Wednesday, 23 November 2011

We Need To Talk About Dad

We Need to Talk About Dad, Channel 4, 21 November 2011

This film left many questions unanswered about what had happened to cause a loving father in a 'perfect' family to smash the wife he had always adored over the head with the blunt end of an axe. Most unfortunately the eldest son, Henry, who was 16 at the time, witnessed the immediate aftermath of this atrocious act and has been trying to live with the impact of it ever since, including protecting his little brother who was then just ten.

The whole of the film really boiled down to one conversation which Henry had with his estranged father, now living in Germany (he came back into the family after his release from prison, but in the end his wife asked him to leave). Henry finally confronted him, seven years later, in an effort to talk about the incident which had changed his young life forever, but which everyone seemed reluctant to confront head on. His father's explanation, as far as he could explain it at all, was that he was under such pressure to live up to the image of the 'Sunday Supplement Family', as his own wife dubbed them, where all in their world was perfect and secure, that he wanted to burst the very bubble which he had helped to construct. The psychotic episode which resulted in this assault on a person who he had loved and held so dear was potentially brought on, he felt, by the death of his own father - a father who had never given him anything meaningful (emotionally I presume) and who he clearly blamed for the suicide of his sister at the age of 18. And yet in the months before his death, he had felt the need to still appear to be the loving devoted son. He summed things up as feeling as if the world was just taking from him all the time and giving nothing back.

While feeling deeply for Henry who had borne his own pent up feelings for the last seven years with no-one in a position to share them with (including his own desire to burst a similar bubble that had been built around his younger brother to carry on and pretend that all was all right with their world, despite their father not living with them), it was this last admission by the father which really struck a chord with me. Furthermore, this new knowledge encouraged his son to reflect on the fact that, if nothing else, he had learned that life is rarely genuinely perfect and even the people you most trust and who most try and protect you - your parents (when they are good, loving parents) - are as vulnerable as any other human being on this planet.

I will never forget, in the depths of my depression, the same feelings of the world and everyone just seeming to take from me without apparently giving anything back. I felt I was just giving, giving, giving in every area of my life and that I was having the lifeblood sucked out of me. Everyone hits rock bottom in different ways and we all have different levels of tolerance and fortitude. And it is a sad truth that if you are one of life's givers, someone who just 'copes' and stoically gets on with things, then people just continue to take. Until finally you collapse under the strain. Mercifully I never took an axe to anyone's head, but I have come close to some alarmingly fierce moments of anger and potential loss of control. I also remember thinking about my girls and their tender years and innocence - that they had no idea what a terrible state their mother was actually in, barely able to get up in the morning to feed them breakfast. If there was anything which drove me to get better, to learn how to mend and what steps to take to make sure I never end up in that bad, bad place again, it was the desire to be a good mother to my girls. I didn't want them to remember me as a basket case, yet I wanted them to know me as a real human being - with weaknesses and imperfections - and to understand that life is not always easy or indeed does not always turn out as you might expect. Most of all I wanted to be there for them - totally present in mind and emotion, not just physically.

It was interesting to note that both the parents in the film tonight had suffered at the hands of their parents - parents who had let them down. It was this that drove them so relentlessly - and ultimately unrealistically - to be the perfect parents, living the perfect family life, for their boys. And it was ironically this which led to the collapse of the castle in the clouds which they had built for themselves. There was much to reflect on in this sad, sad tale where a young man was still struggling to come to terms with the isolation he feels as a result of that one horrific day when his world and all his preconceptions of family life and relationships, of love, trust and respect, crashed around his feet.

18 comments:

Linda Chapman said...

A very thought provoking post. Since I am in the US - I have not seen the film of which you speak. But I DO relate to your experience. Been there - done that.
I am happy we 'survived' and are not not only survivors but experiencing LIFE in all its reality!

Good for us.....

Mark said...

I could say so much about this brave post

It took me along time to learn that it's ok to be imperfect, that we try and we make mistakes and try again and make more mistakes and all that sort of stuff.

I know too about looking at my children and how that simple act has helped me make more positive choices, take more constructive decisions, than all the logic in the world.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful post re "We Need to Talk About Dad" which I also watched and which I found fascinating, but very disturbing. Ultimately, I think it reflects the pressure of families (here in the so-called Christian West anyway) to be perfect - instead of being just human...

I'm an Irish mother speaking from own experience of terribly fucked-up families, not least my own (erstwhile) one.

Ivy said...

