An Actor's Son
by Harvey Burgess
1975 - 1980:
The rain lashes against the window of a hotel room in the English city of Bristol. A diminutive, fourteen-year-old boy is with his father, a struggling forty-two year old actor. The actor is helping the boy with his English literature homework – interpreting a poem called “The Windhover”, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The beautiful verse describes a kestrel hovering in mid-air while it hunts its’ prey. The exegesis however is fiendishly difficult for the boy ; it is a metaphor for a divine epiphany. Hopkins was a 19th century Jesuit Priest. But not for the actor, recently returned to England from Canada, where he graduated in English and Drama.
The boy is unhappy. He is at an all-boys boarding school and spends much of the time arguing and fighting with his peers. Made fun of for being tiny and having no pubic hair, he has no discernible identity or personality. A handful of older boys are sexually attracted to him and introduce him to what is known in the school as “mutual masturbation.” Before long, he finds himself engaging in the same practice with two or three boys of his own age. He is now bullied for being a queer too. The boy never talks about his homosexuality but finds himself blushing when the subject comes up during a classroom discussion of a Shakespeare Sonnet.
The teenage boy turns into a wallflower when in the company of the father and his fellow thespians. Painfully shy and lacking conversation, he is an introvert amongst gregarious actors. Their laughter is anything but infectious where he is concerned. But he loves his father and is proud of his fierce determination to succeed.
1980 - 1985:
Back home in London, the young man is no longer homosexual but is afraid of the opposite sex and has not yet lost his virginity. The father sends his son on his first ever trip abroad, to stay with his friends in Toronto and from there to New York. The son gets high for the first time, in Manhattan, with the father’s cousins. He finds himself alone with a girl but is too shy to take any action. The son is now working as a commercial realtor. At twenty two, he loses his virginity.
After years of struggle in repertory theater in the provinces, the father has made the breakthrough and is now acting for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The son sees his father on stage with many of the country’s finest actors, both in London and at Stratford-Upon-Avon. The father’s parts are generally not as large as he would like but he has a knack of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. He starts to crop up on the small screen too. It is good news for the son who now has something more interesting to talk about at social gatherings. He soon realizes that being a commercial realtor is a conversation killer.
The son has a girlfriend with a posh sounding double-barreled name but she is in fact a working class girl with a cockney accent. The father likes her and is often amused by her. The son and his girlfriend are having lunch with the father and his girlfriend. The subject of classical music comes up. The father asks the son’s girlfriend if she likes classical music and she replies that she likes the bits which have hunting in them. The father laughs loudly and for a long time. In fact, the father’s extreme laugh is a source of acute embarrassment to the son, especially when he does it whenever they are watching a play or a movie, to the obvious annoyance of the other people in the audience.
The son lives with his mother but sees his father fairly often. The father is more fun than other fathers. He hangs out with the son and his friends and even travels with the son on the train to see their soccer team play road games.
1985 – 1990:
The father and the son are in a pub together after one of the father’s plays. They are playing darts when the son suddenly blurts out “Look dad, I can use both hands, I’m ambidextrous.” The father smiles awkwardly and a few thespians within earshot snigger. The father tells the son that, in acting circles, ambidextrous means bisexual.
The father introduces the son to an attractive American girl. The son has a fling with her and discovers that she has slept with a well-known thespian colleague of the father’s. The son’s friends all wish they had a father who was happy to set them up with women.
The father loves to walk for miles on end. The son struggles to keep up. The father likes to take the son and his siblings to the coast for vacations. The father has freckly, ginger-brown skin and cannot stay for long in the sun. He usually wears a white or cream-colored panama hat. The father is extremely sociable. Excessively so says the son, who would like more one to one time with the father.
The son is deeply unhappy with his life. He hates the corporate world. He has almost no aptitude for business. He begins to absorb the father’s left-wing ideology. From an ignorant starting position, something begins to stir deep within the son’s psyche and he discovers the world of politics and rational discourse.
1990 – 1995:
The son’s metamorphosis is complete. He has extricated himself from his life as a commercial realtor and fled the carnage of a failed business and a foreclosure. He is now living in Turkey where he teaches English. The father is totally supportive of the son’s new life and has advised him every step of the way. He visits him at the earliest opportunity. The father gets on like a house on fire with the son’s Turkish friend. They speak not a single word of each other’s language. The father and the son have an explosive argument about nothing in particular. Both are hot-tempered and slow to forgive.
