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This report is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Fathers and Sons Neil Powell

In Baldock, Hertfordshire, a quarter of a century or so ago, I used to drink in a pub where an old man called George, who looked exactly like Sibelius, had his stool in the corner by the bar. George was both cantankerous and extremely deaf; he would become offended very gradually, responding to something he'd partially heard and misapprehended some time earlier by eventually raising his walking-stick with the words, 'I think I might have to take exception to that.' One evening, some of us were talking about the tricky relationships between fathers and sons - we were much younger then, of course - and I remember someone saying that the word 'love' didn't always quite cover what you felt across the generation gap. No, I said, which is why the Biblical formula 'Honour thy father and thy mother' is so subtle and so telling. We'd gone on to talk about something quite else by the time George raised his stick and said to me: 'I think I might have to take exception to that. I can't put up with a man who says he doesn't love his father.' I tried to explain, without much success, what I meant: that 'honour' in this context was the bigger word, embracing both love and respect, bestowing dignity as well as affection. And that was the sense in which I was proud to honour my father.

I've been thinking about fathers and sons while writing, at somewhat greater length than ...


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