Inspiring Stories

Tom Scott.

Family are often strangers with exactly the same DNA.

January 23, 2019 / Yana Papaya / 1 comments

Words and story by Yana Papaya.

Edited by Maryana Kirakovskaya.

Photo by Katherine Brook.

Politics is an interesting world, don’t you think?

People might not speak the same language but twisting the finger in a temple and saying “Trump” can lay down a solid foundation between two strangers at the airport. Politics can bring lovers, friends, generations, cities, and countries together or split them apart. It leaves no one indifferent, keeps everyone entertained and leaves some in absolute hopelessness, while others feel even more motivated to make a positive social change.

Nevertheless I am more interested in learning about the politics in relationships, especially in the family as everything starts with the family. It’s hard to believe but Trump, Putin and Hitler used to be children long time ago. Who knows what sort of childhood they had? Were they unconditionally loved or did they have to get A+ score to be loved for a day? Were they lonely, fearful children? Or were they happy loving children? I highly doubt that. Their families and upbringing partly made them who they are today.

Family politics is a very interesting subject. The union has its own structure, roles, dynamics and if you wish the constitution that represents a set of rules, good and bad types of behaviour and other regulations. Each family has its leader – a president, a queen or a king. Various departments of Health, Arts & Culture, Sports, Finances help to outsource, regulate and distribute required resources between the parties and help to fulfil the certain long-term ambitions and dreams. There is a place for clerks, bureaucracy, corruption, manipulative strategic games and some comedies and dramas that positively affect the overall rating of the government aka social status. Family politics can get as complex as the political game on the world stage. However, the consequences are more dramatic as they have a direct and long-term impact on its members.

The hero of today’s story, Tom Scott, is a legendary New Zealander, award-winning satirical cartoonist and playwright who is well familiar with both worlds of politics. Accomplishing an extremely successful career in political journalism, he is now passionate about telling family stories like never before. He revisited childhood memories, learnt about the family dynamics, got into the dusty corners of his soul to inhale the stuff he dealt with as a child and exhale a true piece of gold that came in a form of stage plays – The Daylight Atheist – a one-man piece about his Da, and Joan – a two-women play about his Ma.

It felt like before getting personal, Tom had to resolve a political quest and “save the world” by drawing social attention to the serious issues – climate change, human rights, the Vietnam war, appalling political decisions, racism, sexism and etc, for which he was highly acknowledged. He worked as a cartoonist for the New Zealand Listener magazine, Auckland Star, and then for the Evening Post newspaper and its successor the Dominion Post. He won numerous awards, including the Qantas Awards for New Zealand Cartoonist of the Year (five times), Columnist of the Year, and Political Columnist of the Year (three times). Over the years Tom got introduced to various political leaders, even did a couple of drawings for Nelson Mandela, developed friendships and went on a few adventures with another kiwi legend, Edmund Hillary (the first person who reached the summit of Everest). Eventually Tom became occupied raising his own family and trying to be a good parent. And it was that time which pushed him to get less political and more personal. In 2002 Tom Scott wrote his play The Daylight Atheist about Danny Moffat, a character based on his real-life father Tom Scott Sr., a man who was equally charismatic, funny and cruel. Later he started working on the play Joan dedicated to his mother, as “she was worth a play too.”

Please meet and greet a true gentleman, an intellectual with a witty mind, great sense of humour and generous personality – Tom Scott, who in his 70s is a wise man with a soul of an inquisitive child who awaits a new adventure. One of his latest creations is deeply rooted in family and comes from his traumatic childhood. He opens and pours his heart out while working on the play, but spices up lines with the specific humour that Tom Scott is famous and loved for. So the memories about his parents are presented through an unforgettable bittersweet lens. And that’s probably what life is about. You can’t appreciate the sweetness without tasting something sour beforehand. To be able to see the positivity in dramatic experiences, you must not lose hope, have a certain talent and big heart that helps you to let go, forgive and accept the past. Then you may soak in the funny moments and preserve them in the form of a stage play.

