Of Fathers and Sons

London, February 2004

The house outside of London was large, blunt, and imposing—a perfect reflection of its owner. Sir Malcolm Redgrave strode up the snowy brick walk to the front door, hesitating for only a moment before he raised his gloved fist to knock on the solid English oak.

A mousy young woman in servant’s dress answered the knock, and with a small bow, Malcolm presented his card. "Please tell the master of the house that I’m here to see him."

The servant disappeared, and Malcolm waited patiently. At last he heard heavy steps behind the door. It was thrown open, and he stood face to face with Doctor Edward Westbrook.

This man was nothing like his son. Both were tall, but where Simon Westbrook was thin as a lath, Edward was heavyset and paunchy. Simon had thick brown hair, but Edward had very little, and the few wayward strands he did have were iron-grey. His face was broader and blander than Simon’s elegant sharp one, and was lined by years of frowning. Yet father and son did have one thing in common: their intense and spirited blue eyes.

"I have nothing to say to you, Mister Redgrave," he said coldly, in a hard, clipped voice. "I suggest you leave my property."

With that Westbrook moved to close the door—but Malcolm had placed his foot against the jamb, and in a rare physical effort, shouldered his way into the foyer. "You may have nothing to say to me, Doctor, but I have a great deal to say to you."

It took a moment for Westbrook to overcome his shock. "I’ll call the police," he said. Yet he continued to stand by the door, poised defensively and staring at Malcolm.

"You know, of course, why I’m here."

"Oh yes, I can imagine." Westbrook sneered. "Simon has made his choices, Mister Redgrave. He knew then that I disapproved, and he knows it now. He’s perfectly welcome to come home and start behaving like a man, but I will not go along with you and see him making a fool of himself."

Malcolm smiled sadly and shook his head. He glanced up at the very old and expensive painting that hung on the foyer wall, then back to Westbrook. "You obviously value art, sir. Well, I can tell you that your son is an artist—and one of the finest in his medium."

"Simon’s music was art. Even his painting. But this ice skating business is for schoolchildren." Westbrook folded his arms. "And anyone who thinks of it as art is quite confused."

"Your son overcame the illnesses of his childhood and grew strong enough to be an athlete. Now he can do things that few others can—even within the sport. Doesn’t that give you the least bit of pride?"

"What he can do and what he should do are two very different things. Simon would have had the best education, the best internship, the best position in my own office. Instead he threw it all away, to follow the delusions of grandeur your lot sold to him. It was you who stole his future, sir."

"Living someone else’s ideals is no future at all. Simon is doing what he loves, and I can assure you, there is no delusion to the ‘grandeur’." Malcolm smiled. "You don’t seem to realize, Doctor, that Simon’s career will very likely be remembered long after yours has been forgotten."

Westbrook’s face flushed with anger. "That new title of yours has made you very bold."

"On the contrary, I expected to have this conversation with you before I ever arrived in London. This is the most important week of Simon’s life—and I fully intend for you to be there to see it. He’s your son, Doctor, and if that ever meant anything to you, I dare you to come with me and see him for what he is."

The other man’s jaw worked in silence. He might have been restraining himself from stepping forward, or perhaps even taking a swing. Malcolm was utterly unaffected, and stood placidly as Westbrook reined in his emotions.

"I know what Simon is," Westbrook ground out at last. "He’s a failure."

"Not to me," Malcolm said quietly, and strode past Westbrook, on his way out. Before the door closed behind him, he heard the doctor’s voice one more time.

"I give him to you, Mister Redgrave… and welcome to him."

 

That night, as Simon Westbrook warmed up backstage, Malcolm went to him between the performances of his other students.

"I went to see your father today."

Simon froze in his stretching on the floor, and was still for a long moment, his eyes growing hard. At last he pushed himself to his feet and faced Malcolm. "I see, sir. Then there’s nothing more to say."

Lowering his eyes, Malcolm nodded slightly, not so much in agreement as in acquiescence. He had wanted to say more, but Simon clearly had no wish to hear it. That was nothing personal—not toward him, at any rate. But toward Doctor Westbrook…

Well, Malcolm was suddenly very glad he was not that man.

A young constable working security hurried up to Malcolm then. "There’s a gentleman asking for you, sir. Says you know him. The name’s Doctor Edward Westbrook."

Malcolm glanced at Simon, reading the answer in the young man’s fierce expression. Then he turned back to the constable with a small, hard smile.

"No… I’m afraid I don’t know him at all."

Looking slightly perplexed, the constable walked away, and Malcolm glanced back at Simon. His student was smiling; it was bitter, but there was satisfaction there. For once in his life, he was able to answer his father in the only way the man understood.

He took a step forward and placed a hand on Malcolm’s shoulder. "Thank you, sir."

Malcolm shook his head slightly, with a small shrug. "I thought you still had something to prove to him," he said, although he felt he already knew the answer—an answer confirmed by Simon’s quiet, confident reply.

"I just did."