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SPN Meta ... Papa!John: The Good Daddy - Bloodslave for Cookies
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dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Thu, Jun. 1st, 2006 05:07 pm
SPN Meta ... Papa!John: The Good Daddy


Fair warning to all who enter: I am almost as incapable of being either short or sweet as I am of taking the majority stance on any subject of debate. Because of this, you should be advised that this sucker is longer than a good chunk of the fanfic out there, so if you’re looking for a fast or easy read, this one ain’t it. If that doesn’t scare you off, I look forward to your thoughts after you’ve had time to read and digest.

This meta was prompted by astri13, who asked me, "Do you see John`s parenting of Dean, not just in this incident but on the whole, justified? As in for the greater good of the quest?"

My answer is this: I see John`s parenting of Dean, not just in this incident but on the whole, justified in the greater good of both Dean and Sam's ultimate safety. The quest, IMO, is more or less irrelevant to why John had to raise them the way he did.

And here’s why:

 

Papa!John: The Good Daddy

 

If there’s a true hot topic in Supernatural fandom other than whether or not Sam and Dean are, should be, or want to be sexing each other to the nines; I think it must be Papa Winchester’s parenting choices. Certainly, I see an enormous amount of discussion on this topic, with a wide range of opinions falling on both sides of the midline. Judging by the debates I’ve witnessed though, an overwhelmingly large chunk of fan opinion seems to fall on the side of "John should be shot for being such a crappy daddy."

Not in a "we don’t love John" kind of way, mind you; but rather more in a "we want to shoot John" kind of way … usually spiced with generous overtones of "and we want to pet poor Dean like a small, wounded animal then have hot sex with him" thrown in for good measure. While I think the latter half of that sentiment is pretty self evident as to where it comes from and why it exists, the first half is a little more troublesome to quantify.

I personally attribute it, at least in part, to the fact that such an overwhelming majority of fandom is female. At the risk of being Captain Obvious or Dr. John Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus Gray (and truly, aren’t they one and the same?), I feel a need to make note that, for the most part, women tend to be the nurturers of the species as compared to the kill-kill-kill of the species (that would be the more traditional role of men), and thus tend to be less tolerant of selfishly fucknuttish parental choices that lead to emotional angst and/or damage to the vulnerable psyches of really hot guys who kick in the Oedipal issues of most healthy women by making them yearn to be both mama and hot mama to the same hot guy.

And by this I mean to say: Dean.

But while this dynamic seems to be in play for many of those who find John an irredeemably screwed up daddy, I think it goes much deeper than that, too. After much contemplation and meta-minding on the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that the gender influence in finding John a total fuckup as a parent may well have a lot to do with an equally gender-specific tendency of thought when it comes to raising kids: Who comes first?

Not to step on any male toes out there (or any female toes belonging to women who don’t think this applies to them), I think it’s a fairly safe generalization to posit that women, traditionally, are seen as the mommies of the world in large part because the kids always come first. Not that many daddies don’t also put their children first, but they do it in a different way … a male way.

I mention this because I’ve begun to think a gender difference in what constitutes "putting the child first" bears great relevance to some of the intolerance shown John in terms of the choices he makes as a single parent raising two motherless boys. Many who most object to John’s parental choices do so, IMO, because they feel he didn’t put the children first; and this makes him a bad daddy, even if he does obviously love both boys to the moon and back.

With this view, as you might assume, I disagree.

And this is why: John did put his children first. He just did it in a male way.

So let’s explore this gender difference of perceptions a little in a way that may, upon first blush, seem kind off the subject. But it’s not, just stick with me and I’ll get there.

We all know -- even men know this, they just won’t admit it very often – that when a man gets the flu, the entire fucking WORLD must come to a screeching halt (especially the "can you watch the kids" part of the world) until they no longer feel a need to heave their guts out through their nostrils in worshipful praise to the porcelain Goddess. On the other hand, most women can heave their guts out through their nostrils and still render effective child care at the same time (albeit, admittedly, somewhat bitchier effective child care).

So in the instance of a heaving of the guts through nostrils and other facial orifices: Men whine like little girls at the prospect, while women tend to consider it part of the parental gig. Now look at the flip side of the coin.

Let’s take something more male-oriented than the pig flu like, oh, I don’t know, putting a nail through the palm of your hand while building a tree house. At that prospect, it is women who wail like tail-stomped cats while guys tend to consider it part of the parental gig. In fact, I’ve heard a number of fellas of my intimate acquaint respond to significant bloodshed in pursuit of manly activities by saying "rub a little dirt on it, you’ll be fine." (And yes, that always makes me whine and squeal and lecture in great detail about scientific concepts like germs and blood poisoning and tetanus, for God’s sake … probably because I’m a girl.)

But my point is this: men and women view damage incurred as acceptably debilitating -- or unacceptably so -- when it comes to the commission of parental duties very differently because their gender perceptions of what constitutes debilitating damage is so wildly disparate. And this is where I feel John gets the short shrift in having the damage he incurs as a result of Mary’s supernatural murder judged as unacceptably debilitating to justifiably fuck with his ability to make good parental choices, especially when his parental choices are being inaccurately judged as bad by the application of normal modes of judgement that don’t actually apply to the atypical specifics of his unique situation.

And by this I mean: What might be a screwed up choice for some other daddy isn’t necessarily a screwed up choice for John.

