My Father and Myself ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
R. “Joe” Ackerley was a British writer and editor who lived from 1896 to 1967. His nonfiction book, My Father and Myself, is a “memoir” published in 1968 after his death. It is about Joe Ackerley’s strange quest in life to find the “Ideal Friend” and his even stranger relationship with his family, especially his father, Roger Ackerley.
This book begins with the sentence: “I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919.” This sentence sets the tone for what is to come. Joe was one of three children. All three of them, Joe learns from an aunt (his mother’s sister) were “accidents.” Joe’s father is a prosperous businessman, an importer of fruit, earning him the nickname “The Banana King.” His mother is a garrulous featherhead, with whom, Joe says, he never has a serious conversation in his life. Joe’s brother, Peter, is killed in World War I, with Joe not far off when it happens. Joe’s sister is an unpleasant girl who fights and argues incessantly with her mother. She ends up marrying, and divorcing, an American. The sister hardly shows up as a blip on Joe’s emotional radar, which could also be said about any other female in Joe’s life.
Yes, Joe prefers members of his own gender and is open about, at a time when it is unlawful in Britain. While he has access to dozens of willing participants, he is never able to find the right one. He always feels restrained, as if something is missing. He hopes to find the “Ideal Friend,” and, though he may come close a couple of times, never does.
Joe discovers after his father’s death in 1929 that his father had a secret life, about whom Joe never had an inkling. Roger Ackerley had a “mistress” and with her three daughters. He is somehow able to keep his “real” family and his “secret” family separate and apart. When he dies, both families discover that he didn’t have as much money as they thought. (Keeping up two families takes more money than anybody suspected.) Joe also discovers that, in his father’s younger days, he very likely had liaisons with other men, including a count with whom he eventually had a falling out.
Joe Ackerley recounts his school days, his experiences in the First World War, and his later experiences working for the BBC. Toward the end of the book is a funny section about renting a flat from an eccentric, “Dickensian” trio (two brothers and a sister) in a working-class section near the Thames.
My Father and Myself is a full of self-deprecating humor. We don’t see a monstrous ego at work in Joe Ackerley, but rather an insightful, self-analytical and nervous man who, though he tries, never seems to find the secret to happiness, in his personal or his professional life.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp