Wednesday 26 October 2016

Colette Fitzpatrick: Berkeley tragedy brings memories of my own J1 summer to the US flooding back

Women hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley,
Women hold candles during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse in Berkeley,
Natasha Hamilton

The summer of 1994 means a lot to a generation of Irish people over the age of 35.

 It means football, hope, the USA and the World Cup of that year. It was also the summer that I went on my J1 visa to the United States. A summer of freedom and new experiences. Myself and my pal - disciples of adventure who were not even 20 years old  - telling those we left behind: "Gentlemen, start your envy."

Getting a J1 wasn't straightforward. We had queued overnight outside the USIT office near O'Connell Bridge to get on a list to be considered for the thing that we knew would be our passport to a slam-dunk of a work-hard, party-hard summer of romance and the new. A roll-your-own summer that would qualify us as experienced, travelled, older and cooler.

We landed in hot and loud New York and ended up working in a gun-mad town in Minnesota, not far from the Canadian border, where we cleaned hotels and served pizzas. There was no social media. No free viber calls to show your mum your digs. No WhatsApp and no Facebook.


We actually rang home from a landline from where we worked once a month. It cost a fortune. We even wrote letters, though not very many.

Arriving in the US in 1994 was a bit of a culture shock to students. Ireland wasn't multi-cultural in the way it is now. I had never even met a divorcee before my J1 trip. Students on the J1 today are more sophisticated, and easier with other cultures.

What hasn't changed is the rite of passage for students, the thrill of heading off to another country, the hope and expectation that this just might be the best summer of your life.

It's easy to imagine the energy and fun of a 21st party in Berkeley. The craic and the merriment. The possibility of where that night might take you. The tragedy that unfolded and the lives changed forever is simply unimaginable.


Dad's the word as it's almost time to praise the special men in our lives


Last year the social media campaign #endfathersday gained a little traction. Apparently joyless, dangerous feminists were trying to pull the plug on a day that celebrates daddies.

Fox News (of course ) carried a 'for and against' segment with those on the 'end father's day' side arguing that the patriarchy has enough as it is.

Meanwhile, those on the 'keep father's day' side were saying feminists were misandrists (man haters) who would stop at nothing until men were wiped out entirely.

The campaign - of course - was a wind up, which was obvious to most people except our friends at Fox, who freaked out. Who would want to get rid of the day that says 'Thanks for being a great Dad?' to fathers.

I love Father's Day as much as I love Mother's Day. It reminds me of the positive impact men have had in my life and in the lives of my kids.

They're reminded of the important role that their Dad plays in their lives as a role model, care giver, provider, protector, supporter, friend and the dozens of other roles he plays. (In my house, to my shame, there's actually a very sexist division of labour and roles. He 'fixes' things more than I do. I clean more than he does.)

Dads can be their children's greatest cheerleaders. They can empower their kids and give them wings. They can be supportive, but gentle as well as strong.

Of course, children can succeed and be happy without dads in their lives. But the dads who support the efforts of their children and who encourage their daughters to speak up, to have a voice, to make a contribution and to be the best they can be, are as important for their kids as their mama bears.

Most dads aren't what they used to be. Their roles have evolved in the same way that women's roles have.

In the last 50 years, fathers have taken on more child care and housework. They've literally become more hands on. More touchy feely. More inclined to talk and brag and bore people about their kids. More emotionally engaged with them.

I did hear PJ Mara on radio, who became a dad at 71 in 2013, say he wouldn't change a nappy. He is though, I think, an exception. My own dad, who's older, didn't consider it beneath him to change my little fella's nappy in the past.

As this Father's Day approaches on Sunday, a clever campaign from Dove shows real life footage of men finding out if they're going to be dads. Some men find out when their other halves pass them a positive pregnancy test.

Others get presents with baby clothes or greeting cards with announcements written inside. Several of the men are so overwhelmed by the exciting pregnancy news that they break out in tears.

The message, of course, is that showing you care is a sign of a man's real strength.

I hope this Father's Day we make our dads feel relevant, valued and loved.

Happy Father's Day to all the daddies, stepdads and granddads who are their son's and grandson's first heroes and their daughter and granddaughter's first loves.


Time to drop the double standards

Natasha Hamilton.jpg
Natasha Hamilton

Former Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamilton has recently talked about how she's been slagged for having four children by four different men. Ulrika Jonsson was nicknamed '4x4' a few years ago while Kate Winslet was also criticised for her third pregnancy with a third different father.

Many men, such as Rod Stewart (who has seven with five), father children by different women. Their treatment is different though. They are deemed loveable ladies' men. They're not judged and scrutinised in the same way as women.

Possibly some of these women may have wanted a traditional family, but when things didn't work out they're vilified. It's the double standard again.

Women who've had several lovers are regarded as 'sluts'. The men are regarded as 'studs'.


Kay Burley only guilty of being a woman


A  petition calling for Sky News' Kay Burley to be sacked over her interview of the chief executive of Alton Towers has now topped 55,000 - despite the fact the presenter has been cleared.

It makes me wonder if the reaction would have been quite so disdainful had a male presenter conducted a similar interview.

It feels like Burley just seems to trigger this type of vitriol, simply because she's a female presenter. I'm not a huge fan of Burley but 55,000 people signing a petition to get her sacked says to me that people seem more wont to be offended if it's a woman who's doing the offending.

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