And herein lies the basis for my argument that Papa!John is actually the Good Daddy: Because Papa!John is truly and debilitatingly fucked in ways most women don’t adequately consider when judging the choices he makes in raising Sam and Dean. If the reality of the actual damage inflicted on John by the MODE of Mary’s murder – rather than simply the kind of damage that would have been inflicted had Mary been murdered in a more normal manner – isn’t taken into account, there can be no relevant yardstick of measure by which to judge his parental choices, as all those choices are made under direct duress from the reality of that atypical emotional and psychological damage and the attendant changes that damage wreaks in John’s view of reality and the world around him.

So what in the hell does that mean in real terms, specific to John and his sons? That he can do anything he wants and be excused from culpability because he’s traumatized by the mode of Mary’s murder? Certainly not. For me, the point is less whether or not he can be excused for poor choices than it is whether or not those choices are actually rightly judged as poor (as compared to just the lesser of two evils) in the context of his unique situation.

Here are some of the ways I see it differently than most, and why I think these differences make all the difference in whether or not John is rightfully judged a good daddy or a bad one.

The first and most important dynamic that seldom gets due consideration according to how much weight it carries in why John makes the choices he does is this: Mary isn’t just murdered, Mary is murdered by supernatural means to which John bears intimate witness. The usual yardstick of a man widowed by means of murder isn’t the dynamic in play here. Rather, John is a man widowed by means of a perception-altering event that strips him of far more than simply his wife. It strips him of every reality he knows, as well as every faith in those realities, in the voracity of his own experiences, in the dependability of his own perceptions and in the trustworthiness of his own sensory determinations, not to mention whatever belief in God, Karma or Cosmic Fairplay he might have indulged prior to the appearance of the ceiling demon.

This is, at least in part, why I say way back when that I find the Quest aspect to be more-or-less irrelevant to the choices John makes as a parent, especially early on in the boys’ childhood. I see the Quest as an evolution of John’s damage as much as his parental choices are. Which is to say, the Quest isn’t the reason John makes his choices, but rather, it is simply another tragic but inevitable consequence of the damage inflicted by the mode of Mary’s murder.

If Mary had been murdered by normal means, I would be far more prone to agree that John’s choices are less understandable or forgivable than I believe them to be (although, truthfully, I still allow a lot more latitude in a get-out-of-bad-parent-rap-free way for parents who suffer the collateral damage from this kind of traumatic loss than most people do). If the choices he makes are made in quest of personal vengeance rather than for child protective reasons (as I posit they are), then I, too, can see where they are less defendable in the long run, especially in the context of the emotional damage they inflict on both boys, but most specifically, on Dean.

Harsh as it may sound, I can hop onboard the boat of yes, your wife was murdered, but you have two young sons to raise, so get the fuck over it already and do your daddy job or pursue your vengeance quest on your own, leaving them somewhere safe to be raised in a functional manner by people who aren’t so emotionally scarred they can’t do what needs to be done. And I think this is the stance many fans take: That this is a reasonable expectation for one to have for the father of two young boys, even if his wife has been murdered in a particularly horrific manner.

What this stance doesn’t accommodate, however, is the enormous difference wrought by the MODE of Mary’s horrific murder. Because her mode of murder (demonically supernatural) effectively invalidates everything John knows (or has ever known) about reality; and because it globally re-defines his every experience and perception as to what is really happening in the world as compared to what he has always taken to be happening; and because it re-casts his every new knowledge of perceived reality to something that exists in direct (and mortal) opposition to what the overwhelming majority of the rest of the world (including both the governmental and law enforcement structures) takes as a known given; and because it creates in him an enormous deficit of knowledge and understanding and viable research resources about the way the world really works and what is required to not only survive this new world, but also protect his sons in it; and because it seems so specifically and singularly and murderously focused on his family in general, and one of his sons in specific; Mary’s mode of murder requires a comprehensive re-structure of every knowing John has ever known.

It isn’t simply a case of recovering from the loss of a woman loved, it is a whole new world in which John and his sons are the mice, and all the cats are invisible, unknown, and hungry as hell for the taste of Winchester blood.

In my view, THIS is the dynamic in which John Winchester makes his parental choices. And in this dynamic, his every choice – especially early on – must logically be driven by an overwhelmingly paranoid fear for the safety of all he has left in the world: his sons. And by the equally paralyzing knowledge that he is utterly unqualified and ill-equipped to protect them from an evil he must feel is specifically aimed at taking them out … Sam in specific, but equally Dean merely by virtue of sibling proximity. And lastly by the inescapable reality that both boys are so young and vulnerable as to be utterly and completely dependent on him for survival. On his skills, on his knowledge and on his dedication to them and their continued safety … only the last of which he would rightfully feel he actually possesses in any way that is relevant to the new world defined by the demonically supernatural mode of Mary's murder.

And all this happens overnight.

Which is where I come to the Good Daddy part of my meta. Because when faced with this kind of incredible pressure, directly on the heals of the traumatic loss of his wife and in conjunction with the stripping of every belief – both scientific and spiritual – that he’s ever held, it is one hell of a man who doesn’t turn and walk away or just lay down and die. Or worse than either, close his eyes and pretend it never happened.

