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Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

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Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

4/5 (38 ratings)
299 pages
4 hours
Oct 7, 2014


“Equal parts memoir, whodunit, and manual for living . . . a beautifully written, honest look at the forces of blood and bone that make us who we are, and how we make ourselves.”  --Neil Gaiman

In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.

A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

Oct 7, 2014

About the author

Alan Cumming is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer, and director. He recently starred in an acclaimed one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway, and appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical Cabaret, a role he reprised in 2014. He hosts Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS and has appeared in numerous films, including Spy Kids, Titus, X2: X-Men United, The Anniversary Party, Any Day Now, and Eyes Wide Shut. He lives in New York and London.

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Not My Father's Son - Alan Cumming

Part One



You need a haircut, boy!"

My father had only glanced at me across the kitchen table as he spoke but I had already seen in his eyes the coming storm.

I tried to speak but the fear that now engulfed me made it hard to swallow, and all that came out was a little gasping sound that hurt my throat even more. And I knew speaking would only make things worse, make him despise me more, make him pounce sooner. That was the worst bit, the waiting. I never knew exactly when it would come, and that, I know, was his favorite part.

As usual we had eaten our evening meal in near silence until my father had spoken. Until recently my older brother, Tom, would have been seated where I was now, helping to deflect the gaze of impending rage that was now focused entirely upon me. But Tom had a job now. He left every morning in a shirt and tie and our father hated him for it. Tom was no longer in his thrall. Tom had escaped. I hadn’t been so lucky yet.

My mother tried to intervene. I’ll take him to the barber’s on Saturday morning, Ali, she said.

He’ll be working on Saturday. He’s not getting away with slouching off his work again. There’s too much of that going on in this house, do you hear me?

Yes, I managed.

But now I knew it was a lost cause. It wasn’t just a haircut, it was now my physical shortcomings as a laborer, my inability to perform the tasks he gave me every weekend and many evenings, tasks I was unable to perform because I was twelve, but mostly because he wanted me to fail at them so he could hit me.

You see, I understood my father. I had learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room. It has not been pleasant as an adult to realize that dealing with my father’s violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.

I can get one tomorrow at school lunchtime. My voice trailed off in that way I knew sounded too pleading, too weak, but I couldn’t help it.

Yes, do that, pet, my mum said, kindly.

I could sense the optimism in her tone and I loved her for it. But I knew it was false optimism, denial. This was going to end badly, and there was no way to prevent it.

Every night getting off the school bus, walking through the gates of the estate where we lived, past the sawmill yard where my father reigned, and towards our house was like a lottery. Would he be home yet? What mood would he be in? As soon as I entered the house and changed out of my school uniform and began my chores—bringing wood and coal in for the fire, starting the fire, setting the table, warming the plates, putting the potatoes on to boil—I felt a bit safer. You see, by then I was on his territory, under his command, I worked for him, and that seemed to calm my father, as though my utter servitude was necessary to his well-being. I still wasn’t completely safe of course—I was never safe—but those chores were so ingrained in me and I felt I did them well enough that even if he did inspect them I would pass muster, so I could breathe a little easier until we sat down to eat.

My father was the head forester of Panmure Estate, a country estate near Carnoustie, on the east coast of Scotland. The estate was vast, with fifty farms and thousands of acres of woodland covering over twenty-one square miles of land. We lived on what was known as the estate premises, the grounds of Panmure House, though by the time we lived there the big house was long gone. In 1955, as one of many such austerity measures forced upon the landed aristocracy, its treasures were dismantled and then explosives razed it to the ground. All that remained were the stables, where on chilly Saturday mornings during hunting season I’d report, banging my wellies together to keep the feeling in my toes, to work as a beater, hitting trees with a stick in a line of other country boys, scaring the birds up into the air so that drunk rich men could shoot at them.

Attached still to the stables was the building that had been the house’s chapel. Now it was used for the annual estate Christmas party and occasional dances or card game evenings for the workers. We lived in Nursery House, so called because it looked out on a tree nursery where seedlings were hatched and nurtured to replace the trees that were constantly felled and sent back to the sawmill that lay up the yard behind us. My father was in charge of the whole process, from the seeds all the way to the cut lumber and everything in between, as well as the general upkeep of the grounds.

