In his new memoir, British playwright and author Michael Frayn writes of his early years - he was born in 1933 - and growing up in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. At the center of his story was his father, Thomas Frayn. Tom Frayn was an "ordinary" man - school-leaver at age 14 who worked his way into the British middle class by selling asbestos products. Along the way, he acquired a wife and a son and a daughter. He provided for his family and moved up a step in social class, leaving the lower-class of his family-of-birth. And he provided guidance and love and support for his children.
How often are "ordinary" men featured in literature, either fiction and non-fiction? Not often; the emphasis is usually placed on the "extraordinary" among us. Those who perform great deeds in battle, in the market place, on the playing fields, or in the classroom. But the men we see on the streets, going to and from work, are often the true "heroes". They're the ones who form a family group and help support it. They're the unsung ones who nurture the next generation. They may not be overt in their declarations of love but they declare their caring in the things they do.
Tom Frayn lost his wife to a heart attack soon after the end of WW2. Having survived the war - including an almost direct hit by a "doodlebug" - Vi Frayn died suddenly in November, 1945. Tom took over the raising of the two children, helped by his mother-in-law, and then by his second wife, who turned out to be manic-depressive. Throughout it all, Tom Frayn went to work in his much-loved car, selling asbestos to support his family. Added into his responsibilities was the fact that Tom Frayn had inherited a familial deafness, which worsened as he grew older.
This is not a story of the "quiet desperation" of an ordinary man. Nowhere in Michael Frayn's excellent writing did I get the feeling that Tom Frayn ever felt sorry for himself and his circumstances. No, he just accepted and shouldered on, before his death from cancer at the age of 69.
Michael Frayn has written a lovely, sentimental but not maudlin, picture of Tom Frayn, that extraordinary, "ordinary" man.