This is one of the major points in John’s favor as Daddy of the Millennium: In the context of what has happened and the effect it must have on his every perception of reality, John lacks the capacity to ignore what happened, forget what happened, delude himself about what happened, fail to pursue answers about what happened, or be stupid or selfish about what happened. He indulges none of these answers – all much easier to palate than the catastrophic re-structure of his sense of reality – even though the temptation would have to be to take whatever option is offered that allows for the rejection of a comprehensive re-structure of perception rather than accept what such a re-structure requires you to accept: That everything you’ve ever known is wrong.

This is a fundamental precept of Human nature: We believe what we can believe as far as we can believe it, then we justify the rest away. If something happens to us that falls outside our capacity to believe it can actually happen, Humans are incredibly likely to reject any and all facts – up to and including scientific data, experiential data and seemingly indisputable sensory data – that conflicts with what they already accept as reality, especially if it conflicts with one of the foundations upon which they build their perception of reality.

It’s a textbook "Who you gonna believe? Reality or your lying fucking eyes?" dynamic; and it is a rare individual indeed who will choose their lying fucking eyes over everything they have ever believed. Especially if what their lying fucking eyes is telling them is as horrific as what John’s eyes tell him in witnessing the mode of Mary’s murder.

John is one of those rare individuals. Rather than take the road well traveled, he takes the hard one that dives straight down into hell, and he does it simply because he is not a guy who can delude himself into believing what he knows to have happened didn’t happen. Of all the other options available to him, he takes none.

Not the close your eyes and sing very loud option. Or pray and it won’t have happened. Or pray and it will unhappen. Or just pray and hope it doesn’t happen again. Or just get up and go to work and it will have never happened. Or will unhappen. Or won’t happen again.

Not the drink yourself into oblivion to forget it option. Or just forget it because you refuse to remember it. Or forget it because then you aren’t crazy, or won’t be viewed as crazy, or won’t have to pretend it isn’t making you crazy.

Not the what I saw is not what I saw option. Or maybe it was a dream. Or I must have been on crack (or in a waking dream state). Or maybe I have a brain tumor, and I just imagined the whole thing.

Not the it’s over so what does it matter option. Whatever it was, I don’t want to know. Whatever it was, I don’t know how to find out. Whatever it was, I don’t want to deal with it, or what it means, or what it requires me to believe.

Not the I’m alive and so are the boys so it must be over option. Whatever it was, it was an aberration, only a one time thing. Whatever it was, we’re safe because we must be safe, right? Whatever it was, I can’t do anything about it anyway so lets just hope for the best.

All of these options are so much easier than the one John chooses: to believe what he saw even if no one else does; to re-structure his understanding of the world based on what he saw; to seek out answers about what he saw; to learn how to defend himself and his sons against a repeat performance of what he saw. And all these aspects of his choice lead to the most important choice John makes, one that defines him The Good Daddy no matter what other choice he may make in the future.

He doesn’t walk away.

It would be so easy to either actually believe, or to pretend to believe, or to convince yourself you should believe that leaving your children behind while you ignore or purse the evil that destroyed their mother is a choice made in their best interests. It would be so easy (and so socially acceptable) to place them somewhere their every child’s world need will be met; where they’ll be loved and fed and clothed and schooled and raised in perfect normalcy while being made to feel safe and protected within the context of the reality that existed for John before Mary’s murder, and that still exists in the perception of most people who aren’t John.

It would be so easy to walk away as if you aren’t the only one in the whole world who has any chance at all of being able to protect them from whatever it is that killed their mother and that seems fixated on, at the very least, Sam, and perhaps both of them.

But this is the Bad Daddy choice. This is the selfish choice. This is the stupid choice. This is the choice that a man less than John might very easily -- and almost excusably – have made, either because he can’t face the making of any other choice or because he truly is short-sighted enough to buy the crap the well-meaning advisors who didn’t watch their wives light up on the ceiling of their son’s nursery are dishing out as the obvious "right thing to do."

So the foundation of every belief I hold when it comes to John’s parental choices is this: Every choice he makes (that doesn’t involve walking away at a later date) after choosing not to walk away from those boys "for their own good" when he must know he is the only person who can hope to protect them from their mother’s fate (or worse) by not only being able and willing to see the Demon coming, but also by being willing and able to learn how to defend against its inevitable eventual coming, is more-or-less irrelevant to any discussion of Good Daddy versus Bad Daddy.

John makes the one choice he HAS to make to protect those boys. After that, he makes every choice he makes in the context of feeling he must either protect them from the lives they have no choice (because of the Demon, not because of John) but to live, or to teach them to protect themselves from the eventuality of having to live that life without him there to protect them.

And that, in my evaluation, is the absolute text book definition of Papa!John: The Good Daddy.

So … that being said, am I trying to pass off the notion that John always makes the right choices when it comes to his boys? Hell, no. I’m a have my cake and eat it, too, kind of gal; mostly because I've never really seen why there can't either be two cakes, or one cake in two places at the same time (quantum physics and all, donchya know).

And by this I mean to say: I absolutely believe that a whole buttload of John’s parental choices are incredibly fucknuttish in their level of general testosteronie irresponsibility and/or in the emotional collateral damage they inflict upon the boys he so loves for no reason other than he can be a real thoughtless fucknut when he doesn’t think not to be.

But I don’t see any of those choices as ones that qualify him to be considered a bad daddy. To the contrary, they just make him human. He’s a parent just like every other parent … sometimes he does the right thing, sometimes he doesn’t. And as it is with all parents, his children are the ones who inevitably suffer for the choices he makes one way that should have been made another.

