Fathers and sons

April 12, 2024 3 Comments

In time, they say, sons turn into their fathers.  For a while I’ve been aware of this metamorphosis taking place in myself.  The most obvious change is physiognomic.  Nowadays my head and face seem, to me at least, remarkably close to how my dad looked in his later years, though in my younger days I didn’t notice much resemblance. 

This convergence isn’t a process that’s happened consistently.  I’ve not felt myself being drawn to gardening, or to drystone walling, which took up so much of Dad’s time from middle age and gave him a weatherbeaten look, even though he worked in an office throughout his long career.  Nor have I started reading The Times, which Dad continued to read from cover to cover every day, long after its ownership had been taken over by Rupert Murdoch.  As a student he’d been the secretary of the Labour Club and a conscientious objector, but over time he’d moved to a more centrist political position.  Again, I failed to follow his example.

Some of Dad’s interests rubbed off on me early, rather than later on.  Classics was one of them, even if he himself had abandoned the ancient world for the dry study of the law.  Doing crosswords was another of his lasting pastimes, and he passed the habit to me as soon as I could get the hang of the cryptic conventions.

But there are enough of the ‘late affinities’ to make you wonder whether they’re brought about by genetic influence, or by some long-delayed social and cultural factors (Dad died 27 years ago).

Some changes are hardly surprising.  I’ve taken to wearing hats, after decades of scorning my dad’s taste in headwear.  That’s understandable, as my hair has thinned and hairline receded (following more or less my dad’s balding pattern).  But hat-wearing also strikes me as some form of late father-tribute.

No one could have accused my father of being excessive or behaving extravagantly.  As he got older he became more frugal.  His carbon footprint was light.  Food came mainly from the garden, and he seldom bought new clothes.  After decades of never taking holidays outside Britain, on retirement he and my mother would take themselves off each summer to southern Europe.  But they travelled lightly, by train and especially by bus, to surprisingly remote places, befriending much younger people when they got there.  I’ve followed a similarly ascetic path, especially since leaving paid work, though I’d have to admit that by now I’m a much more thoroughgoing puritan than Dad ever was.

In the morning Dad had one unfailing ritual. He was always the first up, and the first thing he did was to switch on the radio (‘wireless’ was his word).  It was always tuned to Radio 3.  Until quite recently I always found it puzzling that he wasn’t interested in finding out what was happening in the world.  Why wouldn’t he want to listen to news programmes?  But these days I do exactly the same.  And probably for the same reason – to shut out the cacophony of politicians, journalists and others bringing their depressing news and unappealing opinions.

If he were alive today Dad would probably find Radio 3 a bit less to his taste, especially after the recent dumbing-down changes to the schedules, aimed at pushing the station nearer to Classic FM.  (Not that he’d ever have used the term ‘dumbing down.’)  Flooding the airtime with ‘light’, Radio 2 music, importing Jules Holland, gushing out more mindfulness music to ‘relax’ to, deleting serious speech programmes – all this would have had him tut-tutting.  All the same, both of us in our later years could appreciate how much of a haven music can provide in a violent and irrational public world.

Whether these magnetic attractions between father and son are conscious or unconscious, genetic or environmental, real or imaginary, they bear witness to an attachment that endured.  It wasn’t often that Dad gave expression to his deeper feelings, and you had to learn to decode his signs of affection.  But I was always glad that the affection was there, on both sides.  When later I read about the appalling relationships some writers had with their fathers – Edmund Gosse and the rigid fundamentalist Philip Henry Gosse, Franz Kafka and the remote and terrifying Hermann Kafka – I counted my blessings.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Richard Saville says:

    I hope you have a son!

  2. Julia Edwards says:

    I am not really entitled to post as I am female. I am the daughter of a father who had his radio tuned to R3, and would be tut-tutting the recent changes to that channel. As do I.
    My Dad was also frugal, probably excessively so. He also wore a hat…

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