It was all very feudal and a bit Downton Abbey, minus the abbey and fifty years later. I answered the door to men who referred to my father as The Maister. There were gamekeepers and big gates and sweeping drives and follies but no lord of the manor, as during the time we lived there the place was owned by, respectively, a family shipping company, a racehorse owner’s charitable trust, and then a huge insurance company.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was living through the end of an era of grand Scottish estates, as now, like Panmure, they have been mostly all dismantled and sold off. Looking back on it, it was a beautiful place to grow up, but at the time all I wanted was to get as far away as possible.

I had seen my father’s van parked by the tractor shed as I walked by. So he was home. But maybe he wasn’t actually in the house, maybe he was talking to one of his men in the sawmill or in one of the storehouses or sheds. It was the time of day when they were coming back from the woods and cleaning their tools before going home. I couldn’t see my dad, although I didn’t want to be seen to be looking for him in case he spotted me and he’d know that my fear was guiding my search. That would be his opening. Maybe there would be someone in the yard who’d come to see him, a farmer or even his boss, the estate factor (or manager), who would allow me to get by him without inspection.

I turned round the corner into the driveway of our house at the bottom of the sawmill yard, and I could see there was a light on in his office. My heart sank. He was sitting at his desk in the window and he looked up when he saw me. Immediately I straightened, tried to remember all the things he’d told me were wrong about me recently. I prayed my hair was combed the way he liked it, my school bag was hanging on my shoulder at the right angle, and my shoes were shiny enough. It probably took only ten seconds before I reached the front door and was out of his sight, but in that flash a myriad of anxieties about my flaws and failures had whirred across my mind.

He was on the phone, thankfully. He didn’t come out of his office even until after my mum came home from work, and I always felt a little lighter having her in the house. She finished making our tea while we chatted. Then we heard the noise of him approaching through the house towards us and we were quiet. We both knew it was not a good idea to speak until we had appraised him, and tonight apparently it was not a good idea to speak at all.

My father sat into his chair at the kitchen table and immediately my mother set down his plate of food in front of him. This is how it always happened. Any deviation, let alone any complaint about the food, could start him off. Without acknowledging her or me he lifted his cutlery and began to eat. He ate like an animal, not because he was messy or noisy, but because he tore at his food, with strength and stealth and efficiency. It was terrifying to watch.

My father was silent for a while after my mum spoke, and I hoped that my going to the barber’s during school lunch break the next day would appease him. All I could think of was getting to the end of this meal and upstairs to my homework, or better yet far into the woods with my dog to hide. But my mouth was so dry, and there was a lump of fear stuck at the top of my chest that made it hard to swallow. I had to get some water or I was going to choke, or worse, cry. I got up from the table and moved towards the sink. I picked up a glass off the draining board and began to fill it.

What the hell do you think you’re doing? he said, not quite shouting yet, but still too loud, as though he had been waiting to say it, eager to make the next move, and now here it was.

Eh? Did you hear me?

I need to drink some water, I gasped.

Put that glass down! Now he was shouting.

My mother said very quietly, Ali, leave him.

My father rose from his chair and everything went red. At the same time as he began shouting at me he grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and I was being dragged across the kitchen, through the living room, through the hallway, out through the porch and the front door and across the yard to the shed where we kept our bikes. He threw me up on top of a workbench. He was baying now, not just shouting. You couldn’t understand what he was saying but I know it had to do with my hair and my water drinking and how fucking useless and insolent and pathetic I was, but it wasn’t coherent. It was just pure violent rage, and it was directed at me.

There was a lone bare lightbulb hanging from the shed ceiling. I remember looking up at it as he scrambled in a drawer behind me. Soon my head was propelled forward by his hand, the other one wielding a rusty pair of clippers that he used on the sheep we had in the field in front of our house. They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my head with them, holding me down like an animal.

I was hysterical now, as hysterical as he was, but I knew he enjoyed hearing me scream and it would be over quicker if I was quiet and limp. But that was so hard. I was in pain and shock and I still hadn’t had a drink of water and I felt I was going to pass out with trying to catch my breath. All I could do was wait for the end. Eventually it was over. He pushed my head one way, then the other in order to inspect his work, then threw the clippers back in the drawer.

