Aiden Shortall.

A father and son’s mental health journey

David Flynn

An unusual new book doubles as a biography of the author’s father, and the story of the mental health journey of the writer, and how the two mirror each other. The book, which was written during the pandemic spans fifty years in the life of author, Aiden Shortall’s father in Ireland and in the Far East.

Aiden, who lives in Ballinasloe, has published five books over the past two years since he did a creative writing course at Athlone Institute of Technology, facilitated by novelist and playwright, Mick Donnellan.

His latest book, ‘Men Don’t Cry’ is Aiden's second book following ‘The Tree That Fell in Winter’ which told the story of Aiden’s son, Daire getting a cold during Christmas 2016, which turned into a life threatening “nightmare infection.” Luckily, he survived. Only six years earlier, also at Christmas, the Shortall family lost their stillborn baby daughter Blaithin and these traumatic events have affected their lives.

Aiden and his wife Elizabeth have two other children, Colin and Aoife.

Aiden has written candidly about his family through his books, and his latest, ‘Men Don’t Cry’ tells the story of his father, Peter, from his birth during World War II in Waterford to his days in the Royal and Merchant navies, and being part of an unofficial landing party in Vietnam, and his life in fitness as a marathon runner. Peter Shortall died in 2013 aged 68 years.

“I wrote ‘Men Don’t Cry’ over the summer, and there is a lot about my relationship with my father in it, and through it I felt I got to know my father well,” said Aiden. “It helped me think about my own life, and what I suffered over the past few years, and also my own battle with depression and mental health. I discovered that myself and my father were quite similar, and I did some of the same things he did.”

Aiden said that his father was a good humoured man, charismatic and confident and people loved his company.

“He saw a lot of death and suffering and suffered his own mental health,” said Aiden. “I had to write the memories of my father in such a way as not to insult the family or hurt his memory, and on top of that to make it sound interesting.”

Aiden said he has written his books to get his stories out there about mental health, and it’s not about profit for him.

“Talking is important, and if we don’t start talking, who will start talking?” he asked. “Talking is not everything either and it’s important to sit and listen to other people. In the past, I drank really hard, and went to gyms and clubs, and did Thai boxing, and masked everything. With the lockdown, people have nowhere to go and can just sit down. I’ve been meditating, learning hypnosis, and even doing singing lessons. I could sit with my own demons, but I hope I’m doing things in a positive way.”

All of Aiden’s books are personal reminisces, including his new book, ‘Men Don’t Cry’. Early on in the pandemic, Aiden wrote a book entitled, 'Tales and Rhymes In These Uncertain Times,’ which was a compilation of short stories and poems.

“I left school to be a plasterer and didn’t really feel it was something I wanted to do, and I was really out of place,” he said.

Today, he feels at home on the stage, although he missed out on starring in a show, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with Ballinasloe Musical Society because it clashed with the beginning of the first lockdown.

“It has been important for me to get my mind to my fingertips, and getting those memories onto a page and it’s a way of processing the past that I lived," he said.

‘Men Don’t Cry’ and Aiden Shortall’s other books are available as e-books or printed copies on Amazon.