Since I am in Germany I didn't watch the film, but, like the others before me, I can relate to much you said. Being a parent gave me the worst but also the finest moments of my life. The picture book family does not exist outside films , or books. The sooner we realise that, the better we cope with our own imperfections.Aim high but stay realistic.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a tendency to post-rationalise violence when often there is no explanation. In this case, the psychotic episode was a moment of madness, and yes there was a build up of stresses and factors that led to the incident....but to do that, it's like a switch going off in the brain. A chemical malfunction. He wasn't in control of what he was doing. It defies understanding, and this makes it all the harder to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Anybody know what the song from the closing credits was?

HER ON THE HILL said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. Really interesting.

Anon 2 - gosh, not often I don't notice the music, but I'm afraid I don't know.

Pondside said...

There's such a lot of pressure, in these times, to be a model family. Children must be gifted in some way - wonderful athletes or budding writers. Women should be superwomen - cook from scratch, dress like a Boden model, stay slim and fit, hold down a meaningful job and do volunteer work. Men should be nurturing, gentle fathers, good earners in interesting and meaningful jobs and eager to jump into sharing the cooking at a shiny kitchen island over a glass of wine. Sometimes it's just too, too much and people snap. It's no wonder.
I haven't seen the show, but will watch for it.

debsdigest.com said...

It was only after my three children had grown up and after I had tried to be the perfect mum that I heard about "good enough" parenting. I wish I'd known about that figure of speech earlier. I now believe that it's better for children to see that parents are not perfect and that we all have our faults. It's how we deal with them that's important.
I enjoy your blog x

HER ON THE HILL said...

Thank you Pondie and Debsdigest - I really enjoyed reading your comments. And you are both so right.

spousemonkey said...

The music at the end was a song by the the son in the show Henry Johnson. He's a singer songwriter...

Lara said...

For those who would like to see this movie: http://www.iwannawatch.net/2011/11/we-need-to-talk-about-dad-2011/

Lara said...

"The music at the end was a song by the the son in the show Henry Johnson. He's a singer songwriter..."
Here: http://henryjohnson.bandcamp.com/

elizabethm said...

I deliberately didn't watch this. It seemed as if it might be more than I could bear. Is it cowardice to turn away from the chance of being profoundly upset? If so I often do it. I also thought that if it didn't upset me that night be almost worse. Must have blogged or knitted that night instead. I agree wholly pond sideS comment. There is an extraordinary pressure to be perfect, often driven by the desire to sell us things. To be good enough is enough. I admire the strength of will you must have shown to climb back and be there for your girls.

jan said...

What a wonderful doc and so sensitively put together with complete integrity and respect for its subjects. I have not seen a documentary that has ever touched me so deeply.
On a brighter note i too have discovered Henry's rather wonderful music after a few google searches and it just goes to show that in Henry's words something so incredibly destructive can be turned into something creative and communicative in a family where that seems to be more than difficult. His songs are so genuine and intimate you almost feel as if you are with him whilst he sings
www.facebook.com/henryjohnsonmusic
i urge anyone that watched the doc to go have a listen to his songs and dulcet tones :)
Great post!

Anonymous said...

It's so, so important to talk frankly about these dark episodes of depression. Good for you to be so honest. You are not alone by any means. I didn't see the film but may give it a go, though I agree with Elizabethm that it might be too upsetting. I've learnt to protect myself from this sort of thing having experienced some real life traumatic events, which took up more emotional energy than I thought I had. Here in West London, many people around me seem to maintain this veneer of "everything is fine". The hell it is for many! There is no perfection in family life. It is a myth. All we can do is the best we can.

HER ON THE HILL said...

Thank you everyone for all your thoughful comments on this post. It was very interesting to see the responses. There are a lot of people struggling out there. I think family life has got so complicated and demanding in this 'modern' age. It has thrown up another whole set of problems - different from earlier generations, but none the less demanding.

Stwffanie said...

Quote from you above
"I will never forget, in the depths of my depression, the same feelings of the world and everyone just seeming to take from me without apparently giving anything back. I felt I was just giving, giving, giving in every area of my life and that I was having the lifeblood sucked out of me. Everyone hits rock bottom in different ways and we all have different levels of tolerance and fortitude. And it is a sad truth that if you are one of life's givers, someone who just 'copes' and stoically gets on with things, then people just continue to take. Until finally you collapse under the strain. "
Now I know how to put into words the way I have felt over the last 8 years thank you x

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...