‘we were never a family to pin our feelings on our sleeve but I look back to my dad with affection’ (p.6)…
Home and family life is a prominent theme within my author’s memoir. Leslie John Robinson enthusiastically describes the lives of his loved ones before he came into the world. This suggests that he believes that the experiences of his parents and grandparents shaped his life in many ways including his attitudes towards work and the way in which he raises his children alongside his wife, Hazel.
Beginning with his grandfather, Leslie notes how ‘at home his word was law; some might have called him a martinet but by Victorian standards he was a caring father’ (p.1). During Leslie’s childhood and earlier, it was unusual for a man to be hands- on inside the home. This was seen as a woman’s space and responsibility, however, the male role models in my authors life seemed to defy that stereotype. Leslie’s grandfather worked as a bricksetter’s labourer and he remembers that ‘to become a tradesman was the goal of every working lad with a spark of ambition. Parents would use what influence they had to get their boy an apprenticeship’ (p.2). Therefore, it can be established that from an early age, the men in Leslie’s family were taught to work hard in order to provide for their families, perhaps inspiring his climb up the career ladder later on in the memoir. These kinds of traditions were passed down through generations, aiding the understanding of class continuation through families. In Leslie John Robinson’s life, it is clear he was influenced by the hands on co-parenting and the hard working lifestyle of his male predecessors. He appears to enjoy living a working- class lifestyle.
Leslie John Robinson recalls, ‘life for me as a child was good’ (p.34) anointing the first half of the memoir with precious memories of his upbringing. His mother, ‘a blacksmith’s daughter from Birkenhead’ (p.9) also came from a deprived background. Significantly, Leslie recalls understanding that his mother was ‘born in the same room where twenty-four years later she was to give birth’ (p.9) to him. The knowledge Leslie has of these events that happened before he was born shows a touch of affection in the memoir as his excitable tone implies he enjoyed having these stories passed down to him to understand the family context. The author is aware that his mother ‘left school at the age of fourteen’ in order to ‘help with the running of the house’ (p.15). Leslie goes on to remember his father with affection. He notes ‘dad took hold of my hands and gently helped me to my feet’. It was unusual to have such an involved father at this time as this was not seen as the normal role for men. This love clearly impacted his life as he reveals ‘I was to enjoy the same experience with my own children’ (p.22). Although money was scarce and ‘clothes and shoes were handed down in the family’ (p.34), the foundations of Leslie’s happy childhood and healthy marriage were his family.
In Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865- 1914 (2015), Julie- Marie Strange explains the discourses around the role of the father in working- class families and how this shapes the family dynamic. It is explained that during the time of Leslie’s upbringing ‘home represented the mechanical- intrinsic dynamic of men’s relations with children: fathers’ absence from home in work indicated their fulfilment of financial obligations’ (Strange, 2015, p.84). From this perspective ‘domestic comfort symbolised a “good” man’s respectability’ (p.84) meaning that during this time, being a family man meant working hard to provide for your family, not by spending quality time with them in the domestic space. Leslie John Robinson’s memoir challenges this outlook as he discusses the working lives of his male relatives, but relates more fondly to the memories he shares when spending time at home with his male role models. His family defies this dynamic as he also goes on to stress the importance of sharing these loving memories with his own children, whilst still working to provide for them.
As the memoir leads into Leslie’s adult life, he begins to talk less about the themes of home and family and more about his work life. However, he recalls his marriage to his committed wife Hazel with joy. He places significance on being made to feel like ‘a parasite’ (p.149) by nurses looking after their daughter Jane who was suffering from tuberculosis for wanting to play a hands- on part in her upbringing, which is what makes this memoir a familiar chant for all working- class fathers who enjoy to take on more than the role of the bread- winner. He describes feeling ‘very lucky’ (p.231) for having such a supportive wife and family, which is perhaps why he dedicates this memoir to them.
- ‘Leslie John Robinson’ in John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945, 3 vols. (Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989): 2:671.
- Robinson, Leslie John. ‘One Step at a Time’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection. 2:671.
- Strange, Julie- Marie. Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865- 1914. Cambridge University Press. United Kingdom: 2015. Web. Accessed 10/03.2019.