Hell, I’ll even go so far as to admit that there have been a number of occasions on which I’ve really wanted to smack John upside the head with a cast iron skillet for some of the shitty things he’s said and/or done to Dean. (But again, that doesn’t make him a bad dad. Just a dad.) And even beyond that, I’ll posit that, as the boys grew less vulnerable and John got farther and farther away from the traumatic event that so re-structured his entire perception of reality (and consequently more knowledgeable and skilled at the art of protection by the new world rules), there may well have been a number of opportunities he passed on that would have allowed for a more normal way of life for his sons without requiring any sacrifice of their safety.

And it is here that I think The Quest for vengeance comes into play. I tend to believe, based on many of the early things John notes in his journal and on the way he trains Dean to the task of fighting wars against evil even at the tenderest ages of childhood (well before any offensive agenda could logically be considered without unacceptable risk to the child being part of the equation), that John’s original choices are not about any quest for vengeance. Rather, I find his choices to be predominantly (if not all) protective in nature, with the only element of "Let’s Kill Demon" finding play being in a "the best defense is a good offense" strategy that tends to be a bit typical of military-minded and trained men. Or ones who watch too much Monday Night Football.

Because "Let’s Kill Demon" wasn’t originally a game of vengeance, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t now. To the contrary, a quest for vengeance is exactly what evolved from choices originally made for protective reasons. And I consider this John’s greatest failing as a parent, albeit an extraordinarily understandable one for which I have great empathy. Because when his children were strong enough to protect themselves, and when he knew enough about the way this new world works to feel reasonably confident he can protecting them, it is a damn fool’s move to go looking to hunt down a Demon who, from all appearances, isn’t hunting them at this particular time.

Is strike first a reasonable defense against the perceived eventuality of inevitable attack from a enemy of unknown strength? Sure. I can make that argument, and so can John. But hide your ass well and stay hidden, especially when you have children who can otherwise suffer for your aggression, can be a damned effective strategy, too; and I’m not sure John ever really considered that.

And he should have.

But as the lyrically articulate janissa11 points out, "John is a juggernaut, and he has been careening down the hill for 22 years now. Military background: collateral damages, acceptable losses. Winning is everything."

I find that statement a beautifully articulated and achingly accurate portrayal of what John becomes in later years. And he becomes it, IMO, not only from being a bitter, broken man stripped of the woman he loves, but also from being a Good Daddy who has spent so much time in mortal fear for his sons’s lives that his need to strike back at the source of that fear eventually becomes an obsession to which he is vulnerable, and to which he tragically capitulates.

By the time we join Sam and Dean at Stanford, it isn’t about protecting his boys any longer, it’s about getting his vengeance on the Demon who murdered his wife and destroyed his family and his life. And while it is certainly understandable that John might feel this way, it is also one fucked up way of being, and one that holds the fatal potential to destroy everything he’s spent all these years trying so hard to protect: His sons.

That being said, however, I feel a need to point out that the choices John makes now aren’t choices made for children who have no option but to follow blindly and trust. When that was John’s role in Sam and Dean’s lives, he made the right choices for them. But now, when his sons are adults who are not only capable of defending themselves, but also capable of choosing not to follow him in his obsessive quest for vengeance (as Sam has so aptly proven), John has begun making choices for himself.

The choices he could have made 22 years ago are the ones he is making now. Are they the right choices? Who knows. Depends on your perspective, I suppose. But the one thing I do know – at least as much as I know anything – is that these choices aren’t ones that make John a bad dad. Rather, they are ones that make him a Good Dad when his sons so desperately needed him to be a Good Dad; but just John the Broken-Hearted Man now, when he can afford to be such, even if that indulgence does hold the potential to court a doom for his entire family that he spent the last 22 years of his life doing everything he could to avoid.

So there you have it: Why I feel Papa!John deserves The Good Daddy of the Millennium Award rather than the ire of fans who (arguably rightfully) lay the blame for most of Dean’s damage right at his father’s feet. Because John is often a fucknut to Dean, and often that fucknuttery is utterly undeserved.

But the fact still remains that John’s love for, and devotion to, both of his sons has always been so unbreakably strong that he makes the hardest choice any man can ever make in choosing to NOT walk away from them "for their own good" two decades ago, when the obvious choice by all accountings other than the measure of a Good Daddy’s heart said those kids were well shed of him. And when he could not possibly have been under more justifiably debilitating extenuating circumstances himself to shirk the responsibilities of child care, in that every reality he has ever known has been stripped away at the same time as he suffers perhaps the most grievous loss any soul can suffer: the heinous murder of the one he loves.

But even in the most raw grip of this horrific loss and terrible vulnerability in a new and terrifying world where he is all that stands between his family and demonic annihilation, Papa!John remains ever The Good Daddy. And the only reason he does is because John Winchester, the man, is not capable of being anything less.

-finis-



Okay, I'm going to go just sit in a chair and stare at Jensen for an hour now. Cause, like, my brain hurt, dude.


Tags: , ,
Current Mood: drained drained
Current Music: Who's Your Daddy? (Toby Keith)

112CommentReplyShare


dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)

I absolutely agree that he eventually goes overboard in his obsession with the Demon. And I tend to think he does so, at least in part, because his every waking moment for 22 years has had to at least consider the possibility that the Demon is lurking around the next corner, ready to set his sons ablaze.

