CREDOS : The book of Joe — III

Paul O’Donnell

He was gentle, he was never angry, he was non-judgmental, he didn’t cross examine me. He didn’t do any of the things my father did and above all, he was consistent, about his beliefs and his actions formed from his beliefs, which my dad wasn’t. My dad was treacherous that way, as many dads are, and, speaking as a dad, I am. In fairness though, his life was relatively uncomplicated, and he didn’t have as much at stake in you as your father had.

Absolutely not. I recognized that as soon as I became a father myself. But to a young teenager, this looked like an ideal father and once my own father died, Joe became in every way, negative and positive, my father figure.

You write about the discrimination against Catholics you saw growing up, but at the same time Catholicism in 1950s Britain was also on the rise, with Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Can you explain that sort of schizophrenia? In part, I suppose it’s not unlike being Jewish in an anti-Semitic society. It was a defence mechanism, being really good at what you choose to do. The Jesuits in late ‘50s in England were fantastic, I mean really, really smart people who would argue the Church’s case forcefully and brilliantly whenever they got the chance. You describe this galvanising moment when you first saw Beyond the Fringe, and realised comedy was where you belonged. Were you conscious of leaving Father Joe and monastery behind then? No. In the moment I was first exposed to that intensity of laughter and intensity of reverence, I didn’t know I was having a moment on the road to Damascus, quite. —