I was particularly fond of the sitcom Frasier, still screening on Channel 4 (and first thing in the morning!). When my husband became so disabled that he had no mobility at all, Frasier was the one television programme that unfailingly cheered him up.

The wisecracking repartee between John Mahoney, as the slightly cranky but decent father – a retired policeman – and his two oh-so-sophisticated sons, Frasier and Niles, was always great fun. And the subtext was that Martin, the dad, who came from a working-class background, had more common sense than his hipster sons, and often got the better of them.

The death of John Mahoney, who played Martin, occurred earlier this month, at the age of 77, and the actor emerged as a heroic pathfinder for another reason: he was a late starter. Born in Blackpool of Irish parents, he migrated as a young man to the United States, and worked in a series of respectable but prosaic jobs until the age of 40. He then felt inspired to follow his dream of becoming an actor and enrolled on an acting course under the playwright David Mamet. His career took off and he enjoyed success on stage as well as on screen.

So Mahoney became a great example to all those who dream of switching career mid-life: of quitting steady jobs to follow a calling.

And yet he himself issued a warning: he could only have done this because he was a single man, with no family commitments. He didn’t advise those who were married, or had children, to follow his path. He had taken a risk and been lucky, but if you have responsibilities you could land your family in a mess by “following your dream”.

As it happens, Mahoney was – and remained – a Catholic, and you could say he was also making the point for a celibate priesthood. Only those who have no family responsibilities are free to take up a new vocation, especially in middle life. (Unless, like Paul Gauguin, they choose to abandon spouse and children to possible destitution.)

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