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 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.