Today, 24 November, is the anniversary of my father’s death 11 years ago. He was fairly young dying at 63 years old. We never got on very well and at times we floundered around a kind of truce and at other times it was all out war. He didn’t like me much and I know I didn’t like him. On a personal level it’s very difficult to write this because I look back over the entirety of my life and his influence is absolute and runs like a knotted cord of rope through it. I have managed on many occasions to unknot his influence and I have led a much happier life since his death, but there are times when I am acutely aware that something is still raw and broken inside me.
So what has this got to do with a blog about being a failed actor? Maybe everything. Maybe nothing. Can you untie the knot of influence your own parents have on your life? Are you able to see clearly defined lines where they end and you begin? I can’t. So I don’t know.
But what I do know as fact is that every child wants their parents to respect or at least understand their choices for their lives. And I think early on my father began his campaign of hating my choices and then making me feel shit about them. He was a master at making you feel shit for your choices.
I am haunted by one conversation my father and I had. I was home for a short break before flying back to the UK to begin rehearsals for a show. I was still fairly new to England and my career, although slow, was slowly starting to pick up. I had a lovely agent and I was learning to navigate my way through a whole new life in a foreign land. This takes so much effort and I was tired all the time, perhaps intimidated too and lonely. Oh the loneliness of moving to a new country – you share none of the cultural references, I didn’t always enjoy going to the pub, I was learning about English reserve. So there was a lot going on anyway as well as trying to forge a career in one of the most difficult industries in the world. I was exhausted and all I ever wanted was my family on my side. Supportive. Even if they didn’t understand my choices at least let them be. I think my mother has come to understand and I know my sister does, but not all the time. And then there was my father.
We sat opposite each other at the plastic table on the deck out in the garden. The sun was setting and birds were tweeting noisily around the bird feeder that my father filled every morning. My father loved to talk about business and he spoke of the days in the office of the business service franchise he ran with my mother. I listened. I asked questions. And then a made a fatal mistake. I started talking about my few successes that I had had so far in Shakespeare and panto. I was trying to say aloud all those things we actors sometimes hold inside. I was trying to connect with him by telling my dad that I understood it was hard but that I was trying, that I was striving that I was starting to feel like a success, perhaps trying to convince myself I was. Needing to convince myself.
My father tilted his head back and looked down his nose at me as a cigarette smoked in his hand and he said two words that haunted me for a long time.
He said, “Is it?”
Just that. Behind those two words were his contempt of my choices. His lack of empathy. His sarcasm that I could even call myself a success when clearly he didn’t think so. I remember my heart sinking, falling through the floor, as another attempt to reach him failed. He then turned his head and lifted his eyebrows and shook his head as if I was wasting my time. And I knew I was. With him.
I try not to blame him. He grew up in a place where a career in the arts was beyond any kind of comprehension. You worked in a stable job for eight hours a day and you paid your mortgage and that’s how life was.
I have been thinking a lot about this over the last year. I wanted to be a success because part of my ego driven self wanted to prove to my nah-saying father that I was worthy of success in my chosen profession, THAT I WOULD BE SUCCESSFUL despite HIM. And when I started to face that my career as an actor had floundered it also felt like my father had won. That all that he foretold came to pass. That his “Is it?” was the curse -that I was not worthy to call myself a creative. How ridiculous to think I would become a working actor one day. I have carried a sense of being a fraud all my life. It plays into my lack of confidence and self worth as an actor and as a person and it leave me with the literal and figurative scars of today. This might have affected how I appeared to possible employees and affected what I did or didn’t do to further my career. I wonder too if I never really took an artistic career seriously because he never did? It feels like I did take it seriously at times, its all I ever wanted and yet there are the times I think of that, “Is it?”. And I am back there. Lost. Wondering. He plans for me was to learn a trade – something I bitterly rejected.
All these things I deal with on a daily basis. But, like I said in a previous post, this Covid lockdown giving the gift of time – I have used to find my voice, my place in the industry and what I want to say. I am slowly letting go of that, “Is it?” but that’s part of the process of being a creative. Facing what holds you back, perhaps re-looking at it, perhaps shaping it into your work so that you can exorcise it.
I don’t want to be haunted anymore. This demon needs to go.
I hope it will.