratitude was also foundational. He was deeply grateful foran Education Act which allowed him to access secondary education and was astrong advocate for affordable global access to education.
His studies in French and History began his exposure todifferent cultures, and over his life he travelled extensively, experiencingwarm hospitality in many of the places he visited, often from Irish people whohad migrated. He saw the tradition of migration as a defining characteristic ofIrishness, and he was always anxious that this be a place of welcome to thosewho migrate here. Narrow or exclusive definitions of identity and culture wereanathema to him and he would be heartened to see the rich diversity of peoplewho have found their home here in recent decades.
Confrontational politics for its own sake depressed andfrustrated him, so he could never have stayed in the small confrontationalforum of Northern Ireland politics. He saw confrontation as a tool for tacklinginjustice only. His politics were formed out of a belief in the power ofco-operation and consensus, and the power of collective action to achievepositive change for the many, so the collaborative relationships within thelarger frame of the EU liberated much potential for him. Brexit would devastatehim, but if he were alive and active, he’d be thinking up creative ways to re-formthose bonds with Europe and reawaken a wider political consciousness. Daddidn’t seem to be daunted by what seemed impossible. He had incredibleself-belief, and his confidence in his capacity to persuade others never diminished,even when he was frail, blind and limited by dementia.
His health was under strain for a long time and he didn’thave a great capacity for self-care; one of the sad things about men of hisgeneration. While to begin with, his poor memory caused him daily anxiety, inlater years he became much more content, in no small amount due to theconsistent, patient and loving care of our mother. Even when he had lost his sight and wasliving in a Nursing Home, every second sentence began with “Pat”. It was a huge comfort to us that he kept hisindomitable personality until the very end, asking endless questions of hisyoung carers about their families and inviting them to come and stay at hishouse in Donegal. Truly indebted to the team of nurses and carers in Owen Mór,who have worked incessantly with little material reward through the Covidpandemic, we strongly believe, as he would, that the work of care in societyneeds to be valued much more highly.
Our dad lived a very public life but was always fully andunapologetically (sometimes to our intense mortification) himself. In today’simage and social media dominated politics he wouldn’t have a chance. He wasfull of paradox. Forgetful about practicalities but never about principles. Helived at an intense pace but gave the same message over and over. Deeplyconnected to his home place, he was an instinctive internationalist whorejected narrow definitions of identity. He could be very fearful about smallworries but faced the most daunting risks on an almost daily basis. He oftenseemed emotionally absent but with the wisdom of hindsight we understand howdeeply emotionally engaged he was, with the bigger issues. The overwhelmingresponse we’d have now to the question of what it was like to have John Hume asour father would be one of enormous gratitude. Grateful for his being the unapologetic, grounded, lofty, demanding,generous, compassionate, gregarious, deeply serious personality that he was.Grateful for the community which sustained us all through the tumult of ourchildhood and grateful for the open-hearted attitude to life which we hope wehave inherited.
Ni bheidh a leitheidarís ann.