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.