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Dad who can’t read or write faces ‘deepest fear’ in lockdown – revealing secret of 16 years to kids

A dad who can’t read or write has faced his “deepest fear” in lockdown – revealing his secret of 16 years to his kids.

Bryan Trainor worked in construction from his early teens, and has built a successful career but said “school wasn’t for me”.

For years the father-of-three had used tricks, and the help of his wife Heather, to disguise it.

Homeschooling left nowhere to hide.

His wife is a nurse, and he alone would be home with a 16, 13, and seven-year-old when schools closed.

But telling his “biggest secret” has been a triumph for the 56-year-old, who began to learn with his children.

Bryan said: “My kids and I have a great relationship and this secret I felt was going to show them I was weak and most importantly stupid.

“Initially, I avoided the conversation and ignored it at all costs. Then my wife sat me down and explained this could be a good idea, you know use Covid-19 to an advantage.”

He reached out to Parentline NI, who helped him “find the right words” to tell his kids.

The service had “huge hit” when schools closed in March from desperate parents worried they didn’t have the skills to teach their children, said Parentlint NI service manager Nichola Greene.

Some, like Bryan, were illiterate – some had never sent an email, or only had a flip phone. One caller had to manage six kids under 10.

Ms Greene said parents had often found ways to hide their struggle, and were terrified of telling their children.

She added: “At the very, very start of lockdown it could have been every other call.

“Like, ‘I have to tell my son’s teacher I’m illiterate’.

“You could have children who went through care, and now they’re parents and they just bypassed reading and writing because no one took an interest in how they were doing at school, or maybe they left school at 16 and went into a trade.”

It was three weeks before Bryan told his kids – pausing the TV, he told them he had something important to say.

Their sensitivity is something he’ll “never forget”, and has “brought them closer as a family”.

Bryan said: “I uttered the words ‘I can’t read or write and helping you guys with your schoolwork is harder from me than you know’.

“Instant relief is what I felt with the need to cry because this emotion was overwhelming, and I remember swallowing hard.

“My 13-year-old laughed and said to me ‘Da this is gonna be fun, you can be the student and I’ll teach you for a change’.

“My 16-year-old hugged me and told me she knew.

“It hit me, I completely underestimated my children and I have been so caught up in my own fears that I had pre-empted their responses.”

The next morning he was a student – his seven-year-old talked him through her studies with “great patience” as the elder two read out their assignments to him for feedback.

He said: “My family found a way to make me feel included in their studies, I felt useful and they quiz me now on random words and it’s fun can you believe.

“Never in a million years did I think I could do what I am doing, the last four months have been surreal and not one bored minute have I had.”

Ms Greene said Covid had forced a lot of people to get help – and they should be proud of it, adding: “The rest of society doesn’t know they exist anymore.

“There are most certainly people out there in this society who are illiterate and Covid triggered them having to find additional support and they should be celebrated.

“They very much could have said ‘we’ll just shut books up, go outside and play’ – and they didn’t.”

Maria Baker-Aimes is a project manager for People 1st, which has supported parents navigate home schooling.

For those who struggled with literacy it had been “heartbreaking” and “soul destroying” to face it – some even struggled to admit it to themselves,

She said the demand for help was constant even as kids returned to class.

She added: “Parents have become homeschoolers – it’s hard enough parenting a child through Covid without becoming their teacher as well.

“These clever people have found so many workarounds.

“It’s our job to listen and address the barriers and identify how to help them.

“We want to encourage those to come forward to seek support that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise consider it, and that’s what Covid has highlighted.”

Bryan wants more people who struggle to read and write to reach out.

He said: “Not being able to read or write doesn’t make me stupid it just makes me illiterate – something in time I can overcome with the right attitude.

“I learn in a different way, more physical if you like and I can teach my children my methods.

“If it weren’t for COVID-19 I would be still living this life with a secret – now I feel a little lighter.”

He added: “To anyone out there who is struggling or knows someone who is struggling, remind yourself and them that our biggest enemy is the thing between our ears and we tend to listen and feed it more than we should.”

Parentline NI is open from 9am to 9pm Monday to Thursday, 9-5pm Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturday. Our Service is available through a range of different channels including telephone, face to face and online. Call us for FREE on: 0808 8020 400 Chat online: start a webchat using the chat window Email: You can also visit and

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