24th August 2015 The symbolism of a hairstyle by Petra Holmes

I have just finished reading ‘ Not my Father’s Son’ by Alan Cumming . You may know him as the award -winning actor in The Good Wife or on Broadway in Macbeth or Cabaret plus multiple other appearances.

The back story to the book is his exploration of his family history, specifically of his grandfather during the war, as part of the ‘Who do you think you are?’ BBC TV show. Tragically, the author learns that his grandfather died playing Russian Roulette. He strongly feels that this was due the effects of trauma and undiagnosed PTSD.

The main theme, however, is the shocking physical and emotional abuse the author endured at the hands of his own father. This is interwoven with the question of Alan Cumming’s paternity and trying to make sense of his father’s behaviour.

The book begins with a horrific recollection as a 12 year old when his father decided the author needed a haircut. He dragged his son to the shed, pinned him down on a workbench and hacked the child’s hair off with rusty sheep clippers… Alan’s explanation to his school was to say a jar of creosote has knocked onto him and he had attempted to cut his own hair…
The whole family lived in a house with a constant undercurrent of fear, never knowing when the father’s rage would be directed at them.

The effect of the trauma of this ‘haircut’ had long lasting effects.The author recalls feeling sick in hair salons,and even vomited twice while there. He says that it was not until many years and lots of therapy later that he realised these physical symptoms were a reaction to that awful experience.

In an uplifting and inspired way,however, once the author had left home, he used his hair to ‘reclaim the power’ from his father . Changing his styles and colours became his ‘symbol of freedom’.

In this moving book we are taken through Alan Cumming’s harrowing, emotional journey and the process of ultimately surviving his father.

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