You get your hair cut properly! Do you hear me? he said, rage abating, coming down, spent.

Yes, I tried not to whimper.

He whacked me across the back of my head and was gone. The shed door banged, and I was left to climb down from the bench. I made sure to clean up the mess. I gathered in my hands the clumps of my hair that had fallen to the floor and took them to the trash can outside. I returned to the shed once more to make sure everything was back to normal, and then switched off that lone lightbulb and headed back into the house. I heard the sound of my dad’s van heading up the sawmill yard and I stopped for a moment, filled with shock and relief that he was gone.

In the bathroom I drank some water from the tap. Bits of hair fell into the sink as I drank and I could feel droplets of blood on my neck. Finally I stood up and stared at my reflection.

I looked like a concentration camp inmate, and I wanted to die. Really, in that moment I wanted to die. My mum tried to tidy up the mess with scissors, to make it look less uneven, but there were patches that actually had no hair left at all, that couldn’t be disguised. I would have to go to school looking like this. I cried all through the night. The next morning my eyes were so red and puffy they were almost closed, but I was glad because they detracted from my head. I told my teachers I had reached up to a high shelf and knocked over a jar of creosote (a wood preservative made from tar) and some had gone in my eyes. When asked about my hair, I said I had tried to cut it myself.


I have had more hairstyles than most men of my age have had hot dinners.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that part of the reason I have so enjoyed changing the color, length, and look of my follicles over the years is something to do with reclaiming the power my father took from me in this regard (as well as many others) as a child. My hair has been blond several times, it has been short and spiky, long and floppy, sleek, shaggy, and everything in between. I’ve even faced the clipper demons and shaved my own head more than once.

It took a while to get to this place, though. In my late teens, there were several occasions when I was in a hair salon and would suddenly feel nauseated, and twice I actually vomited, not realizing till many years (and quite a lot of therapy) later that my body was manifesting physically what I could not yet cope with emotionally. I clearly had some deeply suppressed and deeply painful coiffure memory. But after I had left home, and was free from my father’s grip, I began to make my hair a symbol of my own freedom. One time at drama school, in a particularly semiotic act of self-assertion, I actually agreed to my youthful locks being dyed purple by an overzealous hairdressing student and went back to the parental home for the weekend with my head held high and nothing, not a word, was said about it. (I did wear a purple sweater as well, in an attempt to divert all the attention, but still, it was ballsy, don’t you think?!)

I suppose what I am saying is . . . I am okay. I survived my father. We all did—my mother, my brother, and me—literally as well as figuratively. But as with all difficult things, it was a process. But more of that later.


I am standing on the stage of a huge marquee that houses the Cinema Against AIDS Gala in the gardens of the Hôtel du Cap, just outside Cannes. I am looking out at a sea of rich, tanned, chatty French people, all sipping champagne and gossiping to each other and ignoring me and smoking, smoking, smoking.

I should point out that I am not alone on this stage. I am flanked by Patti Smith and Marion Cotillard, and the three of us are just standing there, and absolutely nothing is happening. Luckily, nobody in the audience is paying any of us any attention at all, and it feels like we are trapped in celebrity aspic.

Suddenly the reverie is broken by a sheepish voice that turns out to be my own, saying into the microphone, Um, sorry about this delay, ladies and gentlemen, we’re, eh, just waiting for Mary J. Blige to return to the stage so we can auction off a duet with her and Patti.

Patti Smith’s head whipped round towards me so fast I actually felt a draft. Panic made her eyes seem even more otherworldly than I’d remembered when she’d passed me on her way to the stage earlier in the evening. Right now she was the spitting image of one of those girls in The Crucible, fresh from a hellish vision.

{Courtesy of Getty Images; photographer, Francois Durand.}

What? she spat. What would we even sing together? No one told me about this!

You may not know it but Patti Smith is prone to spitting. I first met her at a party in a New York City clothing store a couple of years earlier. She sang a few songs as cute young people in black milled around serving canapés and champagne to less cute older people in black. It wasn’t very rock and roll, but then Patti changed all that. In between two of her songs, she spat. Not an Oops I’ve got a little something stuck on my tongue kind of spit, but a great big throat-curdling gob of a spit. A loogie as they say in the Americas. And she spat on the carpet. Several times.

