Fathers and Sons
I have, for next post, taken the example of Richard P. Feynman in writing a letter. I’ll write it to my father, Thomas F. Quinlan (1913-1993). However, before then I want to write something about the thorny and contentious matter of father-son relationships.
There has been much written on the topic of father-son or son-father relationships, not least since the advent of psychoanalysis and the great work done by Sigmund Freud in this area. Some years back I read a book on the subject called Reclaiming Father: The Search for Wholeness in Men, Women and Children (Soul Connections, 2004) by the renowned Jungian psychoanalytical psychotherapist Dr Benig Mauger. There have been legions of other books on this topical matter. Some posts previously I have written reviews of novels on childhood and growing up, novels which have always moved and amused me, and needless to say, they deal in no small way with this age-old problem of the relationship between fathers and sons.
In my reading I have always looked out for this gripping topic. When reading Richard Holmes’s two-volume biography of S.T. Coleridge [The first volume is called Coleridge: Early Visions (1989) and the second is called Coleridge: Darker Reflections (1998) I took note of the influence of Samuel Taylor’s father on his son in these marvellous books. At night the elder Coleridge used to bring his young son out on walks in the country and show him the mysterious expanse of the night skies. Samuel Taylor was to call this experience most significant for him, because in his own beautiful words: “my mind had thus become habituated to the vast.” Would were it so for us all! Magari! Alas and alack!
And, then, I have always loved the writings of Blake Morrison, a contemporary novelist, great journalist and equally laudable critic of poetry and literature. How, I envy this man’s breadth of literary achievement and the depth and honesty of his more autobiographical work especially these two books: - (i) And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993), an honest and moving account of his father's life and death. It won the J. R. Ackerley Prize and was made into a film in 2007, starring Colin Firth, and more lately (ii) his new book, Things My Mother Never Told Me, a memoir of his mother, was published in 2002. I have read the first of these two, but the second remains on my shelves, somewhere, yet to be read.
Obviously with a title like “fathers and sons” for this present entry how can I fail to mention the famous book by the Russian novelist Turgenev with the exact title of this present entry? Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev was written in 1862 and graces my bookshelf but alas again it remains unread. Again I bought it for the title as it’s a theme I’m addicted to in the best sense of that term.
Anyway, one of the four or five books I have going at present is the collected letters of the famous 20th century physicist Richard P. Feynman. I have already sung its praises in the last, and at the beginning of today’s blog. However, I want to finish it with an appropriate quote from Dick Feynman on his own father. I think and feel that these few words are marvelous and they inspire me to write a letter to my own late father.
In answer to a book company representative who wanted some autobiographical information about Feynman, the man, Richard P. replied: “You also wanted a few lines on how I was attracted to science: My father, a business man, had a great interest in science. He told me fascinating things about the stars, numbers, electricity etc. Wherever we went there were always new wonders to hear about; the mountains, the forests, the sea. Before I could talk he was already interesting me in mathematical designs made with blocks. So I have always been a scientist. I have always enjoyed it, and I thank him for this great gift to me.” (Don’t You Have Time To Think? p. 122)
And so my next post will be a letter to my father, doubly inspired by Dick Feynman: (i) he had written a letter to his dead wife and (ii) he had a lovely relationship with his father.
Forgive me, if readers there are out there of this post, for the rambling nature of these thoughts, but I do feel there is at least a thread of the logic of both mind and heart within!
The picture above is one of me and my late father doing a bit of gardening work. My father loved the garden, though he had lost the use of his right arm to polio at the age of 40. You can see this affliction in this photo. However, it did not curb his interest in the garden, only made it a little harder.