This is a book that could have gone either way. Adapted from Ted Kessler’s blog of the same name and premise, it markets itself with the tagline ‘If you were asked to write about your father, what would you say?’ It then goes onto to promise us that many writers, artists, musicians, journalists, and other household names will open up about their dads in the pages that follow. Then, in a somewhat cynical yet completely understandable move, it makes itself extremely marketable by telling us that Chris Martin, Florence Welch, Rod Stewart, Paul Weller, and Tilda Swinton will be among those putting pen to paper. And just like that, the book wil reach a celebrity obsessed market that might otherwise ignore it. At the same time, though, I wonder if that move might put off another audience; those who were genuinely interested in a literary exploration of our relationship with our fathers, but couldn’t give a crap what Chris Martin has to say about it.
Unsurprisingly, with the exception of Swinton, the contributors above provide some of the shortest and most sycophantic pieces to this otherwise stellar collection. Some of the most involving essays actually come from those that many of us will never have heard of. Billy Childish tells us of his dad John Hamper in a piece entitled ‘I Punched Him Down the Stairs’, Dorian Linskey lets us into life with dad Dave in ‘Dave Was More Popular Than I Was’, and we hear about Harry Doherty from his son Niall in ‘Half-Truths, Rumours, and Second-Hand Memories’. It’s these deeply honest, investigative, and multi-faceted tales that really light up My Old Man, adding more to the collection than a singer saying how lovely his dad is ever could.
But that’s not to say that only the more troubling stories have an impact. Swinton’s ‘I Follow my Father’ is fantastic. And there are lovely and uplifting contributions from Nina Stibbe, Jemima Dury, Tijinda Singh, Adam Cohen, and Richard Hawley. What connects with all of these is a truth, a real desire to tell things how they were, and when that happens in My Old Man we are in the presence of something close to magical.
Any Cop?: There are certainly more great contributions than there are poor ones. And when weighing those in the middle, we come up with many more that are closer to the top of the scale than the bottom. Overall, this collection should offer comfort to anyone who has had difficulties with their father while also warming the heart with tales of parenting done how it should be. A lovely little book that doesn’t suffer due to a few duds and will hopefully sell more because of them.