No mention was made of Patti’s spitting by anyone in the store, least of all me, when I was taken to meet her after the performance. As we were introduced I could see Patti sizing me up rather suspiciously with her Dickensian eyes.

You’re the mystery guy, aren’t you? she said, pupils widening in recognition.

What? I said, a little overwhelmed.

"You’re the guy who hosts Masterpiece on PBS, aren’t you?" she said, as though she herself were one of the TV detectives I did indeed introduce as Masterpiece Mystery host. I was just processing the fact that Patti Smith was an avid viewer of Miss Marple and Co. when she dealt me another body blow:

I’ve always wanted that job, she muttered wistfully.

I made a pact with myself right there and then never to tell the Masterpiece people this information, as they would surely bump me and make Patti’s wish come true.

Can you imagine Patti Smith coming out of the shadows in a black suit, spouting forth about Inspector Linley or some malfeasance on the Orient Express and ending each introduction with a resounding gob into a specially designed PBS spittoon? I can. It would be a lot more entertaining than that bloke in a suit with the funny accent they have on now.

Meanwhile, Marion had walked to the side of the stage and was shouting to anyone who would listen, Do something! Do something!!

I admired her Gallic sense of injustice, but I knew her cries would be in vain. These kinds of events, though seemingly glamorous and sophisticated from the outside, are often organized with the finesse of a kindergarten nativity play, and one whose teachers are all lapsed members of Narcotics Anonymous.

Patti and I were left center stage, both numb. She was presumably running through the list of songs she and Mary J. Blige might both know, which can’t have taken long.

I was thinking back to earlier in the evening. I had started the show with a song (That’s Life—how sadly apposite it now seemed) and a monologue in which I was purporting to channel the spirit of Sharon Stone, the event’s usual host and whose shoes I was filling, as it were. Alas, the crowd was underwhelmed. The only time the drone of chat slightly faltered was when I briefly made them think Sharon was watching the proceedings via a webcam from the film set that forbade her presence. So make sure you bid high, I had warned. Cos that bitch will cut you.

A small crowd had gathered at the side of the stage, some offering advice, others offering their services to fill the embarrassing gap. Suddenly Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul and the man whose genius idea it had been to auction off the duet between Patti and Mary J. in the first place, came rushing in from a side door and blurted out that he had just been ripped a new one by Ms. Blige. A visible and voluble tremor rippled throughout the gaggle of glitterati. Harvey does not get dressed down by anyone, ever, let alone a ferocious R & B legend who was on her way home when she heard her name being announced for a duet she also knew nothing about. Harvey had that detached air of someone who had just been mugged. I had a sudden thought that witnessing his encounter with Mary J. would have made a much better auction item than a duet between the two ladies, but I used my inside voice and

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What people think about Not My Father's Son

38 ratings / 45 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    Alan Cumming has a lovely voice and his memoir of a time he was digging into his past was interesting and only sometimes a little too drawn out.
  • (4/5)
    I'm a huge fan of Alan Cumming. Everything I've seen of him, he has appeared to have a big heart and would be a kind person. I think it would be fun to have a beer or pint with him. This book really hurt my heart. It saddened me that Alan went through the abuse he did with his father. No child should have to go through what he and his brother went through. To a point the abuse broke Alan yet he got through it and is stronger for getting through it. This is a wonderful book to read to understand what it's like to have an abusive father.

