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

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

I have a hunch Billions Writers’ Room has someone that grew up with a single parent. It may even be likely s/he grew up as a single child with a single parent. Because, otherwise… how do they know so well, exactly like I know it, how that playbook goes? Well, maybe they just know…

I obviously did not know, but knew — because I just FELT it — Bobby Axelrod grew up with a single parent way before it was revealed in Episode 11 Magical Thinking that Bobby’s dad “never came back.” How come I knew? I think it was little bits and pieces provided over the course of the season… but it may well be that those bits and pieces got my attention a little bit more because I know it when I see it.

Anyhow, this is the story of how, little by little, I studied the Bobby Axelrod family puzzle 😀 And I guess this makes this post about me as much as about Bobby. 

The first time we hear anything about Bobby’s parents is in Episode 5: The Good Life. Ha! A little note is in order here: I often call Bobby Axelrod as “Axe” in my posts. But when it comes to talking about more intimate issues like family, I think I switch to “Bobby” subconsciously.

We find Bobby seemingly closing down Axe Capital and hanging out at home cooking breakfast for his family.

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

He says: “Grandma’s recipe. Signature dish at Empire Diner.”

Gordie: “I thought grandma was a waitress.”

Bobby: “She knew her way around a griddle, too.”

This makes me think. First of all, everyone uses past tense for grandma. And it seems Axelrod boys have no clue about grandma’s cooking skill?which is simply impossible — grandmas are all about feeding grandchildren, aren’t they? So, Bobby’s mom should be dead. Maybe she was already dead when the boys were born or they were just too young to know her when she died. Besides, we know Bobby is a pretty decent guy when it comes to family and people that he sees as family — read “Bruno” or “Freddie.” So I think we would have definitely seen a glimpse of his mom should she have been alive.

Then my imagination goes in all different directions.

I have so many questions about Bobby’s mom: First of all, I wonder if she needed to work all her life… I remember Axe making a job offer to Bryan in Episode 12 The Conversation and telling him that he will make so much money his mom will not need to work if she does not want to. I wonder… if Bobby, at that very moment, thinks about his own mom, who was a waitress and worked long hours (restaurant workers work very long hours) and came home very tired every night but raised her son right and sent him to college… And I really hope his mom was at least able to see him graduate and do well.

Now that I believe his mom is dead, I even think about the reason of her death. And I just think she died of cancer. I don’t know if she died before or after Bobby became rich, but if it is the former, then it could even be a case where she did not even have good treatment because she did not have good health insurance — which could partly and further explain young Bobby’s “getting rich” and “getting even” attitude in life. This came to me after seeing Episode 10 Quality of Life in which we find out Bobby’s been funding Dr. Gilbert’s cancer research for years. Yes this may well be to get insider information about latest developments in new drugs, etc, but it may also be in memory of his mother. I am not naive. And Bobby Axelrod is the last person I would call “naive.” But cancer is very personal. I recently lost an aunt to that monster and I know it sucks. Seeing someone you love dying of cancer is one of the worst experiences you can ever experience. So, I may be dead wrong but Bobby’s contributions to medical research may well be close to his heart.


So… Back to Episode 5 The Good Life. Now that I think deeply about Bobby’s family, my mind now wanders to his father and potential siblings. And that is when I ask the following question first: Could Bobby Axelrod be an only child that grew up with a single mom?

We are in Episode 5 and there has been no mention of a sibling yet. In Bobby and Lara, we have people that live by an honor code where you put family first. So, no mention of a sibling in the first five hours of the show tells me it is likely Bobby Axelrod does not have one. And if he does not have a sibling, it just strengthens my theory of Bobby growing up with a single mom. Because, it’s not a rule but chances are, in our generation, single kids are likely to be coming from single parent families. There may be a divorce or an early death that makes it impossible to have a second kid (unless there is a second marriage).

Haha. Oh yes, Bobby prepares one family breakfast and makes me think deeply about his early years… well probably thanks to my own life experience. I am a single kid that grew up with her mother. My dad died of a heart attack when I was eight on a family vacation. It was a very happy marriage and 36 years later, my mom still cannot talk about dad without shedding tears. She never married again. Here you go: Single mom. Single kid. So… There is, of course, always the possibility of an Axelrod sibling (an estranged brother? or a sister? why not?) showing up in Season 2 but I would still put my money on Bobby being an only child.

The “single parent” idea grows with me and my partner Bookworm as Bobby lets us a little bit more into his mind in Episode 9 Where The F*** is Donnie. We are now sort of confident Bobby grew up with a single parent.

So what makes us tick in this episode?

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

What prompts Bookworm to feel THAT is Bobby pointing out to Lara that he has not been taught how to deal with grief. I am quoting Bookworm here:

“Lara has decided to shut the restaurant and sell the farm. Bobby is visibly upset about this. He thinks they should have held on and fought harder. Lara says this is her fighting. “I come from a long line of scrappers. We learn to let go of our weaknesses so we can fight back better.”

Bobby says that “when things get really bad, I shut down. I go on auto pilot. I did it on 9/11, I did it here. That is the only way I know.” I have this feeling that Axe may have lost a parent young. I would like to know more about his family background. I get the sense that there lies the answer as to why he shuts down and goes on auto pilot.”

