In a word ... laughter

My father and I were at war but peace broke out when Stan & Ollie came on TV

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly in Stan & Ollie

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly in Stan & Ollie

 

Stan Laurel died 54 years ago today, on February 23rd, 1965; he of the incomparable duo, Laurel and Hardy. You may have recently seen the utterly charming film Stan & Ollie, with Steve Coogan and John C Reilly.

It did not get a single nomination for the Oscars tomorrow night. Sad.

It was described by film critic Donald Clarke of this parish as an “agreeable genuflection to a pair of pop cultural deities”, and it reminded me of my father.

In my teenage years particularly, he and I had a turbulent relationship, in the best Irish father/eldest son tradition of open warfare. Sigmund Freud had a theory, inevitably. He called it the Oedipus complex, centred on rivalry between a child and same-sex parent, for affection of opposite-sex parent.

Frank O’Connor wrote the hilarious short story My Oedipus Complex about it.

In my own case it was not like that at all, not really. It was about authority, how it was exercised and my resistance to it – a family trait. And my father exercised his authority in the traditional Irish way: “because I said so.”

No debate, no discussion, “just do it!”

War therefore not so much inevitable as continuous. I mean, there I was at 15 and not allowed to go to dances while all my classmates did. It was mortifying. How could I hold my head up as they regaled stories – some even true – about escapades in the parish hall and afterwards the previous weekend.

It was humiliating to always be the listener. Worse was trying to explain why I was not allowed be with them on such adventures. I couldn’t.

My opinion of my father in those years was never very high. Yet there were some moments when I began to doubt my judgment.

These frequently involved Laurel and Hardy.

He would lie there across the couch in his stockinged feet, big toe beating time, as he wiped tears from his face while his heart threatened to break as he laughed and laughed at the antics of this less than dynamic duo as they got themselves into yet another fine mess.

At such times I was tempted, occasionally, to wonder whether “a man who can laugh like that can be all bad?”

He died 20 years ago.

Laughter: from Old English hleahtor.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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