Fathers and Sons

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.

21 thoughts on “Fathers and Sons

  1. Madelyn Grossman

    Hi Karen,
    I was really pleased to see your new post.
    I think that Al not only has a big conscience but he also feels very responsible for Bert. It’s always been just the two of them. Al doesn’t remember his mother and let’s face it Bert needs someone to look after him. I think Bert’s relationship with Jenny may have allowed Al to feel free enough to concentrate on himself. Jenny has lightened Al’s load. I also think that Aunt Ruth’s steady attention on just him has allowed him to grow and has helped Al focus on his own goals.
    In terms of Martin’s relationship with his father all I can say is what a tragedy. Martin’s father has died. That’s it and because of their awful relationship I am sure that Martin has many unanswered questions which will go unanswered. His mother is a liar and completely unreliable so he’ll never know if his father was proud of him or even loved him. It’s just so sad and I could feel this sadness rolling off of Martin from the moment he heard that his father died. I’m surprised that Martin is as functional as he is. He really is a remarkable man.
    It could be that his decision to become a surgeon/doctor was a combination of both his grandfather and father but I do remember that Ruth said she wasn’t allowed to call him Daddy.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Ruth has definitely taken Al under her wing. That’s been good for Al and probably also for Ruth. You’re right that Martin’s grandfather was not such a soft touch either, but maybe he was just decent enough to give Martin a role model worth following. There’s no way to really know. It’s all conjecture, of course.

  3. Santa Traugott

    I have wondered how Martin Ellingham developed the capacity to be a loving father, as he clearly has, with the cold and unloving, abusive parents that he had. Somehow, the grandfather doesn’t sound too warm and fuzzy either. Of course, there were Phil and Joan, for a few summers between 6 and 11, but did that make the critical difference?

    A scene that suggests to me something of Martin’s feelings about his father is when his mother has approached him in his study/surgery and tries to persuade him that his father “loved” him. When Martin responded, “he had plenty of opportunity to express that” his eyes were glistening, with what I thought were tears of rage, more than sadness.

  4. KR

    Great post and replies. I feel Martin disdains his father — especially after what he did to Joan in S2. Martin clearly says in S5 “I’m not my father, and he’s (meaning JH) not going to be me.” Martin also tells Bert early in S1 that he didn’t follow his father into the Navy — and that they haven’t spoken in 7 years. He calls his parents Ghastly on several occasions throughout the early series. We do know very little about Martin’s grandfather — but Martin does think enough of him to name James Henry after him (in part)….so there must have been a side to him that Martin could relate to…or that was kind to Martin at some point.

    One thing I think is for sure — Martin has a lot to “get over” in relation to his father (and mother)….and maybe that will be explored in S7 during counseling.

    I was just thinking — another theme to explore — fathers and daughters:
    Louisa and Terry
    Melanie and her Dad (he was great — and even taller than Martin, if that’s possible)
    Joan/Ruth and “Father Ellingham”

    Other than these, I can’t recall any other Father/Daughter plots in DM…. hmm

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I think you’ve hit on the exact thing that influences Martin’s emotional development-his time spent with Joan and Phil between the ages of 6 and 11. I’m pretty sure that is the period in life when children acquire emotional intelligence, and even the little time he spent with Joan could have been enough to make a strong impression on him. We don’t know much about Phil, which makes it hard to judge what kind of impact he made as a male figure in M’s life.

    I can’t imagine any boy not wanting his father’s approval. Many men have trouble expressing their love openly, but any sign would have been enough. The fact that Christopher never gave M any indication that he loved him or was proud of him had to hurt. Not only that, but he continues to make cutting remarks when he visits and use M as a pawn in his effort to take back the farm from Joan. It’s very hard to believe that Christopher wanted to tell M he was proud of him at any time, including on his death bed. No wonder M immediately suspects his mother’s story is concocted, not to mention she’s an inveterate liar.

  6. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Great point, Karen. Martin wants to name his son after his grandfather and that must mean he has some good feelings about him.

  7. Marie

    Do you think it is possible that Al Large is Christopher Ellingham’s illigitimate son, and that Ruth knows it? That could contibute to explain her continuing interest in Al, even afer he ‘steels/borrows’ the fence money.

    Al is thin, blond, and very intelligent. Remember, he won a chess game againt Ruth, who said to Martin that he is the best chess player she ever played with. Also, Al NEVER get’s on Martin’s nerves. He is always helpful (asking the villagers to go home after they saw Martin and Louisa’s baby the day after his birth, not giving Martin advice on his weding day but ressuring him everything is OK, etc…

    It is plausible. But is it true? Do the writers have that idea in their sleve and plan to suprise us with it: Martin has a half brother! That would open a window for a lot of new interesting storys and plots.


    PS: Karen, I am a french canadian from Montreal and my english is not top knotch. If you think this post is interresting, can you please re-write it in “real” english. Thank you for your intellegent blog.

