After writing about mothering in an early post, I felt it was time I looked at fathers. In thinking about how the writers of DM have treated the relationship between fathers and sons, I have eventually settled on the idea that the unifying themes have to do with sons following their fathers into their careers and, at the same time, often highly dysfunctional fathers influencing their sons to pursue quite different approaches to life.
We don’t have that many father/son combinations in the show. Of course, Bert and Al are the most prominent because their interaction is either a primary or secondary story in many episodes. Next, in order of importance to the show, is Martin’s interface with his father Christopher. After that we have taxidermist Victor Flynt and his sons Wallace and Paddy; the undertaker Neville Pote and son Harry; psychologist Anthony Oakwood and son Sam; and Theo Wenn and his father Richard. With the exception of the Oakwoods and Wenns (because Sam and Theo are too young to have decided on a profession), all of the sons have decided to either choose the same profession as their fathers or work with their fathers. In most of these cases, the sons do not emulate many of their fathers traits, although they may admire some characteristics of their fathers.
By using this mixture of feelings between sons and their fathers, the show comports with observations made by psychologists who have studied how fathers influence their children’s careers. One of these is clinical psychologist Stephan B. Poulter, whose book The Father Factor: How Your Father’s Legacy Impacts Your Career, defines five main styles of fathering. Dr. Poulter devotes a chapter each to:
The Superachiever Father
The Time Bomb Father
The Passive Father
The Absent Father (whether physically or emotionally)
The Compassionate / Mentor Father
I don’t want to go into detail about what he says about each of these. Suffice it to say that he makes an attempt at understanding how fathers impact their children, a subject that has not received as much emphasis as so many other forces on children have received.
Provocatively, there is a year old article published in the UK Mail Online that states: “just seven per cent of children today end up in the same job as their mother or father”…and, even more significantly,”42 per cent [of parents] actively [do not want] their child to do the same job as them – compared to 11 per cent in favour.”
If we accept these stats, the sons in DM are outside the mainstream in UK. We could suppose that Al, Wallace, Paddy, and Harry are all somewhat weakened due to various circumstances. Al feels responsible for Bert and has a huge conscience and, therefore, an inability to walk away from his father; Wallace and Paddy empathize with their father and his psychological impairment; and Harry has an overprotective and overbearing father. Martin perhaps was not only influenced by his father, but also by his grandfather, both of whom were physicians. (On Facebook recently some women mentioned M’s grandfather’s gift to M of a frog to dissect. We also know his grandfather was an accomplished physician and that when M was seven, he broke his grandfather’s clock and wanted to fix it. The connection to his grandfather may have been a more important reason for his choice of medicine than his father’s practice of medicine.)
We also have to factor in that, with the exception of M and Sam, all of these sons have been nurtured by their fathers without much input from their mothers. We have the somewhat curious arrangement in this show of many single mothers or single fathers.
Al is a fascinating study in that Bert has been such a force in his life and in the community. At various times we see Al trying to separate from Bert, e.g. when he wants to study computers rather than be a plumber; when he goes to Uganda; and when he works for Ruth. Ultimately, he does find a way to develop his own business and Bert kindly congratulates him while also reassuring him that he will always be there for him. Until then, however, no matter how often Al unearths Bert’s failed plots, his conscience won’t allow him to utterly reject Bert. Thus, Al ends up helping Bert as a plumber even after he thought he was done with that, covers up for Bert when he takes over the fish frying business for Mrs. Kronk, waits tables at Bert’s restaurant, and gives up his bedroom so that Bert can earn some extra money. He even compromises his integrity and Ruth’s trust by using her money to pay back Bert’s loan, and arrives late to pitch his business idea to Ruth because Bert guilts him into attempting to fix the cheap generator he’s rented. Throughout the series we keep hoping Al will find something that will take him away from Bert even though we like Bert and consider him a good father. Bert is the epitome of how fathers can make it so hard for their sons to choose a different direction. Apart from skirting the edges of honesty and legality, Bert is a good guy and sincerely loves his son. We want more for Al because we see his potential. By the end of S6, Ruth has become Al’s savior after overcoming much resistance from Bert. There’s no question that when Ruth asks Bert whether he feels threatened by her in S5E2, he certainly does, whether he admits it or not. (Again, we must keep in mind that the interplay between Bert and Al is integral to the series. If Al were to leave, we would have a very different show. Within that constraint, Al has found a way to separate from his father and soon we’ll see what problems he has.)(I want to remind you that I addressed the issue of Al’s biological connection to Bert in my post on Family; therefore, I did not go into that here.)
