Pat Shortt: ‘My daughter didn’t recognise me at the airport. I got very upset’

Parenting in My Shoes: The actor believes losing his mother at the age of seven has partly shaped his approach to fatherhood

Pat Shortt’s not sure there was ever a great life plan. But when his wife Caroline, who he met at art college, said she was ready to have children, he was “very, very happy to go with it”.

“I love being a dad,” says the father of three. “I love having been a dad through various different stages.”

Pat and Caroline were together more than 10 years before they decided to have a family. “At the time, D’Unbelievables were taking off and I was touring around the world and all over the place. Caroline was working in fashion in Dublin . . . so we were kind of hectic, and we took our time with it.”

My wife was very upset and I was there to support her, but as a man you kind of stand there and go, ‘Jesus’

Caroline’s first pregnancy sadly ended in miscarriage. “I remember when it happened having to go to work that night,” Pat recalls. “I remember talking to another actor about it and they had been through the same thing. It was very strange. I don’t know how you were to react to it. I think that was the problem. Was it grief? It was a weird one. There was no kind of right, real thing to do. Obviously, my wife was very upset and I was there to support her, but as a man you kind of stand there and go, ‘Jesus’.


“I think maybe now there’s more realisation, it’s almost like a death really. Whereas back then it was just, you pick yourself up and you get on with it. I think that’s what we did”.

Having to go to work that night was “very hard. To go on and do a comedy show. My wife was very upset. I was upset as well. You were building towards it, and you were expecting, and it doesn’t happen. And, suddenly, it’s all over.

“I couldn’t really walk out on things that night. If I was in an office I probably could have just rang up and said, ‘look, I’m taking the day off, I’m not coming in’. Things would have rocked on, but the business we’re in, it’s a bit more awkward. And you feel you can’t let people down. I do remember going to work that night, feeling very upset, and having to get on with it.”

During Caroline’s next pregnancy, Pat landed a role in a movie. “My wife is a saint,” he laughs. “It was the first big movie I got, so I wasn’t really there.”

In fact, Pat missed Faye’s birth because of it.

“I was very excited. Very, very, very excited. But, then I got this offer, this film . . . and it meant being in Donegal for about three or four months, and I had to leave in the last month of her pregnancy.

“When she had the baby, Faye, I was up on the hill shooting a scene and I had to come down and take the phone call from a phone box. I was there for the other two.”

Pat spent a lot of Faye’s early life away from his daughter due to travelling commitments with work. “I think it really hit me when I went to America on tour with Jon [Kenny]. Faye was about one and she was nearly two when I came back. And she didn’t recognise me in the airport. She got a fright when I came over to her and I got very upset. Myself and Caroline then said, that’s it, no more extensive touring.”

The birth of Pat’s second child, Lily Rose, coincided with the unexpected end of D’Unbelievables. “I was nearly at home for two years without working. That was easier for all of us - and more difficult in other ways”.

After two years, Pat had to go back to work. “Even though Jon wasn’t in a situation to go back to work, I had to because, financially, I wasn’t in a good position.”

“Three is a disaster,” Pat laughs, describing the move from two children to three. “It changes everything. That extra person makes all the difference”, he says when it comes to things like the logistics of holidays, hotel rooms, cars and taxis in a world built for families of four. “We always wanted to have three.”

The couple’s third child was son Lughaidh and Pat noticed the difference in rearing boys and girls from quite early on. “There’s no question of it, as the saying goes ‘the girls wreck your head, the boys wreck the house’. Never was there a truer thing ever. The girls are as cute, they would wrap you around their finger when they were only two, three, four and five. And then your man comes along and he just wants to stick knives inside VHS players and drop the keys down through holes in the floorboards.

“We had all those things happen to us and never with the girls. There wasn’t one thing out of place in the house when the girls were there. But your man comes along and you’ll find him hanging off things, and things falling down on top of him . . . it’s so cliched, but it’s true.”

None of this, however, influenced how Pat engaged with his children when they were small. He took his daughters and his son fishing when they were growing up, but concedes while they all proclaimed to enjoy it, the girls weren’t keen to pursue it.

All my kids are quite strong. I don’t think any of them ever felt that there was a stigma attached to anything they were doing

Pat’s children are dyslexic and he’s wondered sometimes if he might be too. “I would have been of the persuasion that dyslexia is all about reading and letters being jumbled, etc. And my understanding is it’s a lot more than that – it’s about concentration, it’s about focus, there’s different types of dyslexia. And yes, that’s part of it, the reading, but it’s more than that.

“It emerged in school in the early days, there might be some sort of difficulty there. That’s when we got them tested and looked in to it and they all turned out to be dyslexic. And then we got the support in the schools and it was great. I remember when I was a kid going to school, if there was a support teacher or a class that a kid had to go to – there wasn’t really a support class – what there was A, A1, B, B1 and if you were in B1, you were thick. Really, those kids just needed help and those classes weren’t available at the time.

“My gang had support in Leaving Cert, computers and stuff like that some of them had, and it was great. They all got good results and went on to college. All my kids are quite strong. I don’t think any of them ever felt that there was a stigma attached to anything they were doing.

“Loads of actors are dyslexic,” he adds.

Wanting to be as present as possible in his children’s lives is something Pat feels may, in part, go back to the sad loss of his own mother when he was just seven years old. It’s why, perhaps, he was so upset when his daughter Faye didn’t recognise him that time in the airport. “I remember, I was in a friend’s house on Mothers’ Day. His mother was a very good friend of my mother, and they were all going ‘happy Mother’ Day’ and I think she made a big effort to tell them all to shut up, to stop going on about it. I would have been about 14 or 15 at the time … that was I think my first realisation.

“You get along with life, your mother’s not there, but you just get on with life. You’ve no choice. There’s a big gang in the house, 11 siblings, and you just get on with things . And it’s only then, a moment like that happens, you begin to realise ‘hang on, I’m a bit different to everybody else in the room here’ . . . and you begin to think about it”

“I won’t say you get depressed or down, but you begin to wonder what would it be like if she was here. What would it have been like on my Confirmation day? What would it have been like the day I got married? That always pops up in your head and I think then that leads you to think, you want to be around for the kids. You want to be the best dad. You want to give Caroline every bit of help to be the best mum, and let the kids have a great experience of parenting, which I think we have done. I think we’ve let them down a few times, but I think overall, we’ve done okay.

“I think a lot of it is I don’t want them to have a bad experience at all, and maybe I’m overcompensating a little bit at times, but that’s why. I won’t say I missed out on anything, because you don’t know what you miss when you don’t have it. But the thought of, ‘what would it have been like?’ is definitely a question that runs through my head.

The close relationship Pat has with his children has extended to his work life and he’s currently doing a nationwide tour with his daughter Faye.

“Faye is incredible, not just because she’s my daughter,” the proud dad says. “She’s very professional. We treat each other like we’re two colleagues as opposed to dad and daughter – and occasionally dad and daughter comes out.

“We enjoy it. We both get a great buzz out of it. The other night we were doing a hotel gig and the two of us were changing in a wardrobe . . . and I was just looking at Faye going, ‘you can’t be getting glossy all the time Faye. This is the real world’,” he says laughing. “She said to me going home in the van, ‘if my 11-year-old me saw this in a van, I’d be mortified, but then working with you, it’d be 10 times worse!’.

“It’s lovely. I don’t take it for granted, ever. Every night we’re going to the theatre and on the stage, I love it. We do get on so well. I’m well aware that this isn’t going to last forever . . . so we’re enjoying it, every bit of it”.

Parenting in My Shoes