    I listened to the audio book and I'm so glad I did because Alan read it himself. I loved having him in the car with me.
  • (5/5)
    In this heartfelt memoir, actor Alan Cumming traces two distinct storylines in alternating chapters. The first is in the book's present (of 2010) when Cumming agrees to go on a reality TV show tracing a celebrity's genetic roots with the hopes of learning about the grandfather who died under mysterious conditions long before Cumming was born. The second is in Cumming's past and deals with the emotional and physical abuse he suffered at his father's hand throughout his childhood and adolescence. The past stories are heartbreaking, although it is encouraging to hear them interspersed with the present stories so the reader learns how Cumming has grown into a resilient and functioning adult despite his abusive upbringing. (It is also lovely to hear the strong relationships he has with other family members like his mother and brother, which seem to constantly buoy him in times of trouble.) The now stories are written with perhaps just a smidge too much suspense, always ending a chapter with a bit of a cliffhanger as though this is a thriller novel trying to constantly suck the reader back in, even though this story is compelling enough that you don't really need the added pull. I highly recommend listening the audiobook version, which is read by the author. Cumming subtly makes the distinction between "then" and "now" sections by using a slightly thicker Scottish accent to describe his childhood days on an estate in Scotland. He is also a highly emotional reader throughout the book, especially when relating times when he was distressed or elated. All in all, this was a quick read that was interesting and, despite all its sadness, ultimately hopeful.
  • (4/5)
    This is one I strongly recommend on audible. Hearing the passion, the heartbreak, struggle, loss, still raw emotions expressed in Alan Cumming's native Scottish brogue adds an element to this experience that is lost if reading in print. It is still a strong story, but I think it's full impact comes through in his own voice. This is not an easy listen and left me feeling sad and angry at times. I did however 'binge listen' which is rare for me. The discomfort in the emotions conveyed is outweighed by the truth of his message, the importance of saying it out loud, and the honestly in which Cumming expresses it. If you think you know who Alan Cumming is, or what this is about from reading the 'flap' think again. Not to be missed.
  • (5/5)
    There was never any question about what format I would get for this book. It had to be the audio version, not only because my wife is from the UK and living in the states I miss the accents I get to hear when we visit my in-laws, but because if you are going to read about the life of Allan Cumming, you'd better do it while listening to him tell it himself. I mean the man has such talent, how can he not read his own writing in just the perfect way to keep you hanging on every event? I absolutely loved listening to him tell his own story. My gosh, it was touching, and not just because I enjoy his work as an actor. There are many things in here regarding family and relationships that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to in one way or another, and to me none of it came off as, “listen to my sad story.” This is the story of a life, a family, and moving through time in a way that brings you strength and hope.Now this IS Allan Cumming, so there is a lot of honesty and open talk about some subjects that might make the bashful blush, but everything is told here for a reason and that was a large part of the appeal to me. It wasn't just a compilation of events in a life, it was a real look at what makes family and what makes a person. I didn't want this book to end. I will definitely listen to it again.
  • (5/5)
    This book could have been called "Daddy Dearest" as Cumming's father was a real piece of work. I actually own the episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" where Alan Cumming goes on his journey to discover what happened to his grandfather. I'm going to have to re-watch that episode. In the middle of all this Alex Cumming drops the bombshell that his wife had an affair and Alan was the result of it and he didn't like it when Alan and his brother decided to take DNA tests to verify their father's story before talking to their mother about it. Even when their father died his will was made out in such that his sons weren't named in it but would have to claim the money due them. It's a wonder that Alan and his brother survived their father's physical and verbal abuse but their violent childhood left with PTSD. He also gives you a behind the scenes look at how "Who Do You Think You Are?" is filmed which as a genealogist I found interesting
  • (4/5)
    Actor Alan Cumming was abused by his father while growing up. As an adult, there is a mystery surrounding his maternal grandfather that he and his mother are just learning about, as well. His memoir tells about both, going back and forth in time. I actually haven’t seen him in very many movies (or tv), but the most memorable for me was “Circle of Friends” as “creepy” Sean Walsh, so anytime I’ve heard his name in the past or have seen him, my first thought is always oh, it’s “creepy Sean Walsh”! Which is unfortunate. I thought this memoir was very well done, though. I think (at least based on the book), I might actually like “creepy Sean Walsh” (or, at least, the actor who played him)! He manages to insert some humour into his memoir, as well, despite the horrible things he went through as a child. I found his own story more interesting than his grandfather’s. I listened to the audio, which he narrated himself, and really enjoyed it. He has a beautiful voice and I love the Scottish accent!
  • (4/5)
    I've always enjoyed Alan Cumming's performances, and forgive him for not mentioning Spice World in this memoir.

