Me and Paul Dacre: fallen children, child prodigies, and fathers

“There would be moments of ecstasy when JJ liked a piece my father had written, and moments of gloom laced with alcohol when he didn’t… My father was a passionate and dedicated journalist, and Sunday lunchtime was spent analysing Fleet Street, constantly talking about JJ and about articles in the paper . . . My father had a love-hate relationship with [JJ]: admiration, with the trooper’s resentment of a heavy-handed boss occasionally.”

The man speaking: the editor of the English newspaper, the Daily Mail.

His name is Paul Dacre. He was talking of his late father, Peter Dacre.

Peter Dacre was bullied and humiliated by his boss, then would take his frustrations and his pain home to his wife and children (including Paul).

Paul now makes light of this.

Gloom laced with alcohol. A flippant phrase, trying to create a glamorous image.

Troopers resentment. Use a military term to imply there was some higher duty, higher service. But it wasn’t the military.

A father who wasn’t 100% there with his family, but insisted they lived in his volatile emotional world. Peter Dacre insisted his wife, Joan, and his children suffered as he suffered

Peter Dacre chose to be a whipping boy for the emotional whims of John Junor for the sake of being a Showbiz Reporter. A gossip columnist. Writing stories about celebrities. Pretty women.

Perhaps, Peter thought this made him close to them.

Of course: I cannot write from a position of smug detachment, or even pretend to be in one.

My name is Sufiah Yusof. My personal connection with Paul Dacre?

After I won a place at Oxford to read mathematics at the age of thirteen, his paper targeted me for some years.

I’m not a politician or a celebrity, but Paul Dacre decides what goes in the Mail, and that included lots of me in it, so here I am.

And I know families are hard. When hearing of Paul Dacre’s childhood, what I feel is not scorn, but understanding.

I can one-up that difficult family situation, for sure (a lot of people can).

It’s not easy to see one’s parent unable to control their emotions, or properly engage with the world, and wonder how they got that stuck. Listening to that drip-drip-drip of toxic resentment.

Someone you are meant to, want to, respect, lost in a world where his family are tools to help him ease his misery, and his whims.

It’s not easy feeling a third-class citizen of the world you see around you. You can see your destiny, your inheritance is a peripheral, resentful half-life.

Some situations are very similar.

Having been presented to the media as a child, I was stalked and harassed well after this.

I learned through bitter experience what the press was capable of in order to blackmail me. They seemed experts at engineering situations, identity stealing.

We’ve got this information on you, co-operate with us, or we’ll publish it anyway frequently echoed through my teenage years and early twenties .

So: I spent some years living off the grid. I was forced into a fairly peripheral existence. Just like my father, really.

Is that all there is, though? Resentment trickling down, things staying the same?

My opinion: certainly not.

I’ll start with mathematics. And family.

The past is the past. Overall, I’m glad at the way I myself handled it, and how I won myself space. And grateful to the legislators and campaigners who came up with stuff like the recent anti-stalking laws.

I displayed a reasonable amount of aptitude for maths at one stage: I forgot most of it. I couldn’t see the point. I linked mathematics to everything I wanted to move on from. I wanted to lose myself, and I did, for some years.

Pretty much dead years. On paper, at least.

Dead years can still have things happening.

For a time, I mainly dated men who worked in a certain technical profession (everyone worked in it in the obscure area where I lived) and I thought that looks intellectually interesting. It is linked to mathematics.

(Up till then, I had been considering nursing, something hippyish). 

I got a shot at some free training in this technical profession, so thought I’d take it. Not a Eureka moment. No drama. Just a certain interest. I’m not madly tied to the idea of anything.

Five years early at Oxford: over twelve years late now. No dreaming spires to be seen. I know scientists who are younger and much, much better-qualified than me: I can also see my first wrinkles. Both are cool.

British-enough or Malaysian-enough or Pakistani-enough ? Unsure of your place in the world? Live in a big city, play sports, meet folk. No-one gives a toss.

I’m only where I am because of practical circumstances. That doesn’t mean I don’t like where I live and the people I am close to.

The intense mathematics training I did as a child, instigated by my father, means I will have a small head start on my technical course. I am glad of that. I am getting to grips with the material and it is Ok.

It’s not all cheer: the weather gets colder, depression kicks in.

Perhaps a product of my childhood, the uncertainty and the unhappiness. A chemical imbalance in my brain: a genetic inheritance of mental illness. Sehnsucht.

A combination of all of those, none of those.

Who knows, or even wants to know? I don’t actually want to lose my intense, depressive streak.

I was very unhappy as a child, and love being a woman: I have no idea what the future holds but would not exchange my life for anyone else’s.

The present moment: both a creation of the past, and something in itself.

Identity: influenced by ones upbringing, but by many other things. Me and my life now: definitely a product of my parents and family.

Just as I am a product of biology, the country I was born in, the social conditions and the laws and policies in the UK and beyond.

