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Is Phil Collins really such a bad dad?


DAUGHTER DEAREST: Phil and Lily Collins in what we presume were happier times Picture: Getty

DAUGHTER DEAREST: Phil and Lily Collins in what we presume were happier times Picture: Getty

DAUGHTER DEAREST: Phil and Lily Collins in what we presume were happier times Picture: Getty

Poor Phil Collins. Just like that, he went from musical prodigy to musical parody, constantly lampooned by both the press and his peers.

Potshots have been flung at him from everyone including Rolling Stone magazine, the Gallagher brothers - even South Park. The internet is awash with articles with titles like 'Is It Time We All Stopped Hating Phil Collins?' and 'Phil Collins is an Asshat'. In 2015, an online petition nearly reached its target of 5,000 signatures to stop him coming out of retirement.

If this wasn't enough his daughter, Lily Collins, has just published a book of essays that includes an open letter to him in which she "forgives" her father. Not for producing Testify - but for "not being the dad I expected".

Nobody is perfect, especially not Phil Collins. Thrice married and thrice divorced, he's hardly the poster boy for a functional family home. But Phil wasn't absent during Lily's childhood because he was down at the pub, he was absent being Phil Collins and raking in the vast amounts of money that have given her an incredibly cosseted existence.

Phil's love life has been rampant with rumours of infidelity (which he later admitted), suggestions that he divorced Lily's mother by fax (which he denies) and vast settlements paid to his various ex-wives. But apparently the four of them now get on so famously they even dine together. Although the damage was done decades ago I can think of far worse familial situations than that.

At 27, Lily hasn't yet experienced the complexities of marriage or the heartache of divorce once, let alone three times. Her father made some pretty spectacular bloopers in his pursuit of love but it is not her role to judge or worse, approve of his decisions.

We expect many things from our parents - love, support, protection - but in doing so we forget that their existence is not limited to ours. We choose not to consider the life they led before we came into the picture. We refuse to consider them as sexual beings (even as I type I try not to shudder), forget that they are flawed and won't always be the perfect role model we demand.

They make mistakes, probably the same mistakes we will make years later, and are known by everyone but ourselves by their first names rather than 'mum' and 'dad'. Our parents' bad decisions can reverberate through our own lives but likewise, our poor choices can have adverse effects on them. Neither should be looking to offer approval or forgiveness, just solidarity and the knowledge that we all cock up every now and then, even though our intentions are good.

In her open letter, Lily concedes that "he assumed everything was fine because I never said anything".

I was the opposite. As a child, I craved my mother's companionship. I cried and sulked because we had no mother-daughter time. After one such tantrum she sat down with me and taught me how to sew.

I remember feeling her weariness just as clearly as I remember the needle punching through the paper I practiced on.

She worked long hours and weekends and though I didn't realise at the time, both my parents took a decade to complete their degrees as they worked full time.

If I could, I'd tell my young self to "put a sock in it", as my mum would say. Only now do I appreciate the kind of guilt I would have inflicted on her, and I don't even have children of my own.

Lily is a talented actress - but without her famous surname and affluent upbringing she would have led the same hand-to-mouth existence that every other aspiring actress endures, complete with tedious auditions, constant rejection and bleak anonymity.

She may feel short-changed, damaged even, by separation from her father - but I wonder if she realises the extreme privilege her father's career has given her? Our parents can't give us everything but in this instance surely she acknowledges she got a lot more than most do.

Lily is probably speaking from the heart, but if she really wanted to seek closure and embark on a new relationship with her father, surely she could have pursued this intensely private matter without a press release.

In the same way Phil was criticised for profiteering off homelessness with his 1989 song Another Day in Paradise, Lily will benefit from family dysfunction with royalties from her book sales and the publicity this open letter has generated. Perhaps she has a lot more in common with her father than she thinks.

Sunday Independent