Davie is not entirely supportive of Alec's interest in the Mission and sees it as a passing phase. However, Alec is perhaps similar to his father who was a member of the Boys’ Brigade and earned a long-service badge.
Davie was promoted to sergeant which demonstrates his leadership qualities and ability to stick at something, a skill he has largely lost in his adult life. He had ambition once which he reveals when he says his reading of The Life of David Livingstone made him want to be a missionary, but he
just drifted away fae it ending up with a dull life of poverty and underachievement.
This is why he values education and encourages Alec to
Get yerself a good education. Get a decent job. Collar and tie. Never have to take yer jacket off. This well-meaning advice leads to the breakdown of the relationship he so values with his son, as he cannot find the drive and self-belief to match Alec's ambition.
He contrasts the stereotypical working man by having intelligence and being well-read: Davie recalls the Minister’s visit,
Ah think he got a surprise. Wi me no going to church an that, he must've though ah was a bit ae a heathen… But ah wisnae. Ah showed him a long-service badge fae the BB. Even quoted scripture at him. However, the fact he
cannae be bothered going to church reflects his outlook on life, largely resulting from his depression and low self-esteem.
This is further evidenced when Alec considers joining a boxing club and is put off by his father:
Boxing’s a mug’s game. Ye don't want tae waste yer time. Ah didnae stick it, although it appears he gave up boxing when he met Alec's mother.
Symbolically, Alec complains about the crack in Davie’s shaving mirror,
There's a big crack doon the middle. The two halfs don't sit right and this reflects Davie’s life, distorted and broken following the death of his wife. The fact he is not keen to replace it,
Does me fine for shavin suggests he is not ready to move on with his life.
Davie feels he has not been successful in his life and continually encourages Alec to study hard, as education holds the key to his future in the same way that boxer Benny Lynch used his talent to escape poverty:
Course the likes ae Benny Lynch an these blokes it was the only way tae get out. Fightin. …Ye’ll get out using yer brains but. It comes, therefore, as a surprise to the audience that, when Alec receives the letter telling him he has been successful in the entrance exam for private school, Davie remarks
Yer teacher’ll be pleased.
Davie, once again, shows little emotion, stereotypical of a man of his age and generation. He does go onto tell Alec,
This is a great chance yer getting son. Great opportunity. Get yerself a good education. Nothin tae beat it. But he never actually states he is pleased.
Shortly afterwards, in contrast to his son’s success, Davie is again made redundant, with no hope of redundancy pay because of his short length of service. The sense of waste of his abilities is again hinted at when he recalls the range of classical and popular music he owned, reflecting a self-educated and knowledgeable man who has made little of his life.
His frustrations spill out in the argument he has with Alec over the trivial matter of what to have for tea. Perhaps he resents Alec's opportunities, reflected in his interest in vegetarianism and wider knowledge of cooking and sarcastically classes these as passing phases;
The next craze, We’ve been through the dinky toys and the fitba and the pop stars.Is it gonnae be long hair an ban the bomb noo?
It is unfortunate that, having encouraged Alec to work hard at school, he is not more encouraging. As it is, he provides a poor role model for his son and the relationship breakdown which follows becomes more predictable.
It must, however, be embarrassing for him to admit to Alec that their electricity has been cut off as he
Couldnae pay the bill. He is forced to borrow again, this time from his son’s bursary money. When he later returns, drunk, having gambled and not paid the bill, he comes into conflict with an angry Alec who is now fed-up with his lack of action.
Davie has gone to the pub for company as he is lonely and feels distanced from his son, who is now climbing the social ladder. They no longer really communicate and lead separate lives. Davie sums this up when he asks,
Can you no talk to me these days? Can ye no tell me anything? Think ah came fae another planet. He must have felt hurt when Alec confronted him with the fact he always gives up.
Interestingly, Davie contrasts Billy in a different way, as revealed when Billy and Ian are talking while working overtime on a painting job. Billy reveals that he and Davie had planned to go into business as poultry farmers after the war. Davie had the ideas and drive, but Billy opted out, feeling
it was takin too much ae a chance. Davie must have felt rejected by this, and simply gave up instead of pursuing his ambition alone.
Alec and Davie argue over a woman. Clearly a sensitive subject for both of them, Alec upsets his father when he recalls a childhood incident when Davie teased him about a girl. Alec, embarrassed, slapped him, only for Davie to shove him away and tell him he was a
"bad, bad, bad boy." Words hurt Alec much more than physical punishment.
The roles are reversed when Alec sarcastically teases Davie about Peggy and says
Why don't ye just admit that ye fancy her? The stage direction, DAVIE slaps him, exits, illustrates that Davie is still grieving and unable to move on with his life, and this is poignant for the audience to watch.
In the present day final scene, nothing has changed for Davie and Alec as they are
freezing and out of coal, with Davie awaiting his dole money to buy some. When they decide to burn items from the glory hole, Davie’s comments suggest he still lives in the past and hasn't moved on, whereas Alec's words reflect his new-found education and learning.
Davie recalls the Catechism he learned off by heart, without question, but cannot think back to his earliest memories and is uncomfortable when Alec discusses the different beliefs of other faiths. While Alec would willingly burn the hymn-book, Davie believes
It’s just no right to do that, demonstrating a deep-seated morality.
When they find the battered torch from Davie’s encounter with the bookie’s heavy men, he recalls the
Terrible job that was and believes
Ah’m better on the broo than daein that, any day, but concedes that the bookie’s drive and ambition has led to him owning two shops these days, contrasting with Davie’s life of unemployment.
When Alec reads the section about bookmakers from the history book, it is clear that Davie has realised gambling is for
Mugs! Like me!, but he continues to do it as he clings onto
the feelin you've at least got a chance.
He reveals that, during his days as a sailmaker, he
Used tae make leather wallets and things, demonstrating the practical skills he has failed to use in later life. He simply accepted the changing industrial nature of the country, but unlike Billy and Ian, did not move to find work elsewhere. Rather than try to make something of his own life, he continues to encourage Alec to
dae something wi your life.
Burning his furniture from the early days of his marriage symbolises the end of Davie’s past. There is little optimism at the end of the play about his future, especially when Alec explains he intends to find a place of his own.
Davie is a frustrating character as he has skills and talents, but grief and depression, coupled with low self-esteem and lack of drive, means he achieves little.