Children of the revolution

It's odd when the way to acceptance among young revolutionaries is by talking about your father

"WHAT DO you want to be when you grow up?" says one little girl to another. "I want to be normal," says the other.

The little girls are the heroines of Hideous Kinky, the tale by Esther Freud that's based on her own childhood experiences of wandering around Morocco with her hippie mother. The book has just been turned into a film, and the time is right. The children of rebellious, Sixties' parents are grown up now, they might have children of their own, and they're thinking again about their parents' legacy.

Despite that exchange about being normal, which appears in the film and sounds like an edgy criticism of the mother's lifestyle, one of the best things about Hideous Kinky, the novel, is that Esther Freud never judges the mother. She is a glorious, larger than life figure; and, with the benefit of adult understanding, Esther Freud goes back and ferrets out the riches of living with a parent who wanted to live well and honestly and courageously - even if not always conventionally. At a time when parents are under more scrutiny than ever before, it's good to remember that it's certainly not always the most conventional parents who do the best by their children.

But it's a complicated business, growing up with parents who are more rebellious than you are. Many people of my generation grew up wondering if we could ever wholly measure up to our parents' sense of adventure and possibility.

The usual thrust of picaresque biography and fiction is the path of the child brought up in a stifling, conventional household finding a way out into the larger world, a world full of adventure and life. But if your parents were hippies, or anarchists, or peace protestors, that movement can never be clear-cut. You can watch Rebel Without a Cause or you can read The Clergyman's Daughter, but you know that those will never be your stories.

Children of rebellious parents can, of course, rebel the other way, and try to shock their parents by wearing a suit, voting Tory or going out with a policeman. That's not surprising. Children don't want to feel they're just clones of their parents, especially when they're teenagers. For instance, if your parents have freely admitted to taking drugs or used them in front of you, you don't feel so curious and excited about drugs yourself. "It's so boring, it's what your parents do," said one friend of mine who resolutely refused to smoke cannabis, even when offered it by his mother.

Others, used to their parents wandering around barefoot and scruffy, suddenly become very conventional dressers - though how much of that is rebellion, and how much is fashion, is hard to say. I remember when a woman of about my own age, the editor of a national newspaper supplement, was talking to me about about going barefoot. "My mother used to go barefoot all the time," she said to me. "So did mine," I said. And then we both looked at each other, in our conventional dresses and shoes and tights, and started laughing. "We look like this because of our mothers," she said.

The tension between Sixties' parents and their children is also, momentously, about politics. Growing up with parents who took their children on Aldermaston marches before they could walk, as mine did, you're never going to feel as though you discovered left politics for yourself. I remember going to meetings of that crazy anarchist group, Class War, for a few weeks one summer. They looked at me rather askance, as well they might, until I told them who my father was. "Nick Walter's all right," they allowed. It's rather odd when the only way you can gain acceptance in a group of young revolutionaries is by talking about your father. That put me off student politics and protests for a bit, just as the fact that Spare Rib was a magazine my mother read made me turn away from conscious feminism for a time in my teens.

But those sorts of reactions are usually short-lived. It's just too much of a truism to say that the natural movement of the child of rebellious parents is to become besuited and conservative. Michael Portillo seemed to embody that truism in his recent television programme, where the Tory chauvinist returned to the land of his Communist, idealistic fathers. The French and Saunders sketch that became the seed for Absolutely Fabulous simply poked fun at the tensions between Edina, the aging hippie, and her tight-lipped, censorious daughter, Saffy.

In Big Women, her novel and television script about British feminism, Fay Weldon subscribes to that caricature by making the daughter of the most idealistic feminist a hard-faced businesswoman in spindly heels and black suits - funnily enough, also called Saffron - who takes over a feminist publishing house and sells it out to the highest bidder. That image of a break, a fissure, between the rebellious parent and the conventional child is the cliche of the age.

But it is only a cliche. Bella and Esther Freud did not, in the end, become "normal", whatever that means - they didn't end up working nine to five for a jowly boss or believing in what the Daily Mail says - but followed their own ideas in design and writing in their own individual ways. And, in the end, children often return to the politics of their parents, with a renewed interest in making it work for a different environment and generation.

Rather than wholesale backlash, I think children of rebellious parents can sometimes grow up with a certain sense of inadequacy. They hear a lot about the parties and protests of yesteryear, and for a time it can feel difficult for them to own their own youth and their own politics. And that sense of inadequacy is hardly surprising.

After all, my parents' generation, throughout Europe and the United States, changed the world. Perhaps they didn't change it in the ways they wanted to - they didn't ban the bomb, which was my own parents' overriding concern. They didn't establish an anarchist Utopia, which was something my father was pretty keen on; or see women and men becoming equal in every way, which my mother would have liked. But their generation did change the world; they made it much more irreverent, less respectful of authority; they created a society that was more tolerant of drugs and sexual freedom, and eager for race and sex equality. They created a revolution in everyday life.

But once they get over that feeling of inadequacy, the children of rebellious parents can feel a sense of optimism. They don't have to rebel in the same ways, partly because some battles have now been won. And the fact that some battles are won makes them realise that nothing stands still, and that they can build on the changes that the previous generation wrought.

The movement of generations may be complicated by each individual story, but I think a sense of continuity and development is surely both more useful and more accurate than the cliche of sulky Saffron, pouring scorn on her parents' ideals.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star