Guggi: “They make me feel like a wealthy man”

Irish Independent, June 18, 2000

Father’s Day, Guggi, pop-star-turned-artist, talks to Aine O’Connor about his children.

WHEN Guggi left the Virgin Prunes in 1986 he decided to concentrate full-time on the thing he had long been most interested in painting. He got a small studio in the City Arts Centre, Dublin, where a young but established German artist was later given space beside him.

Guggi and Sybille Ungers didn’t hit it off at first, only eventually reaching a detente over a kettle. Sybille had one, Guggi did not; it was coffee that brought them together, first as friends, later as a couple. They’ll be eight years married in July.

While Guggi’s reputation as a painter has flourished since then, Sybille’s career has been put on hold.
“She really wanted to have children and Syb says, `I can either be a great mother or a great artist’,” says Guggi. “She still keeps her hand in her most recent painting is on the wall in there and I think it’s some of the best work she’s done.”

Their children are eight-year-old Noah, five-year-old Eliah and three-year-old Caleb. Guggi’s eldest son Moses, from a previous relationship, is 12 and comes over several times a week.
Did he ever consider becoming the chiefchildminder?

“No, that was never an option. I didn’t make my wife have children. Even if it’s not popular to say it, I think women change when they have kids. I need to paint, there’s no point in both of you running around looking after children, and anyway there is also the question of earning a living. But I do my share with the boys.”
Guggi works in a studio beside the house. The boys know that when their father is working he is not to be disturbed.

“They’re really good I know that if they come to the door it’s for a reason, because the dinner is ready or because one of them is crying or they can’t find their mammy or something.”
The weekends are his designated daddy time but he feels there is more to it than that.

“I hope to be mates with my kids. The important thing is to spend time with them. Men’s minds are very focused. Sometimes they only see one thing; they want to make their mark.

“Some women are like that too and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that but it’s important to make time for your kids. Really listen to what they are asking and take time to explain. I’m not saying I do that all the time, but it is important to really listen.”

Caleb is watching the TV before going out in the garden with his mother. He has long blond hair and is dressed like a tiny Amish.

Guggi says, “I haven’t cut my hair since I was 17.” That was 24 years ago.
“This is as far as it grows. The boys have their hair long because they want to be like me. They’re boys and their dad is their role model. Moses is 12 now; he wants to be like me and with me, but next year I’ll probably be the last person he wants to be near. That’s OK; I’m psyched for it. But the kids know if they want to cut it the scissors would be out. About two weeks ago Moses said he wanted to cut his hair; I said fine. I think he was just putting out feelers.

“They get terrible grief over their hair. Even kids they know say, `Are you a boy or a girl?’ “Even so, none of the boys has opted for the scissors.

Although Guggi has always been interested in painting, he had one brief but effective foray into verbal art, giving his old friend the nickname Bono. Bono, in return, called the then Derek Rowan, Guggi.
He says his children’s names were chosen for a reason. “I’m not religious maybe I even hate religion but I am Christian. They’re Old Testament names, but more than that I wanted to give my kids names other kids wouldn’t have.” But there is never a guarantee of exclusivity.

“Sybille still has a house in Cologne and at one time we spent up to a third of our time there. Our next door neighbour there is Boris Becker’s best mate. When old Boris had his first child he called it Noah, and he called his second one Elias.”

And what do Guggi’s boys call him? They call him Dad.

Do they want more children? “No. I wouldn’t want to go through another pregnancy. The last one nearly killed Syb. [Sybille explains that she suffered nausea on all her pregnancies, so severe on the last that she was hospitalised.]

“It was terrible and if I thought it was bad, it must be a hundred times worse for the woman. I sometimes miss having a baby around the house. Caleb is definitely not a baby any more. But it goes in stages. We’re going to have our first family holiday this year. There was no point before because he was too small.”

Parenting came fairly naturally to Guggi. As second-eldest of 10 children he “practically reared” his younger siblings. With so many mouths to feed, clothe, wash and look after, the Rowan kids all mucked in from the time they were very young.

“My dad kept telling us how hard it was in the real world, that we’d see how tough life was. When I was 17 I moved out of the house with my brother who was 15. We got a bedsit in Cabra and I kept waiting for life to get really hard. It didn’t. Life never got as hard as I expected it to.” Lucky man.
He knows his boys have a far easier childhood than he did.

“Basically they’re poshies. They have jobs they’re supposed to do; they do them half-heartedly. But I want them to have it easier than we did. Although sometimes when they make a face about doing little jobs in their comfortable little lives, I get mad.”

Of his children’s futures Guggi says he has no specific ambitions for them. He and his siblings left school early and have few formal qualifications. “I want my kids to do well in school, and they are, but not at any cost.” The boys all speak German “fairly well” and so far only Eliah is showing any kind of artistic leanings.

So does he recommend fatherhood and has it changed him?
“Yes. Time changes you anyway and after 12 years I can’t imagine being without them. They make me feel like a wealthy man.”