Given that kind of unrelenting pressure, I find it pretty reasonable that John's focus would eventually shift from violent defense against the Demon to violent aggression against the Demon. The more they trained and the better they got at taking on evil and winning, the more John had to have thought, hell, we can end this constant fear crap, we just have to take that fucker out!

And on this slippery slope is the origin, IMO, of the quest for vengeance that has John so utterly hogtied and possessed by the time we run into him 22 years after Mary's murder.

Absolutely you can reference this meta in your essay ... I'd be honored. When you get it done, you're going to post it to your LJ, yes? SPN and Dickens ... sounds very interesting.

As for the short form for Salvation, I think it's "Sal". But then again, I call Hell House "Bob" and Provenance "Bill," so you might not want to follow my lead on that. ;-)


ReplyThread Parent
surrexi
surrexi
Liz
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 03:21 am (UTC)

Oh. My. GOD.

I think I love you.

I haven't even been in the SPN fandom for very long, but I feel like I've been doing a lot of defending of my beloved Papa John in the few weeks that I have. You've done it so much more articulately than I have, and with humor as well. *claps and whistles*


ReplyThread
dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 04:14 am (UTC)

Thanks. :D (I love clapping and whistling).

I know what you mean about finding yourself defending Papa. I originally had a little bit less generous view of him, but I think when he said something incredibly bastardish in DMB about not giving the Impala to Dean if he was just going to ruin it, I kinda fell in love with him in a "you bastard!" kind of way.

I don't know, I can't explain it. I guess I'm just weird like that. But I think it has to do with suddenly seeing him as a real man at that moment, rather than through the filter of Dean's cannonizing hero-complex. And once I started seeing Johnthat way, I realized what an incredibly heroic man he is ... even if he can be a real bitch at times, and he's totally fucked up and obsessed.

Cause those are always my favorite kinds of heroes. Who needs the shiny, white hat kind? I want them in serious need of redemption and nearly as far down the road to irredeemable as that which they pursue.

Again, I'm funny like that.

But anyway, thanks! And welcome to SPN fandom. It's a pretty cool place to hang ... especially if you visit the papawinchester community on occasion, where all the other equally-love-minded John fans hang. :D


ReplyThread Parent
moonlightstorm
moonlightstorm
Lexi
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 04:16 am (UTC)

Oh, meta. ♥ This was great. Daddy Winchester is such a divided topic in fandom that I love reading about him to see all the perspectives. :)


ReplyThread
dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 04:35 am (UTC)

Thanks! I think he's great fun to debate. Though obviously, I see him as a better father than many, I do think there are some very powerful arguements to be made for both sides of the debate. Which, of course, always makes for the most interactive conversations.


ReplyThread Parent
astri13
astri13
astri13
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 11:46 am (UTC)

Oh, I`ve inspired a met. I`m a meta-muse. *g*

Shockingly enough I disagree with a lot of what you said, especially giving John the Father of the Millenium Award. And maybe equally shockingly enough, I agree with a very basic point. Yes, I love being complex. :)

I wouldn`t exactly say all the ire at John comes just from feelings of trying to defend poor Woobie!Dean (my ire at Missouri comes from her patronizing attitude and the fact that I hate people behaving like this).
It`s just you can`t really separate the two, Dean is his son and he has a screwed to hell psyche right now, largely because of John. Sam escaped relatively less damaged because he had Dean as a buffer. So yes, Dean draw the short straw. And in the man he is today you can see what John`s parenting did to him.

So, what do I agree with?
John`s world was shattered overnight. Not just in the way that he lost his wife and mother of his two small children but in the way that the curtain was pulled back for him. He learned that a whole other world existed beyond the one he knew. And yes, a lot of people would have gone crazy because of this.
So, I very much understand his fear and paranoia. He said it himself, he saw evil everywhere back then. And I find it very understandable that in such a time he would fall back on his Marine training, which would give back a certain feeling of order and control.
I also very much understand him not leaving his children with people who didn`t know the things he did and in all likelyhood couldn`t protect them. So yes, I get him dragging his children around with himself in this life, even teaching them things to protect themselves that normally would be called horrible parenting.


And by this I mean to say: I absolutely believe that a whole buttload of John’s parental choices are incredibly fucknuttish in their level of general testosteronie irresponsibility and/or in the emotional collateral damage they inflict upon the boys he so loves for no reason other than he can be a real thoughtless fucknut when he doesn’t think not to be.
But I don’t see any of those choices as ones that qualify him to be considered a bad daddy. To the contrary, they just make him human. He’s a parent just like every other parent … sometimes he does the right thing, sometimes he doesn’t. And as it is with all parents, his children are the ones who inevitably suffer for the choices he makes one way that should have been made another.

And I guess this is the point where our opinions differ greatly because in my view it does, make him a bad daddy. In these instances. I don`t qualify him as a good dad because I condone some of his intial fundamental choices and then he is free to to as he pleases in all the little choices.