And what prompts me to feel exactly the same is no other than my own life experience which I shared in a comment to Bookworm’s post:

“I have that same feeling that Axe grew up with, at least, a single mom and no siblings. I just can’t put my finger on it, but I just feel it, it may be the auto pilot thing that he mentions. I grew up with my mom only since my dad passed away when I was 8 and yeah, sometimes you just put yourself on autopilot even at a pretty young age, because you don’t know how to deal with grief, but you know you would make your mom upset when you get that grief out of your chest, and you don’t want to do that since you know she has so much responsibility on her shoulders so, in a sense, you raise yourself at some level, and autopilot may be your best friend.”

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

Yes, autopilot is your best friend. You are too young to deal with grief. You do not know how to. Nobody teaches you how to. Your mom is so busy grieving herself and it does not even cross her mind that sharing grief could help. You do not have a sister or a brother to ask or share with. And, even though you are young, you know that you should not upset your mom through talking about what happened to your dad… So “autopilot” becomes your defense mechanism. You close yourself to emotions and move on. This is how you deal with grief. By not dealing with it. And this defines you emotionally for life. You just do not let it come over you. Autopilot becomes your survival skill. How you adapt. And seeing that it works, you switch it on every time you have a severe situation. I know it because I have lived it.

And because you deal with your grief by not dealing with it, you do not have closure. The grief stays somewhere deep inside you. You don’t talk about it. You, in fact, can’t talk about it, knowing that it will be very hard to face it. Thus, some part of you grows up prematurely, complete with your defense mechanism to protect yourself and some part of you stays as a child forever. I am certainly buying into Bookworm’s argument that Bobby Axelrod is a boy that never wants to grow up (hey, he even has his own Wendy!) and I am pretty sure his early years partly explain the man-boy that he is!

Anyway, after a lot of discussion about this for wee among ourselves, it was no surprise for us when Axe finally revealed to us (Wendy has known it for a long time…) his dad “never came back.”

source: Showtime
source: Showtime

In the intimate conversation between Axe and Wendy in Episode 11 Magical Thinking we find out Axe’s dad never came back. But we don’t know WHY he never never came back. Did he go to Vietnam and die? Or he just left home one day and never came back?

Now… THIS obviously triggers another discussion… Stay tuned for Part II coming up next week!

Author: Damianista

Academic, Traveler, Blogger, Runner, Theatre Lover, Wine Snob, Part-time New Yorker, and Walking Damian Lewis Encyclopedia :D Procrastinated about a fan's diary on Damian Lewis for a while and the rest is history!

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

    1. Thank you! ❤️ I see it more of a “thinking loudly” kind of post probably it’s mostly about personal experience and feelings more than an analysis. But it’s so interesting how Billions and particularly this blog make me think and talk about things I have never been comfortable talking about before. Love sharing it with you all. Who knows maybe the blog is some sort of Wendy to me.

  1. We are all your personal Wendy! I am glad you can share with us.

    My own personal thought is that mom may have died while Bobby was still a teenager. Something about his need for revenge and getting rich. It speaks of a child angry at the world and determined to go and take what he feels he is owed. I am now wondering that if Bobby’s dad did die in service if perhaps the family did not get a pay out they were due. He has a deep dislike of government employees and rules.

    1. Oh my! YES! You are all my personal Wendy! I feel extremely lucky, I cannot think of a better team and a better fandom! I never thought I could make great friends in my 40s, and here you go! <3

      You may be right and this is also in line with my thinking that maybe she did not even have a good health insurance. I think this backstory is the one that I am most curious about, even more than Bobby & Wendy backstory. I hope they will at least give us some bits and pieces in Season 2. Otherwise... well, we are writing it already, aren't we? 😀 For some reason, I don't feel like Bobby's dad is a hero for him... but maybe he is. All my thinking/writing is "educated" speculation at best here.

  2. Losing a parent is the most terrible thing that can happen at a child!
    I, too, 8 years old when my mom died, my father brought me, he was my father and my mother at the same time! A lovely dad, but my mother always missed me! I long to know for Bobby

    1. It is. Your experience seems even worse. Losing a mom should be even harder. My mom has always loved me and I had my grandparents that loved me and spoilt me but no one could fill my dad’s place. Never. I was always daddy’s girl until he died very unexpectedly on a family vacation. 8 is a real young age to lose a parent and that experience shapes you in many ways some of which you are not even aware of. I have not been comfortable talking about it until I started writing on this blog. So interesting Damian has helped me, without knowing, get this kind of stuff off my chest!

  3. This is one of the most powerful, personal posts I have read. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your observations regarding Bobby. I agree 100%. I do hope we get more on Bobby’s background in the upcoming seasons, but if not, I will believe that you Damianista hit the nail on the head.

    1. Thank you! It’s so interesting how the blog has helped me to write about things I have never felt comfortable talking about. I remember you felt good once you wrote about your experience on 9/11, too. I know how personal it was for you. Writing can really be good therapy.

      I am so looking forward to Season 2 – I cannot believe it’s time to shoot it. They are starting with table read this week and then shooting next week. Can’t wait for the first teaser of the season. And I really hope to find out more about Bobby’s past in the coming season. Otherwise, speculation rules 🙂

      1. I do not remember too much of my mom but 5 years ago I had a very serious accident trying to rescue a cat on a roof! During the coma, I saw my mother, with a long white dress, she took my hand, kissed me, and she told the nurse, “leave my daughter alone!”
        This appearance followed me for a long time, and even now I think about it often! I say “merçi mom for supporting me”

        1. What a story! But please take good care of yourself and don’t try to rescue cats from rooftops – we need you alive and well! <3

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