Welcome a new story featuring Tom Scott. The story is full of of self-irony, self-discoveries, wisdom where the hardest truth can be life-changing. The journey of Tom Scott might even encourage you to change the perspective on the worst life event or family drama you’ve been entangled in for years.

If you are in Auckland, don’t miss a chance to see both plays.  This season is unique as The Daylight Atheist and Joan are being performed together in repertoire (alternating performances within the same season) for the very first time 7-23 February at the ASB TheatreClick here to see the show details and times.


Tom Scott about The Daylight Atheist, Joan, Ma, Da and his family

Family are often strangers with exactly the same DNA. You don’t need to have the same DNA to feel connected to other people, you feel connected or disconnected to people for other reasons.

After I wrote the play about our family dynamics, strangers were coming up to me on the street and asking me how I could write such a painful experience and make it so funny? And the answer was that it was funny indeed and all I wrote was the truth. One woman came to me and said “I had an abortion when I was 17”. And another person came over and said that “my mother was a schizophrenic and I was embarrassed by her all the time”. And I realised for what I wrote was cathartic for other people as they had to sit in the theatre and share the common experience. Similar to what Tolstoy said in his novel Anna Karenina : “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Daylight Atheist and Joan were the most rewarding piece of work I’ve ever done. I didn’t cry when I was writing, I just remembered all funny lines that my father used to say. He was a very funny man, but very disappointed in life, and one who could find the joy in alcohol. I remember one situation when we were going to school on the bus and my mum said that my father got into a serious accident. I started to cry. I didn’t know my mum was exaggerating the situation a lot. When we sat down at the dinner table my sister Sue told the story to my father: “You know what happened today daddy? Mum said that you got into a very serious accident. And Tom was the only one who cried. And you don’t even like him.” And it was true, he didn’t like me. I could see a lot of guilt in my dad’s eyes who said: “Someone fetch the weeping bowl for Egghead!” I left the table in tears, went into the bedroom. As I was lying in bed I thought: “Shit, it was a perfect line – The Weeping Bowl”. That kind of thinking was my only salvation.

My dad used to say there is no such thing as a bad parent, there are only bad children. Everyone laughed and paid attention. My dad was a character. He loved pubs and loved to entertain the crowd, he was funny and smart, kind and generous in public.

The hardest thing for every man to do is to realise he was wrong and abandon that point of view that he carefully built brick by brick over many many years.

What men do is they keep their feelings to themselves that grows in a little tiny ball that becomes tumour. Kiwi men are so bad at expressing their feelings, but I think we are getting better. I look at my children and think, Gosh, they are fantastic parents.

Mum never told us she loved us, not even once. I tellmy kids I love them. They say: “Thanks, dad!” Family is the most important thing in life.

I wrote the play Joan because I knew my mum was worth a play. Mum was often funny, without meaning to be. But sometimes she was deliberately playing the Irish card. She was such a theatrical person:

Sue (my sister) was bringing mum a cup of coffee one time.
Mum: No, no, not another step! Don’t come any closer!
Sue: What’s wrong?
Mum: No, no, no (screaming), I don’t want you to catch it.
Sue: Mum, what’s wrong?
Mum: Stop, stop, I don’t want you to catch it. Stop stop!
Sue: What’s wrong mum?
Mum:…Ah.. am Depressed!

And that was herway of drawing attention, she often made herself the centre of attention all the time by being inappropriate, demanding or by being overly dramatic. .

At the dinner table my mum would fart very loudly, it could be a shocking fart and then she goes: “Did you hear that, kids? Did you hear that? (pause…) I am not a well woman.” My dad would reply: “See a doctor for shit sake, see a doctor then.” And mum came up with this great line: “I don’t want to see the doctor at the moment, I will see the doctor when I am feeling better.”

My mum was constantly comparing herself, her looks with other people, her circumstances with other people, she was in constant comparison. Even one year before she died she wanted to get her hair done, her teeth done, other bits and pieces done, she wanted to become a whole new woman before she dies.