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astri13
astri13
astri13
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 11:50 am (UTC)

cut for lenght again *g*

And I agree even his mistakes are human and understandable but that`s neither excuse nor justification for me, that`s just understanding. They are still mistakes and he has to damn well live with being judged negatively for them. At least that`s how it works when I make a bad mistake that`s caused other people to suffer. And IMO rightly so. So I won`t give John a general get-out-of-jail-free-card because he loves his boys, is human and really tries to do the right thing.
He did fail at times. Spectacularly I might say and he should be called on that. That`s not to say I`m marking him as Worst Dad Ever either. But a fucked up one a lot of times for sure.

Even if he felt he was right in cultivating/encouraging a guilt complex in young Dean to get him to be an adult and soldier (I was under the impression in our other discussion you felt Dean deserved this in SW because he was at fault?), so he could look after Sam, that doesn`t make it right. If Sam was an only child, what would he have done then? He`d have to find other means to protect him. He would have to either stay with him or leave him with other hunters like Pastor Jim. It`s still first and foremost HIS job to protect Sam (and Dean).
Just because Dean is conveniently there, doesn`t mean John can just use him however he likes. How is it okay to sacrifice one child for the other so much? I just don`t think it was necessary to screw up the boys, Dean mostly, as much as John did. And that`s really what I`m calling him on.

John determined not only the basic life they lived but also the details of that life. Leaving them alone for days on end etc. That was John`s choice and he could have made other day-to-day choices. Hell, for Sam to have been in a school play means they had to be settled down somewhat when they were older. So, hilariously it`s okay when they are older but not when they are younger?
And for the record I expect EVERY parent, be they male of female to put their children first. I know a lot of Dad`s who manage just fine.
If John Winchester feels he has a problem with his manly pride and not being able to communicate himself very well, tough luck buddy. Try harder.

So, in the end for me he is neither totally a good nor a bad Dad, yet certainly not an Award-deserving one.
I`ll give him credit where credit is due but otoh not all is forgiven (not understand but actually forgiven) because of his circumstances and the good things he did. And I do feel empathy for him, I really do but again doesn`t give him carte blanche in my eyes, not for the past and not for the present.

And I see his situation as unique (and one I hopefully can never grasp fully) but I don`t feel that does exclude him from judgement because than in all likelyhood I can`t form opinions about most TV-characters.


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adelheide
adelheide
Queen of the Monkey People
Fri, Jun. 2nd, 2006 06:04 pm (UTC)

I see what you’re saying. I like that you make a point that it wasn’t just a matter of Mary dying—it was the way she died. It totally destroyed John’s worldview and perception of reality. A lot of people end up in the nut barn when that happens. John didn’t. Kudos to him on that count.

I also understand how John would feel that he would have to keep his boys close and train them from an early age to defend themselves. When what you knew turns out to no longer be true and you see danger in every shadow, that’s a completely understandable reaction. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing with my children in the same circumstances. If I didn’t end up in the nut barn first.

However—while I agree that at the very beginning, John keeping the boys with him is understandable, there comes a point not long after that where it’s not. It’s clear that there are other hunters in the world. It’s also clear that there are people who help and support these hunters. And John finds them soon enough. He makes connections. He has a whole network of people to rely on. He’s not completely alone and adrift. At that point, he should have considered his sons’ welfare. And not just their physical safety but their emotional health. Who better to protect two young boys from a supernatural threat than someone who knows all about that threat?

In SW, Dean says that after the shtriga attacked Sam, John grabbed them and dropped them off at Pastor Jim’s, some three hours away. If Jim was so close, why didn’t John drop the boys there first? For that matter, why didn’t he leave the boys with Jim or some other foster family for an extended period of time? It’s not as though the boys wouldn’t have been protected. But I think at that point, John was thinking of himself. He’d come to rely too heavily on his sons, Dean especially. Because any parent with even a modicum of awareness knows that leaving a 9-year-old alone with a 5-year-old for days is a recipe for disaster. Especially if you know what kind of horrific things lurk in the shadows. And that’s where the argument falls apart. John kept the boys with him to protect them and then…left them alone? Vulnerable? Huh? If I follow your line of reasoning, this tells me that at this point, John wasn’t doing what he was doing for his sons. He was doing it for himself. That selfishness would then make him a bad parent. He might have started out at an admirable father, but it didn’t take long for that to dissolve into poor parenting.

All of which I discussed at great length here and yes, I’ve spent way too long mulling over the psychology of ficticious characters


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dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Sat, Jun. 3rd, 2006 07:56 am (UTC)

However—while I agree that at the very beginning, John keeping the boys with him is understandable, there comes a point not long after that where it’s not. It’s clear that there are other hunters in the world. It’s also clear that there are people who help and support these hunters. And John finds them soon enough. He makes connections. He has a whole network of people to rely on. He’s not completely alone and adrift. At that point, he should have considered his sons’ welfare. And not just their physical safety but their emotional health. Who better to protect two young boys from a supernatural threat than someone who knows all about that threat?

I can't go with you here. Yes, there are other hunters ... but most of the ones we've seen are kinda dysfunctional, aren't they? And I'm not sure he has a whole network of people to "rely on" as much as he plugs into a network that at least won't think he's nuts for believing what he is beginning to believe and saying what he saw in conjunction with Mary's murder. But that's a long way from relying on people, especially to a degree that you are willing to turn your children over to them when you feel your children are in mortal danger every moment of every day.