The father lands a big part in a TV soap opera. He becomes a minor celebrity. His nearest and dearest have to share him with the wider public. He marries for the fourth time and the wedding features on the front cover of Hello Magazine. The son is now studying politics at University and arranges for his father to come and give a talk to a group of students. The father forgets to tell them that his son is in the room and is a student at the University. He gives an interview to the student newspaper and again fails to mention his son. The son is hurt but decides not to make it an issue. He cannot deny that he enjoys the vicarious pleasure of having a famous dad.
1995 - 2000:
The son, now educated, loves to engage intellectually with his father. The father has a deep well of knowledge and the son is more than happy to mine it. The fact that they sing from the same hymn sheet only enhances the son’s pleasure. The son is now working for immigration lawyers and is comfortable in his own skin. The father has played a pivotal role in his son’s re-invention.
Both father and son are tactile and affectionate to each other. The son regularly gives the father foot and back massages. The son does not understand why the father keeps his toe nails so long. Year after year, the father has the same knotted muscle in his back which the son has to work on. The son loves to spend time at the father’s apartment. The father is an excellent cook and always makes the son’s favorite dishes: nut roast and quorn and vegetable sauce with pasta. The father and son spend many pleasurable days watching cricket. At the end of the day’s play, the father invariably disappears into the restroom. The stadium is always empty by the time he reappears. The father tells the son that he has prostate issues.
The father leaves the soap opera but, within two years, has joined the National Theater Company. His career continues to flourish. Despite this success, he remains, he says, what he has always been: a jobbing actor.
2000 – 2005:
The father has entered the new millennium and his seventh decade in some style. He takes an apartment adjacent to the newly constructed Millennium Wheel, also known as the London Eye, a stone’s throw from the National Theater. He is now one of the elder statesmen of the British Theater and is an actor of some gravitas.
The son writes a book on political asylum. The father is as proud as punch.
The father continues to thrive at the National Theater but is stopped in his tracks when he falls down some concrete steps and breaks a bone in his shoulder. The son is shocked when he sees the father in his hospital bed. He is diminished and the son worries about the father’s ability to
recover. Recover he does, in style, and within a year or so he is treading the boards again. So moving is the tribute his National Theater colleagues pay to him when he turns seventy-five that he openly weeps.
The son emigrates with his Turkish wife to the States. They live in the city of Tucson on the father’s recommendation. The son falls in love with Tucson as had the father twenty years earlier. It is the best thing the son has ever done and, once again, the father is instrumental.
The father is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is a death sentence. The son’s politics lecturer died of it. He is given six months to live but lasts two and a half years. The son, now on the cusp of his fiftieth birthday, reads a poem called “The Windhover,” at his father’s funeral ceremony. The poem begins: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin. Dapple dawn drawn Falcon, in his riding of the rolling level underneath him steady air and striding high there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing… “ It is the son’s favorite poem.
2010 – 2015:
The son decides to pen a tribute to his father and writes two essays about him. He also creates a Wikipedia page for him. The son immerses himself in the project for several years and discovers many things about his father that he never knew. He bonds with many of the father’s friends and colleagues. It is a cathartic process. He creates a website dedicated to the father’s career.
2015 – 2020:
The son realizes how naïve he was to believe he could step into his father’s footsteps and form friendships with the father’s thespian friends. Nearly all of them are silent after the son publishes the father’s website. The son does not understand why and feels bitter towards them. He no longer remains in contact with them. Ten years after the father’s passing, he remains the son’s guardian angel.
About the Author
Harvey Burgess is a British writer. He is the author of two books: "Political Asylum From The Inside" (non-fiction) Worldview Publications, Oxford, UK, 2000; and : "Tucson Tales, Bohemians, Bolsheviks and Border Rats." (Fiction) Sunstone Press, New Mexico, USA, 2013. His latest book, about the leading reggae group in the city of Tucson, Arizona, entitled: "Reggae Night - Neon Prophet at The Chicago Bar" is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2020.
He has also published short fiction and non-fiction (Sarasvati magazine and Inkapture magazine - both UK, Fourth and Sycamore (Ohio, USA) and Tucson Citizen and Tucson Weekly (Tucson, AZ, USA).