    Cumming's father was an abusive man, but eventually the family splits up. Many years later Cumming was on the show Who Do You Think You Are? in which historians reveal bits about his ancestors he never knew. Simultaneously with the filming of that show, Cumming's father gets in touch and reveals bits about the more immediate past that no one else knew.

    It's fascinating how the bits fit together and inform Cumming's sense of who he is. There's also some asides about acting as a career, and friends and family, but it's mostly about identity. A bit harrowing, really.

    Library copy
  • (4/5)
    I needed something lighter to read so I thought an autobiography of a Scottish movie actor would be appropriate. Alas, Alan Cumming's childhood was unhappy as he was continually physically and emotionally abused by his father. His father was a serial philanderer in a very unhappy marriage. The story goes back and forth from his childhood to his appearance on the British version of "Who do you think you are". A lot of information about his grandfather is uncovered during the program. Tom Darling, his pmaternal grandfather was a decorated war hero who abandoned his family. We discover that the reason was that his wife had a child outside of their marriage. Cummin suspects that the same may have happened with his mother, causing the hatred of his father. Alan and his brother undergo DNA testing and determine that they share the same father. His father had made assumptions about a friendship his wife had with a friend's husband.
  • (5/5)
    Powerful autobiography of Scottish actor Alan Cumming, who suffered terrible abuse from his father, but was only really able to come to terms with it after taking part in the BBC's "Who do you think you are". A moving story which intercuts his childhood experiences with the gradual revelations during the making of the BBC documentary.
  • (5/5)
    This is one of the best memoirs I have read. Not just a list of dates and events but the real emotions going on.
  • (3/5)
    Actor Alan Cumming was brutally beaten and berated as a child by the person most responsible for his safety and upbringing, his father. Interwoven with the tale of his abuse is the story of his grandfather, Tommy Darling who just didn't come home one day. WWII hero, Tommy left his daughter and 3 sons to live and die in Malay without explanation. When a reality TV show wants to explore Tommy Darling, Alan jumps on board to find out what really did happen to his grandfather. The two story entwine between the then and the now to tell the tale of Cumming's abuse and salvation.
  • (4/5)
    Alan Cumming was asked to appear on the celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are in 2010. At that point, he assumed the focus of the show would be on a family mystery on his mother's side. Her father, Tommy Darling, had served in World War Two but never returned to the UK. He went off into the far east, and died in a shooting accident. Why didn't he ever come home?

    But Alan Cumming had, to put it very mildly indeed, issues with his own father, Alex Cumming. He was verbally and physically abusive to Alan and his older brother Tom for years, and Alan hadn't, at the time he was approached for Who Do You Think You Are, spoken to him for about two decades.

    Then shortly before filming started, Alex Cumming called Alan, to give him some shocking news, news he said he didn't want Alan to find out via the tv show.

    Alan Cumming tells his story alternating among his childhood, the 2010 events surrounding the tv show, and his "present" as of 2014. It is in many ways a harrowing story, and yet in the telling of it Cumming is by turns insightful, moving, and funny. The weeks of the filming for the program become a wild ride, with revelations about his mother, his father, and the amazing true story about his grandfather, Tommy Darling.

    Every family has secrets. Family secrets when revealed can bring both joy and heartbreak. Abuse in childhood causes terrible trauma, and that trauma can go underground for many years, resurfacing in later life to cause distress and psychological problems until it's addressed and dealt with. Cumming's story of his and his family's struggle with their past, and their recovery of Tommy Darling's story, is moving, engaging, and revealing.


    I bought this audiobook.
  • (5/5)
    This isn't another one of those fluffy celebrity books. Not My Father's Son is Alan Cumming talking about his relationship with his father, a controlling and abusive man. When Alan was an adult, his father even told him that he was the product of an affair and not his son at all.

    Interspersed are stories about the rest of his family, his acting career, and general musings on life. There is so much grace and perspective in this book, and it's far better than I'm making it sound. I've never wanted to hug someone more after reading their book.
  • (5/5)
    An amazing and intimate look at incredibly talented man. The openness that Cumming uses to speak about his traumatic childhood and emotional roller coaster of his experience finding out who his grandfather was on a reality television show was inspiring.
  • (4/5)
    Engaging, warm, funny, terrifying, generous. Possibly a trigger for people who suffer from childhood trauma.