Beyond that, I can't imagine that John doesn't feel exactly the way most parents feel in that they are the best ones to protect their children even if there are others perhaps more qualified to the task simply because a parent can trust that no matter what the cost required, they will never fall short of protecting that child for their own benefit. After losing his wife the way he did, as well as everything else in his world including his faith and his job and friends and all his social supports, I can't imagine that John would be able to allow that ANYONE far enough to be sure they would protect those boys at all costs ... especially not people he has just met and with whom he has no experience or emotional connection beyond a shared belief in the existence of supernatural evil.

So while I can certainly see where John would logically tap into that network for support and information, I find it highly unlikely that he would trust his childrens lives to them, even if that was offered which, really, why would it be?

These are John's kids, not the children of other hunters and their support systems. Why would someone take on 2 children who arguably might well be the target of one really bad mama Demon? That seems like an awful lot to ask from new aquaintances ... as well as a lot of trust to put in them that if that Demon did come for your boys, they wouldn't hand them up on toast if that is what is required to save their own lives or the lives of those they love.


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dotfic
dotfic
getting the chocolate in the peanut butter
Sat, Jun. 3rd, 2006 03:23 am (UTC)

I am in awe of your meta. No wonder your brain hurt ;) You're making me think again about what I think about this character, and I do think about this character quite a bit.

My feeling has always been that he's both The Worst Father Ever and The Best Father Ever. At the same time. Or at different times. There's compassion and strength and love in him, and at the same time he's so obsessed and driven and repressed and screwed up. Heroic qualities mixed with brokenly human ones (so. fascinating!) I think I agree with your points but my ultimate verdict would have to be: it's still no excuse.

Rather than take the road well traveled, he takes the hard one that dives straight down into hell, and he does it simply because he is not a guy who can delude himself into believing what he knows to have happened didn’t happen. Of all the other options available to him, he takes none.

This is the real crux of your argument for me, in deciding which side of the argument to fall on. You either believe that John had *no other choice whatsoever*, or you don't. I think you've persuaded me he had no other choice. Also, I agree (and have always thought) that there was a threat to his children and everything he ever does is to keep them alive, because yes, he loves them THAT MUCH.

So I believe in the he-had-no-other-choice option. But within that context, there were smaller choices to make. Of course you aren't arguing he's perfect and you acknowledge his mistakes. But I think he did let his vengeance blind him, and his kids paid for it. I get why he had to drag them all over the country to fight ghosts and werewolves and shtrigas, and why he couldn't give them a stable home, and don't blame him. But leaving his kids shut up in a motel room for three days, without regard for the natural impulses of children? WTF, John? Was he so much the soldier at that point he forgot what it was like to be a child himself, or that he couldn't even see his children as *people*, just extensions of his own flesh and blood to be protected at all costs?

Although, I will note, wondering why the hell John didn't go to his sons after Dean's tearful cell phone call in "Home", and then with Sam's in "Faith" I felt a bit of pure fury at John, because wow, how hard would you have to be to stay away from your kids after phone calls like those. And then *immediately* I realized that if a father who loves his kids like that could stay away, there was a terrifying good reason for it, which made me nervous for all the Winchesters, because the thing Johh hunted/was hunted by was evidently THAT scary.


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dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Sat, Jun. 3rd, 2006 07:07 am (UTC)

Thank you. My husband was actually laughing at me after I finished writing it. I was bitching about having a headache, and he looked at me very sincerely and said, "Well then quit thinking so hard about that damn Winchester fella." Of course, then my headache got significantly worse because I was laughing so hard.

My feeling has always been that he's both The Worst Father Ever and The Best Father Ever. At the same time. Or at different times. There's compassion and strength and love in him, and at the same time he's so obsessed and driven and repressed and screwed up. Heroic qualities mixed with brokenly human ones (so. fascinating!)

I would agree with this wholeheartedly in the context of Papa!John from Tyke!Dean to Now!Dean, with the Best Father Ever being early on and the Worst Father Ever (although I probably wouldn't go quite that harsh) being more of a consequence of an escelation of the demon obsession ... something I view as a later development in it going from something that was at least acceptable to something that really isn't.

But I'm totally with you on the broken hero, and how wonderfully fascinating it makes him.

But I think he did let his vengeance blind him, and his kids paid for it.

I believe he eventually got to that point, but I get the sense that I probably consider it a later development than most fans do. Before the onset of the truely obsessive part of John's quest, I think John was screwed up and obsessive in ways that probably weren't good for the boys overall, but not necessarily in ways that blinded him, or that exacted too terribly high a price on his sons psyches ... especially in the context of how atypical the boy's lives already were at that point in time.

But leaving his kids shut up in a motel room for three days, without regard for the natural impulses of children? WTF, John? Was he so much the soldier at that point he forgot what it was like to be a child himself, or that he couldn't even see his children as *people*, just extensions of his own flesh and blood to be protected at all costs?

Umm ... I think it is a more complex dynamic than that. While I think John might have been very well served to consider the possiblity that Dean would act like a normal 10 year old rather than the one he'd trained to shoot first and ask questions later, I don't think John is as far out of line as most seem to in trusting Dean as implicitly as I think he thought he had every reason he could trust him.