  8. Marie

    I just sent you a question about Al and Martin possibly beeing half brothers. I woul like to add that it could also explain why Martin could not go to see his aunt Joan, who was a good friend of Al’s mother and knew about her infedelity. Margaret was afraid he would find out. She says to Ruth she came to Portwen twice before. We know she came to tell Martin off in season 2, and maby some 30 years earlier to scare Al’s mother … Martin could be 12 years older than Al (in Portwenn time).

    Again, please re-write this if you find it worth posting.

    Thank you

    Marie, from Montreal

  9. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Bonjour, Marie! I am so glad to have a reader in Montreal!

    I am unsure how to answer your comment because I always try to stick to what we know from the show. I yield to what we’ve been told and avoid too much speculation. Therefore, my view would be that Margaret would have been likely to have visited Portwenn during Martin’s childhood since she and Christopher sent Martin to stay with Joan several summers. Christopher was part owner of the farm after all. Also, we know they eventually decided to stop allowing Martin to stay with Joan because they learned she was having an affair with John Slater. Perhaps they came to the farm and saw him there. That would account for Margaret being able to say she’d visited Portwenn a couple of times in the past.

    I see no connection between Al being good at chess and Martin having been good at it. Many people like to play chess and even play online. When Ruth is surprised that Al plays and plays well enough to beat her, I would think that she is expressing a stereotype of young people and/or people with Al’s educational background. We know that Al is pretty smart and good at computers, so his ability with chess is congruent with that. On the other hand, he is also good with the animals and with plumbing problems. He is pretty handy, except when it comes to electrical repairs. Martin is not so handy in general. But that’s neither here nor there…Brothers can have similar talents or very different ones. Their abilities are not enough to indicate kinship. Al is, as you say, often helpful and alert to what’s going on in the village, including with Martin. Again, I think it’s a leap to see that as a sign that he is related to Martin. In my view, Al is the closest thing Martin has to a male friend in the village and has a good head on his shoulders, which Martin appreciates.

    Both Ruth and Martin seem to notice that Al is a steady and reliable force who can be counted on. More than that, I wouldn’t make any assumptions.

  10. KR

    I think Martin sees Al as someone who is smart and reliable…. and he also appreciates someone with ambition or goals. If there’s any villager (besides Roger) who Martin might consider being friends with — it would be Al. On the other hand, I don’t see Al as wanting Doc as a friend; he seems pretty neutral about it — and that’s probably another reason why Doc likes him.

    As for them being brothers — I’m not so sure, as that would make the show a bit soapy for BP’s tastes. But, very interesting premise, though.

  11. Carol

    Hey All,

    Marie, I just want to say that I love your idea about Al and Martin being half-brothers!! Love it. I don’t really think that is what will happen, but I think it is brilliant that you were able to take all of that and put it together.

    I have always thought it is interesting how Martin seemed to take to Al right after he makes the “literary reference” remark in the first episode, and you are right – he never does seem to bother Martin. They “take to” each other as we say here in the South. Remember how Martin grabs Al to go with him to help Phil Pratt? And when he finds Al and Pauline snogging on the kitchen table, he is much more irritated with Pauline – doesn’t really seem bothered by Al.

    Also, I like the idea of Margaret coming to Portwenn to have it out with Mary Large. Can’t you just see what that would have been like? And remember in S6 Ruth makes a comment about adultery being popular in the Ellingham family. That would fit into your scenario as well.

    It certainly all fits although, as I said, I doubt it will happen that way. Things rarely go the way we think they will. (Thus the nearly 200 fanfiction stories) But kudos to you for even thinking of that. Putting all of those things together isn’t easy. Do you write detective novels?? 🙂

  12. Barb

    I think that’s very interesting about Al and Martin being related. Someone there has to know who is Al’s biological father. I know I saw the episode where Al discovers that Bert isn’t his father, but I can’t remember much about it. Who was it that convinced him it didn’t matter… that Bert raised him… and is all the father he knows. Was that Aunt Joan who told him that?

    Love the in depth article you wrote Karen.

  13. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I wrote a post about Family that discusses the circumstances of Bert and Al’s situation. It was Joan who talks to Al. Al’s birth certificate lists Bert as the biological father, to Bert’s relief. To the best of my knowledge no one in the village expresses doubts that Bert is Al’s biological father, or cares. You can go back and read what I said about Family and what others had to say, if you want.

  14. Mary

    There certainly isn’t much of a physical resemblance between Al and Bert, but then we have never seen a picture of Al’s mother. And the comment once made by Burt that he wasn’t sure what his wife saw in him. Makes you wonder but I think it would be a stretch to say Al and Martin are even remotely related.
    What I find very interesting about Al is that he chooses to stay in the village where there are almost no job opportunities. Pauline leaves, Elaine leaves, but Al continues to hang on, and he is a very bright young man.
    He does go on a jaunt to Africa, but returns without having much interest in a career elsewhere.

