Love and Complication

Succession has got me started with thinking about Dads again.

Don’t worry, I won’t be doing any spoilers of that super TV series. I’ll keep it tidy.

I had wanted to see Succession for a long time. You know the one. HBO. Brian Cox as the leader of a multi-billion dollar media and entertainment conglomerate. A bit of a bastard. 

My friends, Marie and Katie, not only confirmed for me that it was indeed great fun but that it was also available for download from my basic Sky package. So, I got on it and we started watching regularly. I recommend it. It’s naughty and edgy and very well done. I’ll be sorry when we finish the two series’ that currently exist. We’re into the second as I type, one per night, lock down style.

Cox’s character, Logan Roy, is a pretty interesting one… for me at least. Apart from being a bastard and being colossally powerful while simultaneously being personally vulnerable, he also presents a heightened portrayal of the many different things that Dads are and can be.

Like a lot of other men, I get two shots at thinking about what it means to be a Dad. That’s because I am one and because I also had one. It’s a cloud I’ve looked at from both sides now.

So, what have I seen? 

Jees… I don’t know.

I know there’s a wide divergence between how I remember my own Dad and how I view myself as a Dad and I suppose that’s the reason why I’m sitting here, trying to type around this matter this morning. That’s also the reason why Succession comes into the thought process.

It’s about power. Well, it’s about a lot of things but it’s at least partly about power. I saw my Dad as a powerful person. To me he was a big man, able to take care of himself, nobody’s fool, kind and funny but not to be messed with. Though he never lifted a hand in anger against anyone, there was a not unpleasant feeling that there were lines that could not be casually crossed with him. I tried to think of a movie character who might evoke how I saw my Dad and the best I could come up with was the Burt Reynolds character in ‘Deliverance’ who was also the Lewis Medlock character in the James Dickey novel. Much more the person in the earlier part though, before that character’s failings and vulnerabilities began to show. Dad was an outdoors man, like Lewis. If he were stuck up a gorge without a paddle, he would fend for himself and the bad guys wouldn’t stand a goddamn chance.

There’s that gap in perception, right there. I could never imagine anyone perceiving me as someone of power, someone to be respectful of but also a touch wary of. For better of worse, these have grown to be traits that sort of define fatherhood for me. Don’t get me wrong, I reckon I’m a darned-good Dad, I certainly try my best at it and that hopefully counts for something.

But, even typing this as I am, without much of a plan or a road map, it strikes me that there are clearly two types of Dads in the world and they are poles apart. The Dads we had and the Dads we are.

Perhaps that’s part of the fascination with Logan Roy. As a character, he seems to stand astride both types of Dads (though mostly on the side of the one we had). Perhaps that’s what got me thinking.

And then the Dad/Child relationship changes so markedly as the years go on. Power and capability are unavoidably transferred. Something I saw in my own Dad's eyes years ago is now firmly settled in my head. A growing bafflement with the world. A dull surprise that an existence that for so long seemed incapable of change has finally begun to change irrevocably after all. The young generations have all the knowledge and stamina to exist effortlessly in the strange new world which has sprung up, while we, the Dads, seem increasingly out of place and out of depth with each passing year.

I look at Logan Roy on that telly programme and I dislike him. He is self-serving and cruel and merciless. But I love seeing him win too. He is a Dad’s Dad, he would survive up that canyon without a paddle. Man, he would bring that canyon down on everybody’s head and walk away smiling.

But he is fading too. A fading man. He doesn’t know when to stop pouring the coffee and then he piddles it out in the corner of his room. For all his high-power, the world is sailing past him as well.

Typing on, as I am, I am aware of people who will read this who never even got to meet their Dad. Also people who lost their Dad so recently that it is still so very raw (it is always a little raw). The Dad so recently passed, lives on in warm memory and stories and loving smiles. The Dad never known, gone so very long, still creates ripples of memory within the family. Those who knew him, evoke him meaningfully and we listen in quiet awe and wish we could have known him too.

For my part, I miss my own Dad, Eddie, gone now over eight years. Though the world whizzed on past him, as it does to us all, he never lost touch with it. He was never not funny or smart, never not someone to be respected and approached with care, never not the Father Figure.

It’s a messy post this week. It’s a messy subject. I think I’ll just go back to the next episode of Succession and see if that clears things up.

And, of course, it all makes a rough sort of sense when I think about it. I don’t feel about myself in the same way that I felt about my Dad and that is only right and proper. After all, I am not my Dad. I’m a Dad to two other people of the world and, in all likelihood, they will see me with all the love and complication that I did for my own Dad.

I can never see myself that way. How could I ever expect to?

It seems to make sense.

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

While still in my teens I made the sweeping statement: “I’m not going to make the same mistakes as my dad; I’m going to make my own.” And, boy, did I. My father didn’t run a multinational business empire; he managed a cotton mill and, later on, a wool mill which sounds like much the same job jut he assured me it was not. He always held a position of authority in our congregation and was well-respected by all who didn’t know him. In our house he was God; he said so in so many words. God, at least my father’s version of him, was a bully. Dad had been the school bully when he was a kid and even after finding religion never quite manged to shake that side of him. He wasn’t a violent or even an especially angry man—he never laid a finger on my mother and only smacked us occasionally as it was fashionable in the sixties—but there’re other ways to impose your will on people. Which makes him sound like a bad man which he was not but he was often conflicted. I don’t like to think of myself as a bad man either but that didn’t make me a good father. Had my wife not left me and forced me to become a part-time dad I’m sure I would’ve done better but my wife refused to make even the slightest effort to have me included in our daughter’s life any more than the law dictated. And I let her. My daughter moved in with me when she was almost eighteen which did not go down well with her mother who handled the whole thing very badly and it was years before they made peace. But it did give the two of us a year or so to see what life could’ve been like before she got her own flat and started the journey to independence. And it was nice. It embittered me all the more towards her mother because I got a taste of what I’d been deprived of all those years and I’ve never forgiven her for that. I do understand the Law’s stance when it comes to awarding custody but it stinks.

I’ve seen the first season of Succession and we’ll get round the second in due course; we’re behind on everything. I’ve mixed feelings about Cox’s character. I’ve mixed feelings about most fathers on TV, even the good ones who are always a bit too good to be true. I’ve known so many fathers over the years, mostly heads of good Christian households, and none of them were perfect but what got me was how they all could get it wrong in so many different ways. My mother often said, in moments of anger with my dad, “I should’ve married Robert F.” as if that’d been an option—Robert was the meekest and mildest man I’ve ever come across—but I never wanted Robert to be my dad or any of the dads I ran across. Not even, as it happens, our Father who art in heaven.