Bobby Axelrod: The Boy Whose Dad Never Came Back, Part II

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.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

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.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

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.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

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.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

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.

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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.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

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.

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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.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

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:

“Like what?”

“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?”

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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.

4 thoughts on “Bobby Axelrod: The Boy Whose Dad Never Came Back, Part II”

  1. Excellent analysis! And you just reminded me of that book he mentioned, that I’d forgotten about. Let’s see if I can read it before S2 starts. 🙂

    While I totally believe that Bobby goes on autopilot and becomes an automaton when things get to be too much, I don’t see Bobby’s psychology being informed by Damian’s own. It sounds like you’re seeing parallels btw Bobby and Damian, and there very well may be, but, I guess I’d like to choose to believe that Damian has processed all that about himself and moved on, in ways Bobby clearly has not. Of the two, Damian is miles more “on top” than Bobby is.

    Bobby is words on the page that Damian is performing, as beautifully as he’s performed all other words he’s been given. True, one cannot separate one’s own history from one’s art, life or work. And there may be something there that even he is not aware of, but I truly do think Damian doesn’t bring those parts of himself, the parts he saw described in Ronson’s book, to the table when he’s working. I don’t see how Damian could do the impeccable work he does if all that other stuff were on the table. In fact, all that “other stuff” is what keeps all of us who have suffered some trauma from doing effective work, IMO. Only once we process and move on in some way, can we get to doing good work. Sadly, sometimes THAT can take a life time.

    Lots of food for thought! Happily this probably isn’t the last discussion we have on this topic. 😀

    1. Thanks!

      Oh, of course! Damian is planets away from Bobby. So am I! I just think Damian himself also knows about this autopilot. Not that he is using it now, but I can imagine he used it when he was growing up. My husband went to a very competitive boarding school, and at a later age than Damian, and he always says the rule is you need to be smart and alert at all times and should not let anyone see any weakness with you – if they see it, you are totally f***ed up! Boarding schools, I understand, are pretty brutal. Other than that, of course, Damian moved on but he knows how brutal the experience is and he probably had his own defense mechanism to deal with it. “Compartmentalizing your emotional life” is all about that. Even when you move on, I think, you may have remnants, but you MOVE ON. But at the same time you know what it is about. So my comment is all about “he knows” but not about “he brings it to Bobby.” His experience may just help him understand. That is all. But yeah happily this is not the last discussion we have on this or any topic related to Bobby. And a big YAY for that!

  2. If I remember correctly (apart from the brief mention with Wendy, technically in a session)Bobby’s dad does not get a mention at all during season one. Mum gets a mention in discussion with Family Axelrod. The kids clearly know something about Grandma. I am leaning towards Bobby being resentful towards dad not coming back, whatever the circumstances.

    Interesting to see what Damian has to say about it. I would have hated to be going to boarding school especially at such a young age.

    I agree Bruno is the substitute for Bobby. I quite like their relationship.

    Again, I am glad the blog lets you share with us your own experiences.

    1. Thank you so much! For some reason, the blog makes it easy to talk about stuff that I would otherwise not be comfortable talking about. I think writing is always easier than speaking. And it’s certainly some kind of therapy for my own wounds! You are right – there is no mention of Bobby’s dad ever before that intimate conversation, the session, between Wendy and Bobby. I am with you leaning towards Bobby not really being fond of his dad. I love his relationship with Bruno. I just loved Bruno’s “It’s okay, son” nod in Episode 8. Subtle. And lovely.

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