    Families are complicated and often dark places for children to try to make their way.
  • (4/5)
    Wow, I had no idea Alan Cumming was abused as a child, let alone so severely. I can’t imagine how hard it was for him to put this all out there for the public to read; at one point, he explains that he tries to live his life as openly as possible, and he’s not kidding.I was expecting your standard “my life up ‘til now” memoir, which is not what I got. The book specifically focuses on Cumming’s father, and family history on his mother’s side. He starred in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, discovering some unfortunate things about his grandfather on his mother’s side; while shooting the episode, he explains, he was also going through drama with his estranged father. I actually just watched this episode -- like, paused it halfway through, went to bed, went to work, then borrowed the audiobook -- and completely forgot about it.Recommendation: Fans of Alan Cumming, of course. Although I can’t speak from experience, I think it would be a validating and uplifting read for survivors of abusive homes. If you’re just interested in family history (in the historical sense), you’re better off just watching the Who Do You Think You Are? episode.Feels: Both devastating and uplifting. Cumming is surprisingly frank about everything, and it somehow does not feel uncomfortable.
  • (4/5)
    I listened to this in 2 days! I really enjoyed Alan Cumming's story of finding out about his family history, which turned out to be fairly dramatic. I liked him so much on "The Good Wife" and his hosting of "Masterpiece Mystery" on PBS, so it was fun hearing him read this audio book with his Scottish brogue :)
  • (4/5)
    Audiobook read by the author.In general I am not a big fan of celebrity memoirs, but Cumming’s memoir of a childhood living with an abusive father, and how he came to terms with the abuse, faced his past and overcame it is well worth reading. The key event was his agreement to participate in a TV show that searches the celebrity’s genealogic past. He knew there might be some family secrets unearthed – the kind of stuff reality television lives for – so he decided to do some searching on his own in advance. The memoir moves back and forth between events in 2010 and the past, as he discovered one tidbit after another, had conversations with his older brother and his mother, he also remembered events from his childhood. Cumming narrates the audio book himself, which is a treat for the listener. I simply cannot imagine anyone else doing it justice. And I just love his Scottish brogue!
  • (5/5)
    In “Not My Father’s Son” actor Alan Cumming tells two stories; one about his father and one about his maternal grandfather. Cumming grew up in the Scottish highlands of Panmure where he was terrorized by his unpredictable and violent father. There's a horrific passage about his father holding him down and shaving his head with a rusty old razor, like he was an animal being shorn. In spite of his mother's love and support, Cumming writes, “there is not one memory from our childhoods that is not clouded by fear of humiliation or pain.” After appearing in Hamlet, Cumming found himself in a state of depression over his own inability to confront his father about their relationship. The stories he tells about his violet and unstable father are just heartbreaking. The second story stems from his appearance on “Who Do You Think You Are?” where he goes on a search for what happened to his maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, who was accidentally killed in Malaya five years after World War 2.The actor excels at describing his relationship with his father in a raw edged and painful way. While it's very sad, I believe it could also give hope to those who struggle with overcoming a difficult childhood. This story is testament to people everywhere that your past may shape you, but it certainly doesn't have to define you.
  • (4/5)
    Cumming has done a great job of combining a narrative about his life today and how the tragedies of his childhood and family secrets have influenced who he is today. I highly recommend this book.
  • (3/5)
    Actor has talent as writer as well. In addition, funny and sometimes brutally honest. A survivor.
  • (4/5)
    This writer has become very successful actor in spite of a childhood with a despicable cruel father. When the father is dying he tell him that he is not his biological father. This must have come as a relief. Who would want to be related to such a man.
  • (4/5)
    This book made me love Alan Cumming even more than I already did. It's a beautifully-written memoir, rich with emotion. Not a sordid tell-all, but an exploration of family secrets, love, and forgiveness, this is the kind of memoir that I would like to see more of.
  • (5/5)
    I truly enjoyed reading this memoir and learning more of Mr. Cummings life. He is someone I have enjoyed watching in movies and television.

