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I need the music more than I need politics or the activism, I can assure you of that. -- Bono

In the Name of the Father

@U2
From the father to the son In one life has begun A world that's never done Father to son

-- U2


It's not an easy thing to describe what it is to be a father. Friends of mine who are now fathers have tried, and some have described it well. One friend called it "a subconscious shift in priorities, a burden you can't quite physically handle but somehow manage to bear." Another says it's about "learning when and how loudly to say 'no' to your children."

Personally, I prefer the subtle spin Bono once put to the subject. It's a one-liner that cuts through and clearly defines that which separates the boys from the men: "Liking a drink and being able to take care of yourself doesn't make you a hard man," he said. "To be a father...now that's hard."

Bono himself knows something of this experience. He is a father of four, two little girls and two little boys. He is also a loving father who just lost a loving father. And as only those who have lost loving fathers know, it is often akin to losing a hero.

None of us knew Bono's father, Bobby Hewson, and that is a shame, because as anyone who has followed the coverage of his recent death should know...he was one of Bono's heroes.

"Both my mother and father were from the center of the city, what they call Dubs," Bono told Rolling Stone in 1987. "Their love affair was illicit at the time. Ireland was just being born as a country, and the Protestant-Catholic rivalry -- the bigotry -- was at a pitch. But it didn't mean anything to them. They faced the flak and got married."

That marriage eventally brought two sons: the eldest, Norman, and the youngest, Paul: Bono's birth name. But if you asked which of the two was more difficult to raise, Bobby always had young Paul pegged as a dreamer, if not a bit devilish.

"Ah, he was exasperating, he really was," Mister Hewson recalled for writer Bill Flanagan in his 1995 book U2 At the End of the World. "But there was nothing bad in him. He was living in his own world and we were sort of superfluous to it...He was an extraordinary kid. He was very hard to nail down. We couldn't get him to study. He'd go off to study and the next thing you'd hear him strummin' the guitar."

Bono himself admitted he didn't respond well to any authority figure in his teen years, especially his father.

"He was a very strict man," Bono admitted. (RS, '87) "But I was one of those kids who was almost impossible to tie down, from the very beginning. People used to -- and family still, sort of -- put up the cross (crossing his fingers) whenever I come in. They used to call me the Antichrist."

Despite the two consistently butting heads, Bono credited his dad with assuming the most heroic role a father could take on after losing the mother of his children: he kept things together, shouldered the responsibility, and raised two sons on his own.

"There were these three men: my father, my older brother and myself," Bono said. (RS, '85) "And I was such a bastard...but my father had some incredible strength -- and when his wife died, he didn't give in. He fought against it, he kept the house; he wouldn't let it go down. You can imagine three guys living in a house. It could go over. He wasn't letting it go. I was."

As the years passed and Bono's success with the members of U2 increased with each new record, the pair seemed to grow more accepting of each other's ways.

"I'm getting on with my father better than I ever have," Bono told Rolling Stone in 1993. "He was never one to dish out a compliment, that's not his way. I remember I brought him over to the U.S. to see us play, I think it was Miami or Atlanta on the Joshua Tree tour, and I told one of the spotlight operators to get ready. I just introduced this guy -- 'It's his first time in America, here's my father, he's come here to see us play' -- and 20,000 people turned around and he just stands up and gives me the finger. Like 'Don't you do this to me.' I just laughed. He's very cool like that.

"I think he almost likes the music now," Bono added at the time. "In fact, he'll say 'I like that one, I don't like that one.' He's full of opinions. He plays at being a crank."

But if you asked Bobby Hewson, it was always about being honest with his rock star son.

"When he asks for my opinion about anything I always give him the truth," he said. "I figure they've got enough 'yes-men' around them, somebody should tell them the truth."

When U2 took to the stage at Earl's Court in London on Tuesday night, Bono returned that favor. As the band took the stage in the full glare of the house lights, the singer dropped to one knee, and crossed himself as if in silent prayer.

Then, several songs later, Bono addressed the crowd in semi-darkness, his voice choked with emotion, and acknowledged his hero: his dad, Bobby Hewson.

"I want to thank my old man, my father, for giving me this voice," he said. "He was a fine tenor and he always said if I had his voice, who knows what might have happened."

Then, in the warm, moving glow of the audience, Bono sang the song "Kite," a poignant tune he originally wrote as a father singing to his own children.

That is when the realization hits home. It is a tribute fit for his own father. A tribute fit for a hero.



© @U2/Byrne, 2001.