That cliche about fathers and daughters, mothers and sons is true. Sons go: “Dad, do you have a hundred dollars?” I go: “Nope.” Daughters go: “Dad, look your hair is growing back. Did you lose some weight? You look good…Do you have a hundred dollars?” I go: “Will $100 be enough? Take my credit card if you need to…”

Tom Scott on his place in the cartoonist world

The Vietnam War was appalling and unfair. It affected me a lot. I started doing anti-war cartoons at school and I didn’t get too much support from teachers. Only at the university I felt that I could freely express myself, I was developing my voice. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that your opinion actually mattered and you could say something about big things.

New Zealand was always at the forefront of the planet. In early 80s we marched for stopping the Vietnam War and I was quite proud of the movement that i joined at Massey University. Then we went nuclear-free. Americans were surprised, they were talking about us – that country at the bottom of the world decided to go nuclear-free, what’s wrong with them? With the thriving time of the internet, getting lost in information and people living in silos, I don’t know if that would happen again. You can find on the internet the doco where the mad scientist says that the climate change is bullshit. You can find on the internet anything that you want to hear and that would prove your (silly) point of view, so you don’t need to know the truth.

When I grew up in New Zealand everyone watched the six o’clock news, so when you go to school the next day everyone saw exactly the same thing and talked about the same thing. It was easy to reach people. If you had just one channel now and all the shows were just the documentaries about climate change, all New Zealanders will be much more aware of that problem.

Tom Scott on age, travel, creativity, dreams and life goals

I did an internet survey the other day to see what my true inner age was and I came out as youthful. I like the Tibetan saying: today I am a day older so is the mountain range. I don’t know what it means but I find it strangely comforting. So I feel like I have lots of things to do.

There is a line of Bob Dylan’s that I absolutely love. It goes “he is not busy being born is busy dying.” And I’ve decided that I am always busy being born all the time creative wise.

I am an optimist. I work very hard not to be like my dad. My father was very cruel, he was a damaged man, went through the war and stuff. I try very hard to be kind and generous. I am always a work in progress as I can be easily filled up with the negativity, so I work very hard not to be mean, selfish and malicious. And it takes time and effort to train yourself not to be that person.

I’ve been in Japan 5-6 times now. I have Japanese daughter-in-law and my Japanese grandson. I am large, I am bold and ginger and ironically I feel at home there. They don’t feel like strangers to me any longer, they feel like my tribe. I could live in Japan without any words of the language! I like the Japanese food as aconsequence.

I like new experiences and doing new things. I am friends with people who are adventurous and who take risks, not necessarily physical risks, but people who take risks in the head.

Meeting and working along with Mardo El-Noor was one of my greatest recent discoveries. To see my work being interpreted by a younger talented artist was invigorating. The whole world should follow what Mardo and I have to say! Also travelling to the South Pole with Ed Hillary was memorable. Now I am working on a book about Charlie Upham VC and Bar and soon I will be interviewing a one hundred year old soldier. I feel like I have lots of things to do.

I want to write a book that my children and grandchildren will understand and love. I want to make it funny. I want to make it tender. I want to make it shocking. I want to educate and inspire people. I have projects in my mind that are waiting to land which is great. I sit down with friends who are other writers and I can’t say much, as they don’t know what they are going to do next – and I do…and I feel like they have nothing left to say.

Creative flow gives me joy. When I am writing and I am getting the green light, all these intersections are coming up and I can slow down but the lights go green, green, green. And your writing seems effortless and you know you are saying something in a way that is unique to you and you feel smug. And if I am doing a drawing I feel very good when I can come up with an idea and I can have all three in a row: I can make it funny, well-drawn and an important subject then I go: Yes, I pat myself on the back and think to myself I am dangerously smug.

Once I did a fantastic cartoon for the paper. I heard no feedback from anybody. And I thought to myself: “Oh, it’s a bit disappointing.” Next day I went down to the green grocer to buy carrots and they were a bit wet. And the salesperson pulled out the newspaper and wrapped the carrots up. And there was a piece with my fantastic cartoon on the newsprint that was wrapping my carrots 24 hours later. It was a good reminder than nothing is permanent.


Click here to listen a new episode of the podcast Thinking Out Loud with Tom Scott who talks about his favourite books.

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