    There were many poignant moments in his story:

    pg 32 - "I'd said this many times before. It was true, but it is also my way of moving the conversation away from "Alan's pain" and into a more sanguine and healthy admittance that sometimes people do you a favor when they drop out of your life."

    When he learns more about his grandfather and how he died in a filming of Who Do You Think You Are?

    Another moment is when his brother Tom and he confront their father over the abuse they suffered both physical and mental. Knowing that the thing that saved them both was having each other then and now.

    Well worth the read for anyone who enjoys a good memoir.
  • (5/5)
    This was a wonderful memoir, framed around the time Cumming was filming the UK version of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' He goes back and forth in time, recounting the abuse - both mental and physical - he suffered at the hands of his father, and the contemporary story of trying to discover the truth about his maternal grandfather and other family secrets. Cummings' intelligence and wit comes through clearly, as does the pain and alienation brought on by the abuse. It's a very well-done mix of "then" and "now," but anyone looking for a juicy celebrity memoir will be disappointed. He only mentions some details of his career in passing. The focus here is on the damage that people can suffer, often in silence, and the redemption to be found in speaking up and speaking out.
  • (4/5)
    Alan Cumming was scheduled to tape an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, a British television show in which celebrities delve into their family trees for interesting stories. In Cumming's case, the show was to focus on his maternal grandfather, who his mother had last seen when she was six and who had died under mysterious circumstances while serving as a policeman in Malaysia. Just before the filming began, however, his brother gave him some startling news; his father was claiming that Cumming was not his son. This is the story of the emotionally difficult time, when Cumming had to talk to the abusive father he had very little contact with, take a DNA test and deal with all the ramifications of this sudden news, all while filming the story of his grandfather. Cumming also goes back to his childhood to describe his difficult childhood, where the entire family was held hostage to his father's temper and how he finally came to terms with it all. This should be another "misery memoir," but Cumming is too optimistic and upbeat for that, so that the book never bogs down into anything approaching self-pity. Instead, it's an honest look at both his own upbringing and the life of his grandfather.
  • (3/5)
    I apparently didn't like NOT MY FATHER'S SON A MEMOIR BY ALAN CUMMING as much as many. Yes Alan had a terrible abusive youth at the hand of an evil, mean, angry father. It is a miracle that Alan survived and seems to be in good emotional condition. His was a hard life. As he became older he came to understand that he was not his father's son. And upon further and more serous research, he and his brother did their DNA, he got the disturbing news that he was in fact his father's son. His father made up the story that he was the son of someone his mother had an affair with, none of which turned out to be true. It seems like a lot of book for him to vent his spleen and to find out that he is indeed the son of the evil man. Finally to make life more compressible he decides he is not my father's son. I guess it made him able to live better with the facts. I thought the book was only okay. It was Alan working out his complicated feelings regarding years of being abused and solving who is his father. I did finish the book but I don't think you need to read the book unless you have some special interest in Alan Cumming who I saw recently in CABARET and I didn't like him nor the lead Sallie Bowles.
  • (3/5)
    I read this in one day so it must not have been that bad, but I don't think I'll remember much about it. It tells the story of coming to grips with family revelations and reconciling them with memories of childhood abuse
  • (4/5)
    This is a memoir of childhood abuse. It is also a memoir of the discovery, catalyzed by Alan's planned appearance on the British television show, "Who Do You Think You Are?", of tremendous family secrets. It was narrated by the man himself and I believe this added significantly to my enjoyment as he was naturally able to express important nuances of emotion as he tells the story of exploring heartrending questions of his own paternity. As this journey of discovery is unfolding, Alan also learns through the television show's research about his grandfather, Tommy Darling, who died somewhat mysteriously while working for the police force in Malaya (now Malaysia) long before Alan was born. At times funny, at times painful, and almost always poignant, Alan shares these parallel aspects of his life experience and his family history without bitterness or rancor. His deep love for his brother, Tom, and his mother, Mary Darling, provides the foil for his raw rage at his father. He is only occasionally self-promotional; when he is, it is with an edge of cynicism as well as gratitude for his own ability to turn his terrorized childhood into a successful career and a happy adulthood. This memoir was a delight to listen to and I will now consider memoirs as a genre perhaps well-suited to the audio format.