And so, so many things that are impossible to describe in words. 

People don’t just turn into each other. We are not governed by simple laws: it is impossible to predict and control everything. I am my father’s daughter, and my mother’s daughter, and something myself.

It is possible to find a dynamic equilibrium which includes all the grief and stress of the past, and also a way forward.

Where Paul Dacre has gone wrong, is to be stuck, play the script with his father, Peter Dacre over, and over, again. I never wanted to do anything but journalism, he has been quoted as saying.

Paul Dacre is obsessed with his own family.

His life, every moment he has, is 100% a creation of his father: he has not had the self-respect to even try to do something of his own.

Rather than build new emotional worlds, find new grounds, he has infantilised himself.

Paul Dacre was a child prodigy himself, developing newspapers as a schoolboy.

He claims from virtually the moment I was born, I wanted to be an editor.

I’m no midwife, but I know that isn’t true for newborns: presumably this refers to Paul taking an interest in the media from his father.

Nothing wrong with this. Unfortunately, along with the interest in the media, Paul Dacre also inherited a generous dose of resentment.

He is trapped in this resentful play, this dialogue, his father being humiliated by John Junor. As an adult, Paul Dacre plays both parts.

He is John Junor, shouting at his staff.

But then, he is Peter Dacre, cringing for approval.

Paul refuses to debate Max Mosley or Alistair Campbell in person.

Both are bemused by this: he chooses to aggressively engage them on the pages of his newspaper, or in speeches.

But I reckon I get it. Like his father, Paul instinctively physically defers to, is afraid of what he instinctively feels is a man of superior status.

John Junor is reincarnated.

Paul can be forceful in words, but he cannot change his physical reactions.

He feels guilty and resentful about this – just like his father felt, ashamed of his own weakness – so he gets his Daily Mail writers to demonise the men he cannot face.

Paul wants to get into the world of celebrities, the same pretty women who were in the gossip columns of the Sunday Express, taking up his fathers emotional space. Then he despises himself for doing so, claims he isn’t interested, and it’s just for the Readers.

He has a carefully constructed personality where he is a happy family man not interested in other women, celebrity women: but he needs them to exist.

He wants to think about women, access them, control them, resent his wife for not being them. The modern term: he has emotional affairs. Just like Peter Dacre.

It has been noted Paul aspires to Family Values in his newspaper.

The personal perspective, for Paul, is that Family Values were a dream. A dream he never experienced in real life. And he cannot move back in time to fix it.

What happened after all those Sunday lunchtimes of her husband’s self-inflicted gloom? Paul’s mother, Joan Dacre, had enough.

Paul Dacre’s parents marriage did not survive the distance. His mother and father were not one flesh, together until separated by death.

Timeless values he says about families with one father, one mother.

But his parents divorced: his father remarried. He’s advocating for something he doesn’t know about.

Seeing her husband demean himself in order to get access to the world of celebrities must have been hard for Joan Dacre. One can love a man who womanises, but not a man who shows no self-respect.

Paul Dacre himself: the product of one of those Broken Families he scorns in his newspaper.

He now wants to campaign for Family Values. But Paul Dacre isn’t just campaigning for Family Values. He wants to turn back time.

It’s far too personal for him. He wants to rewrite his own emotional history: he wants, somewhere, someone, to have the Perfect Family.

At the same time, he hates the image of the Perfect Family, which he feels guilty and shamed for not having had as a child. It’s all fairly messy.

If Paul Dacre could set up a physical space, put people into a room, bring their families in, ruin their social equilibrium, watch the mayhem, he would. The Daily Mail is the closest he can get.

I do understand the need to do something with that childhood energy.

Familiar with the Oresteia? Here is a summary, if not.

Father kills daughter (torn loyalties). Mother kills father and fathers lover. Son is exiled. Son comes home with his good mate. Son kills mother (more torn loyalties, but he has to avenge his father or be driven mad).

It ends when the goddess of wisdom, Athene intervenes. Everything turns into law, supported by friendship.

Something beyond the muddled, pain, shame, split loyalties and confusion arises.

Justice for the future. The cycle is broken.

Paul Dacre went straight into the media industry, working for the same newspaper as his father. He hasn’t thought it through.

He hasn’t said: how can I turn this into something better. He’s not processed or converted his childhood experiences or given himself time to do so: he’s just reacted defensively and resentfully.

He’s turned pain into more pain.

He attack and destroys families, encourages conflict. Then he feeds off the drama. The traditional family never was a reality for him: just a fetish, a dream.

Supportive, emotionally solid father in a solid profession? Timeless values? Not for Paul.

Paul would like to see the whole script of his childhood, played out again and again. He does not want to be alone in the way he feels: so he must get others to feel as he does. By force, if necessary.

His newspaper, the Daily Mail, is littered with this.

He likes to track down people’s fathers and project his own woes onto them.

by Sufiah Yusof 2014

This post is continued HERE