  15. Linda

    He absolutely shows revulsion for his father and it gauls him that his mother is somehow trying to con him into believing his father gave a damn about him. Fortunately, he is smart enough to see right through her. I loved the scene where he kicked her to the curb. Now is wish he would have her charged with theft for taking Joan’s clock. Of course, at this point, he hasn’t been told that she stole it.

    He isn’t a “warm and fuzzy” father but clearly, he wants to be different from his own father. He has no point of reference and no skills but he is a SMART guy so let’s hope he gets it. He surely would not want James to suffer as he had. I suppose Christopher and Margaret experienced abuse at the hands of their parents but were disfunctional as a couple and unable to break the cycle. When BOTH parents are VILE, there is not much chance that they can change. In Martin’s case, he sees how Louisa relates to James and most certainly knows that she is the role model he needs to follow. He has some funny, tender moments with James that I really enjoy.

  16. Linda

    I agree that Marie’s ideas about Al being Martin’s half brother are not suppported by evidence yet but I think she has made some interesting observations! It would sure make for a great bombshell of a storyline! I don’t think Al is really a “friend” of Martin’s but Martin does tolerate him more than others for sure. I think Martin does have some admiration for Al because he has never gone off on him and their conversations do seem quite civil. As Marie says, Al has always been good to Martin.

    I wonder why they never carried on with the storyline of Roger Fenn and Martin? In the earliest episode, they admitted being quite impressed with one another – something Martin has NEVER said about anyone else. In their dealings over Roger’s cancer and his application for a pension, they had some nice exchanges. Roger is the first one to hear about Martin’s blood phobia and Martin told him about it in great detail. Roger was sympathetic and promised not to tell anyone. Of course, after it got out. Roger was the one Martin accosted to accuse him of spreading the rumour but we later learn it was Adrian Pitt. When Martin realiized this, he must have been very impressed that Roger had truly kept his secret as promised. Roger is the ONLY other person to call him Marti! Roger tells Martin that a person couldn’t know what love is until they had a child which I took to be an omen of sorts. I thought it was funny that we never saw Roger and Maureen’s twins! Surely they would have wanted Martin and Louisa to see them? Roger felt the need to be sure Martin was truly committed to marrying Louisa in wedding 1. Was he concerned about Louisa and was he not confident that Martin could make her happy or was he worried about his “mate” Martin? I don’t really know. I think Roger’s comments might have been the ones that Martin took to heart when he decided not to show up for the wedding.

  17. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m with you on Roger. He disappeared without comment and the only explanation I can come up with is that Jeff Rawle was unavailable or not interested in continuing the role. He’s been a busy actor and appeared in Harry Potter films as well as all sorts of other TV series over the past 10 years. In my opinion, filming every 2 years makes it more likely that actors will find other jobs. They are lucky they haven’t lost others.

  18. Linda

    I just have to say that the scene when Wallace and Paddy give him the stuffed dog because he saved their father, was one of THE most hilarious moments of all time! I kill myself laughing every time I see it! It is right up there with Anthony the Squirrel.

  19. Maria

    Linda, I totally agree – I could watch those scenes over and over! I also love the one where he’s carrying around the dog he ran over wrapped up in a newspaper,

  20. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I agree that the scenes with the dogs have added some humor to the show, and for me that is why they have been included. The dogs are another irritant for ME as he tries to treat patients, either at his clinic or at the patients’ homes. Carrie Wilson’s dog has all the qualities he dislikes-it’s doted on by her, shoved in his face and car, and brings her to his office. When the dog ends up dying because he runs over it, the accident is kind of wish fulfillment. Then the event becomes the catalyst for him to go to the party, ends any possibility of Carrie wanting to be with him, and gives Louisa an opportunity to step in. It’s also a time for him to once again be literal and recite the rules for disposal of a dead animal. This time Louisa can delight in how he handles things. In general, the appearance of dogs turns into something positive happening and is amusing.

    But we’ve gotten off track from the original post and I’m hoping we can get back to discussing how emotions are at the root of all our decisions no matter how rational we are trying to be.

  21. Amy

    I enjoyed this speculation about whether Martin’s father was Al’s father. After all, he did have blue eyes like Al. One of the things that bothered me about that episode was the uncontradicted statement that a two brown-eyed people couldn’t have a blue eyed child. Of course, if both brown eyed parents carried a blue eye gene from one of their parents or grandparents, they could each have given the blue eyed gene and created a blue eyed child. Why didn’t someone tell Al that? Even DM left the impression that it rarely happened.

    But certainly Bert knew who Mary had slept with—so wouldn’t he by now have hinted at that fact if it were Christopher Ellingham? I mean—he’s hardly Mr. Discreet.

    As for Martin as a father, from the beginning he was a full partner in parenting—changing diapers, feeding the baby, bathing him, holding him, etc. I wouldn’t have expected that and was pleasantly surprised. Even though he seemed skeptical when Joan asked him how he felt about becoming a father, it’s clearly been depicted as something he enjoys and took to almost with ease.

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