Not My Father’s Son
By Alan Cumming
Genre: Memoirs, Family Relationships
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.
A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Timemagazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.
When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.
With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.
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I thought I’d start the New Year off with something that truly inspired me, and Alan Cumming’s memoir was exactly that: an inspiring history of his life, centering on the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and his own struggles in life learning to overcome the affects of that abuse. Alongside the glimpses of his past and the terror his father instilled in his childhood memories, Cumming also relates the events that unfold when he agrees to film an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? These two subjects gel so well together because we eventually learn why his father inflicted so much pain and abuse upon Cumming, Cumming’s brother Tom, and Cumming’s mother Mary Darling. We also see similar situations play out with his ancestors and discover that the past holds many lessons we should be willing to learn from.
When I think of Memoir’s, I sometimes feel my eyes glaze over simply because the few I’ve read were a bit dry in nature, but Alan’s personal recounting of his childhood and his stormy relationship with his father are written by a man who knows how to captivate an audience. This is obvious whenever I watch him in some of my favorite shows such as Emma or The Good Wife. There is an honest, vulnerable side to Alan that I think would be terrifying to reveal to all the world considering the subject matter and his very public position as an acclaimed actor. Having suffered from abuse myself, I find it both inspiring and liberating to read another person’s account of their experiences and the process through which they overcame that kind of emotional scarring.
Abuse tends to beget a cycle that can be broken, but many times isn’t. When a child is raised in an environment where their safety, security, and stability is constantly threatened they live their lives in a state of hyper awareness and fear that can be compared to the emotional state a soldier in battle endures. Their PTSD manifests itself emotionally and eventually physically unless they receive the counseling and support they need. Cumming discussed this very issue when he admitted that his family lived in a state of denial and eventually blocked out the abuse to the point he couldn’t remember the details until he and his wife decided to have children. It was at that point that the thought of becoming a father slowly unearthed those repressed memories and in the end his marriage suffered.
Once he began discussing everything with his mother and brother, it became clear that they all were suffering from the same form of denial and emotional backlash. It took time, patience, and a willingness to get the help he needed in order to come to terms with his past so he could take back his future. This book took many twists and turns that I was not expecting which simply proves that life really can be stranger than fiction.
Alan Cumming is personable, funny, straightforward, and candid in his remarks, weaving a story that encourages people to rise above the challenges of their past, but most importantly, to learn to come to terms with them. There can be no healing when there is no recognition of the wounds inflicted. It’s like being shot in the stomach and refusing to acknowledge the injury. It will fester and become infected, eventually snuffing out a life that deserves to reach its fullest potential.
I really hope all of you will take the time to buy this book and read it. I’m always giving out book suggestions, but this is one book I feel no one should be without. Even if you’ve never experienced abuse in your life, it will help you understand the mental and emotional state of those who have, and that kind of learning, I think, is an invaluable opportunity we should all take full advantage of.
For those of you who have suffered abuse, I hope this will give you something to hold onto when those memories creep back in to haunt you and possibly convince you that you’re not worth much if anything at all. I hope you’ll remember Alan’s story and recognize your own individual worth. You matter. You’re more than the abuse you suffered, and your ability to remember that and rise above that pain will bless and help others around you to do the same.
This memoir is a beautiful example of the human spirit rising to the occasion and giving back a little something to all of us in the process. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
DON’T MISS MY NEXT BOOK REVIEW ON January 30th!