If you missed Part I, it is here.
So… After a lot of discussion about Bobby Axelrod potentially growing up in a single parent household among ourselves for weeks, it was NO surprise for us when Axe revealed his dad “never came back” in Episode 11 Magical Thinking. We still don’t know if his dad went to Vietnam and never came back or if he just left home and never came back… Even though each scenario is brutal in its own way, dad is a hero in the former scenario and he is certainly not one in the latter.
In an intimate conversation with Wendy, Bobby reveals he cries at You Tube videos in which soldiers come back home and surprise their kids. Probably because his dad never came back and surprised him. And you know what? I uncontrollably cry at weddings and graduations! Probably because my dad was not able to see me graduate or get married (it’s amazing that even writing this brings tears…). The difference between Bobby and me is my husband knows all that about me where as Lara does not have much clue until Bobby tells her at the end of Episode 11 Magical Thinking: “I cry sometimes. At sentimental things. Commercials. And I don’t tell you.” This should be a precious moment in their relationship.
I know it took me years to share my story with my husband. And I know it took me years to be able to talk about my father to anyone in the first place. And I am not even a private person in other matters. Not at all. You may find it funny but it is this blog that made me finally come to terms with my dad’s death about which I wrote here last year.
I have been able to remove my mask at some point. Bobby is still wearing his and that is why I am thinking he could be the loneliest man in the world. Not that I am feeling deep pity for him… It is what it is. But is there anyone he is totally transparent with? Well, Wags can live with Bobby keeping information from him, so can Wendy… But being Mrs. Axelrod is not easy. Our Tbkwrm dives deep into how Bobby keeps everyone at arm’s length here.
Lara is not coming from a wealthy family but from a tight one. “Five siblings. Close though” she tells June in Episode 1 The Pilot. Stable home life does not have as much to do with money as it does with love and support. And Lara seems to always have had that strong support system. So it could be difficult for her to fully understand Bobby’s ways when it comes to family… including his parenting.
Bobby is obviously playing GOOD COP to Lara’s BAD COP in parenting. Lara is not happy her kids do not have any street smarts, she wants them not to take their comfortable life for granted, respect others — especially working people like Chef Ryan — and not have it easy all the time. From taking kids to clamming to sending them to camp — an experience cut short thanks to dad — to having them pack gifts for Donnie’s “Secret Santa” project, Lara rightly believes in teachable moments. And she, again, rightly gets pissed when Bobby goes against her wishes and makes it easy — or tries to make it easy — for the boys every single time.
Bobby is a good dad. A modern dad. He spends real time with the boys. He talks sports with them. He reads to them. And, yes, Bobby, that Dolores Umbridge is a real bitch! 🙂 And I feel Bobby makes a conscious effort to be the dad he is… which makes me think his dad may not be a hero for him. And if my hunch is correct, then I know where Bobby’s parenting is coming from: He wants to be everything his dad was not.
Remember the punch? Bobby wants his kids feel loved and safe. He wants to give them all they long for. All that he never had and longed for as a boy. And, probably, above all, he wants TO BE LOVED as a dad, too. Oh, hey, this is another signature personality trait of a kid growing up with a single parent for you. You long to be loved even when you are surrounded by love. You want to be loved and you do a lot to gain and keep love. Because as much as you are loved, there is always something missing.
I am not making a case for Bobby the dad here. For example, it is plain wrong when he picks the boys up from camp at night when they text him. Dad may have second thoughts when he faces two teenagers believing they are entitled to everything they want in life in a couple of years… But I know where his parenting is coming from. He is not doing what he is doing to deliberately go against Lara’s wishes — he just cannot help it.
Finally… When you don’t have a dad, you try to put someone in his place. Because you need that father figure in your life. Your mom tries her best to fill the void and gives you all the love she could but it is not a void anybody else can really fill. You still desperately try to fill it with someone else: An uncle. A close family friend. A teacher. And, I believe, Bobby found THAT figure in Bruno.
I see it in Episode 8 Boasts and Rails after Bobby’s dirty “9/11” laundry is all out in the news: Bobby stops by Bruno’s seemingly to give back the check Bruno sends him for his share of the profits, but he is, in fact, there to see his “father’s” reaction to what happened that day. And, the nod Bruno gives, I think, makes Bobby’s day. I am sure Wendy coming to the panic room to tell him he does not have to be ashamed of anything, at least, in a relativistic sense, is important. Lara standing beside him is very important. But THAT NOD from Bruno is what Bobby really needs that day. Because whatever age we are, we always look for parental approval.
I would love to close with crediting Damian Lewis who has brought this part of the story — exactly like he has brought all other parts of the story — to life seamlessly. I know Damian grew up in a stable upper middle class family with two parents and three siblings but I cannot help wondering if his boarding school experience helped him to depict the emotional side of Bobby Axelrod since that is also a setting, like a single parent home, where the child needs to step up and raise himself/herself at times.
Damian’s recent comments about his boarding school experience in an interview with Sunday Times Magazine seem to be in line with my thinking:
“I went at eight and I think that’s very hard. You go through something which, at that age, defines you and your ability to cope. There’s a sudden lack of intimacy with a parent, and your ability to get through that defines you emotionally for the rest of your life. It’s a very violent experience in those first few weeks. It’s just, boom! And you deal with it. You snap into something else, you get on and then you go and run the empire. While it’s all very positive in terms of managing and negotiating life, it also does things that I don’t like when I see them in me.”
The interviewer wants to know more:
“Jon Ronson deals with it very entertainingly in his book on psychopaths. Are we governed and ruled by sociopaths who have been through that experience? By people who compartmentalise their emotional life so successfully that they can go straight to the top?”
Well, I know “compartmentalizing your emotional life” very well from my own experience. That is the autopilot we have been talking all along: the top survival skill you need to cope. It seems Damian is familiar with it, too.
But, hey, I can’t help think loudly: who do you talk about when you talk about “who compartmentalise their emotional life so successfully that they can go straight to the top?”
Bobby Axelrod making trades on 9/11! He turns on the autopilot and does what he knows the best: Trade. However, as Wendy points out in Episode 11 Magical Thinking, if he becomes an autopilot addict, he could soon be on his way to be a sociopath. This “do what is rational and move on” attitude makes him distance himself from emotion and turns him into a machine. Autopilot probably helped him grow up and made him the man he is today. It still helps him act rational under stress. But at the end of the day, Bobby Axelrod is not a machine. He just needs to allow himself to be a human being.
And I am so looking forward to finding out more about him in Season 2 and beyond.