Davie, Alec's father, finds himself in a challenging situation at the start of the play. Struggling with his grief following the death of his wife, he has to force himself to bottle this up and be a role-model for Alec.
Davie is suffering from depression and grief, and his blunt words,
Ah’ve got a bit of bad news for ye son … Yer mammy’s dead echo in Alec's mind. Men of his social class and generation were not expected to display emotion and his attempt to continue as normal contrasts with his son’s
real big deep sobs.
He highlights the importance of family relationships when he tries to comfort Alec by saying
There's just you and me now son. We’ll have tae make the best of it. He is determined to make a good impression, telling Alec they need to tidy up as
Folk’ll be comin back after the funeral.
He reveals his feelings of grief to the audience: he is determined to keep busy to forget his grief but then something trivial reminds him. His repetition of
Just you and me now son emphasises the importance of family for him. However, Davie’s grief and depression are preventing him from being a good parent and role-model as he acknowledges that the house is still a mess but it can be tidied tomorrow. This sums up Davie’s way of life and tomorrow never comes.
Davie is an intelligent man. He is seen to question why particular words are used,
"Isn't it funny the words ye use to describe things? Shattered." His statement,
Ah’m shattered, after the funeral has two meanings - he is referring both to how tired he feels and to his broken life.
In the early part of Act I, Davie is working as a tick man, going door-to-door collecting credit payments. This is a thankless job and well below his skills and experience. However, traditional industry was in decline and there were no jobs,
The chandlers ah worked for shut doon. … Naebody needs sailmakers these days.
Davie feels worthless and unfulfilled as he is unable to use his skills and intelligence. He promises to make a sail for Alec's model yacht, and the young boy is full of pride and hope. Speaking of his dad, he tells Ian:
…he’s really a sailmaker. That's his real job.
Davie struggles to cope as a single parent, as revealed when Alec tells Ian they are having fish suppers because Davie is
no very good at cookin. He has been spending time in the pub, possibly for company and also as a means of release from his frustrating job and lonely life:
wee half at the end of the day. Just helps me tae unwind.
He has been illegally gambling and is desperately hoping his luck will change. However, like much of the rest of his life, this too will fail. He finds himself having to ask his brother, Billy, for more time to repay the money he borrowed, and is forced to admit he is struggling to make ends meet.
Work is not going well as he collects very little and, therefore, does not earn much commission. He is in debt to the bookie, who has his own violent means of dealing with debtors. Billy, although sympathetic to an extent, seems to be losing patience with Davie and does not understand his grief. Davie feels he is going mad and wonders if he will ever be able to move on with his life.
Predictably, Davie does not make the sail for Alec’s yacht, much to Alec's disappointment. This contrasts with the more practical Billy, who paints the yacht within a few days. Davie describes what is required to make the sail, using technical jargon and demonstrating knowledge. However, he has lost the drive to complete the practical task.
The sailless boat symbolises Davie’s position – going nowhere. Also, Alec will have to provide his own ‘sail’ for his personal voyage through life.
Despite Billy's attempts to protect his brother by ‘dealing with’ the bookie, Davie is beaten up and robbed, leading to the loss of his job:
Ah just got ma jotters. Week’s notice. This adds to his frustration and feeling of worthlessness.
Perhaps feeling responsible, Billy offers to find him a basic job in his place,
doin yer sweeper up, which might lead to a storeman’s job. Davie tries to put on a brave face when he tells Alec,
Ah’m better off out ae it. Despite his apparent optimism,
Never died a winter yet, the Act closes with Davie’s feelings of low self-esteem and grief intensified.