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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 9, 2009 @ 8:16 am

    The Politics of Fatherhood

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    If you do nothing else in the next weeks or months you should go to see the production of Arthur Miller’s play, All My Sons, at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. The lead performance by Canadian actor Len Cariou is a powerful example of the dramatic art. arthur-miller.jpg

    Arthur Miller 1915-2005 (Photograph by Joe St. Leger)

    This is the third production of the play I have seen so far and it never lets you down. Fatherhood is an issue that my colleague John Waters has highlighted more than anyone else, in his columns over the years. It’s the theme of Miller’s drama and his even more famous Death of a Salesman.

    A combination of advances in science and the ideological assaults from an extreme  fringe  of the feminist movement have raised question-marks over the entire concept and role of fatherhood.

    Arthur Miller does not provide any comfortable answers but shows instead the anguish and turmoil of an ordinary human being trying to do his best for his children but making fatal mistakes in the process.

    I have to say the recent report that Miller himself had fathered a son with Down’s Syndrome but placed the child in an institution and largely excluded him from his life does not reflect well on him but it is of a piece with the anguished fathers in these two plays, both of them harbouring a secret that destroys them in the end.

    The recent real-life case of David Bourke here in Dublin was a tragic example of fatherhood gone wrong. The idea that someone could stab his wife to death in front of the children leaves one aghast. One’s heart goes out to the little ones who went through this ordeal. (To read about the case, click here.)

    A debate has arisen in the aftermath of the case as to whether Bourke should have been convicted of murder or manslaughter. Without abating the horrific nature of the crime in the slightest, the latter would seem to have been the proper course, although the practical implicatons would not appear to be all that significant.

    This was not a coldblooded, premeditated crime by an evil and malignant villain but an  ordinary individual whose life and marriage went terribly wrong. The mix of medications he was taking may have played a contributory role. Some would say that, had the accused been a woman, the outcome might have been different. But the fact that the stabbing took place in front of the children made it particularly heinous. A very sad case.

    Politics, too,  has an element of, not fatherhood, but parenthood about it. Our elected leaders have to combine the wisdom, humanity and firmness of a good parent as they guide the people to a place of safety in a time of crisis.

    Our leaders are human and have flaws as well as, hopefully, some good points. In some cases there are secrets behind the smiling exterior and they are of such magnitude that, like an Arthur Miller character, a leader can end up being destroyed by them. The late Charles Haughey was fortunate in that his financial affairs did not become public until his political career was over. Others may not be so lucky.

    • Jonathan says:

      Is the Gate’s All My Sons as good as the one the Abbey did a while ago?

    • Deaglán says:

      Yes, I would put them on a par. Beautiful set, by the way.

    • robespierre says:

      In my opinion, it is an inferior play to Death of a Salesman because of its inclination towards melodrama in the second half. The didactic nature of Miller’s work during his most successful period (1948 – 1956) renders his caricatures less impactful than realist contemporaries like O’Neill or Williams. He took the Jimmy Stewart everyman and showed us what he would have been like when his hypocrisy and venality was put under the microscope. More a case of Mr. Smith goes to Louisville, KY.

      Anyway, as this is about Miller, I always liked these lines like from ‘Salesman and they perhaps capture the mood at present:

      “to suffer 50 weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, and all the time trying just to get ahead of the next guy…” and after his being made redundant after years of service “you can’t eat the orange and then throw away the peel”.

    • Siobhán says:

      Thanks for the recommendation Deaglán and the interesting comments on fatherhood.

      I agree with your view on the David Bourke case.
      Siobhán

    • Elaine says:

      My father worked with a horse plough,
      His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
      Between the shafts and the furrow.
      The horses strained at his clicking tongue…

      …I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
      Yapping always. But today
      It is my father who keeps stumbling
      Behind me, and will not go away.
      Follower: A poem by Seamus Heaney

    • Deaglán, a chara,

      Tuairiscíodh i dTuarascáil an lae inné go mbionn tú ag blagáil anseo as Gaeilge. Ní fhaca mé blag uait i nGaeilge anseo go fóíll – ach b’fheidir go bhfuil ceann ann i ngan fhios.

      Má tá, maith sibh. Mura bhfuil, cén seans go mbeadh blag i nGaeilge ann an oiread is go bhfuil blag ann faoi pholataíocht, ceol, praghasanna, bia is cultúr i measc nithe eile? Táim cinnte go bhfuil go leor ann a thabharfadh faoi a leitheid de chúram.

      Beir bua

      Concubhar Ó Liatháin

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks for the Heaney lines, Elaine, much appreciated. Thanks, Siobhán for the nice message. Robespierre: As befits your nom-de-blog I think you are a bit too stern in your judgment. The main character in All My Sons is not a caricature but a very human complex of conflicting emotions, a poorly-educated man who worked his guts out for his kids so they could use words like roué. He erred on the side of his kids and against the welfare of the wider community. That’s as far as I’ll go because someone will accuse me of revealing the plot.

      A Chonchubhair, Seo iarracht a rinne me ar Bhlag i nGaeilge.

      http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/politics/2009/03/19/bas-tragoideach-i-nua-eabhrac/

    • Lefournier says:

      Let us not ignore the major political and social issue here: the numbers of fathers who play no role in the lives of their children and the 190,000 families with lone parents, 86 percent of which are headed by women. My blog has additional commentary.

    • Deaglán says:

      You didn’t give the link to your blog in the text of your actual comment, so here it is:-
      http://lefournier.blogspot.com/search?q=fatherhood

      It’s very hard to write about the subject you mention without arousing an adverse reaction but it’s an issue that deserves calm and reasoned discussion.

    • Harry Leech says:

      Thanks for the reccomendation Deaglán: I’ll have to check it out.

      I have to say that before I read the blog, the line “Politics, too, has an element of, not fatherhood, but parenthood about it” made me think immediately of a topic, probably best discussed another day. Namely, our Taoiseach, Tainaiste and Minister for Finance are all second generation politicians, as are many other of our elected representatives in the Daíl. Is this the best pool to glean our political genes from? I’ll leave it at that for now!


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