Monday, July 27, 2015
Book Review: Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
Not My Father's Son is a memoir of Alan's life. He lived a tumultuous childhood, constantly at the mercy of his father's mood and temper. Alan's father was abusive to say the least, both physically and mentally. He constantly cheated on his wife, making no effort to hide the affairs. He would also give his sons impossible tasks for chores, and then berate and punish them severely when things were not completed to his satisfaction, pushing things to the extent that Alan feared for his life on occasion. Once Alan was accepted into drama school, his mother divorced his father and none of them had much contact with his father from that point on. Fast forward decades and Alan agrees to go on the television show Who Do You Think You Are? The show chooses celebrities who have genealogical mysteries in their family, and then films them as they learn the truth about their ancestors. Alan's mother's father, Tommy Darling, was killed in Malaysia when his mother was only 13, and no real explanation was ever given as to what happened. The family never talked about the incident much, so Alan's mother grew up constantly wondering about her father - Alan agrees to go on the show to find out what actually happened. When Alan's father learns he is going on an genealogy show, he contacts his brother to let him know a big secret - that Alan is not his father's son. This notion leads to DNA testing between the two brothers at the same time that Alan is whisked off to France and Malaysia to learn about his maternal grandfather, so he really is learning about his family's secrets on both sides at the same time.
I really loved this book, but possibly for a reason others may not understand. Reading Alan's accounts of his childhood and how his father treated him sounded exactly like the stories my dad tells me about how he was treated by his own father. I rarely hear others tell about their abuse in the same way, so that insight was very valuable to me. My grandfather seemed to live his life to make his family miserable, and did a fairly good job at it. Everyone just learned to deal with his outbursts, surviving them and getting them over with as soon as possible so they could move on to more important things in life - this is exactly the family dynamic Alan describes. Everyone just tip toes around, hoping they don't wake the bear, never knowing what the outcome will be if they do. It was so sad to hear these types of stories, but really eye opening to what our brains naturally do in this type of circumstance to make us able to survive. Having all this going on at the same time as learning about long lost family members would have been extremely stressful and difficult to take in, but I'm so glad Alan decided to write it all down. I was greatly affected by his story as it helped me understand this type of family relationship while appealing to my love of genealogy at the same time. I highly recommend this book - I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.