A model male for our strange times: Derek

I’d like you to meet Derek. He is the kindest, most humble, gentlest person I know, and yes, he’s too good to be true.

Derek is a fictional character, the title character of the Netflix show of the same name. 

If you’re looking for an inspirational character to help you get through the lockdown, I invite you to check out Derek. 

Like a lot of great British TV, watching Derek is a strange and sometimes uncomfortable experience. I’m attracted and repulsed. 

Derek is a grown-up—a really grown-up—variation of Mr. Rogers. Venturing into Derek’s neighbourhood is a surreal experience, funny as hell, but also bittersweet.

Derek is the invention of Ricky Gervais, the acerbic British comic known for his wickedly cutting comments as host of the Golden Globes, and for his bluntly politically incorrect stand-up routine. Whereas Gervais can come across as a gleefully sadistic meanie, Derek is the diametric opposite.

Based on his appearance, Derek is not someone you would, initially, want to emulate.

He’s somewhere north of 50, slack-jawed with his mouth perpetually open. He must constantly brush back his greasy bangs, and he wears the same jumper (that’s British for sweater) and sweatpants every day. He walks bent over, with a shuffling gait. He loves any kind of critter, and he’s forever watching YouTube videos of cute animals.

Derek appears mentally challenged in some way, but this is never nailed down, and it’s not important. 

I’m providing free coaching sessions during the lockdown. If you would like to connect for a complimentary 30-minute session, send me an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca

The setting is also surprising for what is ostensibly a comedy, although dramatic moments abound. Derek volunteers in a nursing home where he adores Hannah, the grounded heroine who runs the place, Dougie, the cynical custodian-handyman, and Kev, his pathetic buddy.

If George Costanza made you cringe, Kev sets a new standard for squirmability. Kev is perpetually attached to a can of beer, and splayed out in a chair alongside home residents, most of whom are asleep.

The archetypal loser, Kev is too preposterous to be creepy, forever droning on about his (mainly) fictional sexual exploits and kinky tastes. Just when you think he’s completely crossed the line, he keeps pummelling us with his delusional fantasies.

Derek sees through Kev’s transparent bravado, and views him not as a broken, wounded drunk, but as a human being who—at his essence—is pure in heart, and worthy of respect. 

In one episode, Derek helps Kev see his potential, and helps him to apply for a job by quitting drinking and cleaning himself up. Kev is re-acquainted with his own blessings. But when he doesn’t get the job, he immediately falls back into his old ways. Derek has shown Kev what’s possible, but now, to use a British phrase, he must ‘pedal his own bike.’ 

Younger folks recoil when they initially come into the home; they see “fossils” wasting away. Behind their dementia and various infirmities, Derek sees human beings.

Like every human, Derek is no saint. When his broken-down father re-appears after leaving the family decades ago, Derek initially rejects him.

The show teeters along the edge of treacle, but Gervais, a master of nuance, strikes a balance that gives Derek an authenticity that packs a wallop. It’s also achingly funny because it pushes us to writhe in the discomfort of own beliefs. As great storytelling does, it hits so many buttons, some you may not want hit.

And that’s what Derek offers you during a lockdown. To consider some new possibilities: that maybe a little kindness can make a difference with a cranky, cooped-up kid, or a partner worried about the mortgage.

Funny thing, though. I think a lot people, notably men, don’t know how. It hasn’t been modeled for us. 

Well, here’s something to try. The next time that someone starts to complain, share their worries, or lose ‘it’, just accept the person for where he or she’s at. Don’t try to dissuade them of a position, or try talking them out of being ‘negative.’

All you have to do is listen, and show that you understand what they’re saying and feeling. It’s a kind thing to do. It’s also a skill called empathy.

It doesn’t mean you must agree or match their mood. Practicing kindness is just being there for someone in a similar way that you would greet a crying child. No 20 questions. Just be there. A hug helps too.

While you’re at it, why not show yourself a little kindness. We all beat the living crap out of ourselves. Indeed, there are things we need to figure out, and do better. Showing yourself a some kindness might also show you some new ways to navigate your way through life during a lockdown.

And don’t forget to check out Derek. I’d love to hear what you think.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

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