Wallace and Paddy are sad souls whose home life has been a trial in many ways. The fact that they are caring towards their father and have stayed with him for so long following their mother’s departure speaks volumes for their character. Maybe we should simply be glad for them that they have mastered the art of taxidermy as demonstrated by their present to M of the stuffed German Shepherd. (We should never lose sight of the humor implicit in all of this. M doesn’t like dogs, has needed to avoid the German Shepherd guarding the Flynts’ entrance, and is now the recipient of the posthumous dog. Just what he wants, a dead dog!)
Harry is young, small in stature, and easily cowed. I could imagine his father basically setting the ground rules and dictating his future. Not that Neville doesn’t love his son. He tries to build up his muscles and he worries about his son’s health. It’s just that Harry will never have a life of his own unless Neville backs off, and there is no reason to believe that he will do that.
Martin is the major dilemma in the realm of fathers and sons. Based on the memory he has in S5E5 of his father’s angry demeanor towards him as a child, the few remarks he makes about punishment he endured as a child, and the belittling comments his father makes to him about his medical position and his financial prowess, we know Martin has had a very difficult relationship with his father. Nevertheless, he has chosen medicine like his father (and his grandfather) and seems to hope that his son will be drawn to it as well. Martin has several reasons for that decision: it’s not only a family tradition, it’s also something for which he has both aptitude and interest, it suits his disposition (especially being a surgeon, which involves less patient interaction and more autonomy), and keeps him busy so that he hardly misses social contact. He disdains Christopher’s efforts to charm the villagers and sees through the artificiality, although he naively miscalculates his father’s deviousness in regard to Joan. He clearly has very different sensibilities about family than his father, and wants to reject modeling his behavior after his father. His early willingness to care for his son shows a love and tenderness that he must never have had from his father. Those signs of affection continue as JH ages and are there through the final episode of S6. Unfortunately, we see in S5 and S6 that distancing himself from his father’s tendency to be domineering and disrespectful is not as easy as he’d like it to be. He wants to handle home life differently and tries to remain engaged with JH, but his lack of awareness about the need to communicate with Louisa and the all-engrossing preoccupation with his medical condition make that extremely difficult. So we are left with a sense that Martin’s father’s influence has been more of a force to reckon with than he has expected. (I’m not forgetting M’s mother’s influence here; only focusing on his father at the moment.)
One way we can look at what Anthony Oakwood and his son Sam bring to the show is as a demonstration of the opposite approach to child rearing. Instead of demanding too much from his son, Anthony demands too little. As a result, Sam is lost and acts out. Anthony may represent New Age openness with all of its pitfalls, but it’s obvious that Sam is attention seeking and in need of clear parental boundaries. Theo is also the victim of too much indulgence on the part of his parents. In his case, he exemplifies the child whose family thinks he can never do anything wrong. Richard is quite weak and defers to his wife. Theo’s parents appear to be distracted by their own problems and overreact because they probably feel some guilt that they have been neglecting him and because they see a way to get some money. They, too, are terrible models for their son.
We can’t overlook the importance of fathers in their son’s lives. Mothers may get the lion’s share of praise and blame, but fathers certainly should not be forgotten. DM gives us a pretty full picture of the various ways fathers impact their sons and does so in a mostly serious way. I look forward to reading your ideas on this subject.
Originally posted 2014-05-11 21:00:13.