In an alegorical sense, I find it a little like the advisability of letting your 10 year old do flips on a 4 inch wide piece of wood 4 feet off the floor. That holds all sorts of potential for lethal disaster in many ways, but kids who are properly trained for it and who are aimed squarely at olympic dreams do it all the time without their parents even thinking twice about it. And every once in a while, a ten year old who is just as trained as all the others and just as seriously persuing their dream of olympic gold as all the others still falls and breaks her 10 year old neck.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the parent should have seen it as an obvious thing coming and consequently not let their kid strive for that olympic dream in the only way such dreams can be achieved because it could happen, especially to a kid not trained and supervised the way their kid has been. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the notion that all of those parents who let their kids pursue such things should equally see it coming and nip those olympic dreams in the buds (which, of course, as both an ex-gymnast and an ex-gymnastic coach, I don't tend to).

But in an alegorical sense, that's kinda how I see John actually believing Dean was not only qualified for the task set to him in SW, but also would be successful at it. And why it came as such a shock to him when Dean acted like a 10 year old rather than the protective demon hunting warrior brother he'd been trained for 5 years to be.


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liptonrm
liptonrm
liptonrm
Wed, Jun. 7th, 2006 03:41 pm (UTC)

Would I give John Winchester the Good Daddy of the Millenium award? Probably not but only because that's reserved for my own father and I'm nothing if not biased. ;-) You've brought up a lot of great points in his defense that I wish I had been eloquent enough to put together.

In my mind John did his best, which is the most any of us can ask of any parent. I don't think he was always right and sure he made mistakes but he took care of his boys and raised them to be good, strong men and, really, what more can anyone ask of a parent then that? Sure he (and the lifestyle) fucked them up but what parent doesn't fuck up his/her kid just a little? I mean, shoot, my parents never left me to watch my little brothers in a hotel room for three days while they went off to hunt demons and I've still got issues, that's just the way family works because, at the end of the day, we're all human and we all make mistakes, big and small.

John accomplished miracles in keeping his boys safe and relatively well-adjusted. The lifestyle the Winchesters were thrown into makes everything bigger, both successes and failures thus giving great fodder for fandom to chew on during the summer hiatus. Thank goodness we're all human, warts and all and thanks so much for your thoughtful meta, it's posts like this that make going to work almost worth it.


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dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Wed, Jun. 7th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC)

Would I give John Winchester the Good Daddy of the Millenium award? Probably not but only because that's reserved for my own father and I'm nothing if not biased. ;-)

This is the best reason ever for refusing to support the nomination. :D You are a lucky, lucky girl to have that kind of Daddy. And a Big Lug, too. Your cup runneth over ... can I have some, please?

Seriously though, I think you nailed the whole thing on the head with the perfect summary capstone:

John accomplished miracles in keeping his boys safe and relatively well-adjusted.

Exactly. When the guy's walkin on water, it seems a wee bit unreasonable to fault him for getting his shoes wet.

Not that I'm implying John is the big J (who may, or may not -- depending on whether you've seen (bought into?) the DaVinci Code or not -- have sons to fuck up with his choices as a daddy himself ... wow, talk about big shoes to fill, eh! LOL) or that Sam and Dean are shoes; but rather, that I'm drawing a parallel between the performing of miracles and such. Which I absolutely agree with you, John did, in raising two safe and relatively well-adjusted sons under the circumstances in which he was forced to raise them.

Thanks for commenting. I love the way you look at this and agree whole-heartedly.


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katriel1987
katriel1987
Kat
Thu, Apr. 10th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)

I know you wrote this ages ago, but I had to comment because of all the thinky thoughts it caused. (Don't worry, I won't try to state most of them—I'd fail miserably.)

I think you articulated exactly why, though I might not go so far as to suggest that he deserves any parenting awards, I've never been able to see John as a terrible father. It has to do with this:

Not to step on any male toes out there (or any female toes belonging to women who don’t think this applies to them), I think it’s a fairly safe generalization to posit that women, traditionally, are seen as the mommies of the world in large part because the kids always come first. Not that many daddies don’t also put their children first, but they do it in a different way … a male way.

I mention this because I’ve begun to think a gender difference in what constitutes "putting the child first" bears great relevance to some of the intolerance shown John in terms of the choices he makes as a single parent raising two motherless boys. Many who most object to John’s parental choices do so, IMO, because they feel he didn’t put the children first; and this makes him a bad daddy, even if he does obviously love both boys to the moon and back.


Now, I'm female, but here's the thing: I was raised by a single dad from the age of six weeks. The parenting I grew up with? The only parenting I was exposed to during my formative years? It was a man’s form of parenting. And while there are plenty of differences between my situation and the Winchesters' (my dad didn't see his wife burn on the ceiling, for one thing), I have a pretty decent feel for what the male mind generally views as top priority when raising children alone.

My dad wasn't perfect. Some people have questioned his parenting, in large part because I turned out rather damaged. (I have siblings, but they had a mother for eight and six years, respectively, and didn't seem to be as affected as I was.) But you know what? In my opinion, my father was and is an awesome parent. He wasn't a mother, because he couldn't be, but he loved us unconditionally and he did the best he could as a father. That's a difference some people don't get—in the SPN fandom too, I guess.

I think my view of John comes down to this:

He got obsessed with revenge. He could be a complete bastard, and some of the choices he made did damage his children. But he loved those children more than anything else in the world, and he gave everything to protect them from the evil that took his wife away. He did the best he could, in the only way he knew how.

And in the end, even though he pissed me off plenty, I could never really fault him for that.


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zazreil
zazreil
Zaz
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
Interesting

I enjoyed your essay very much. It made me laugh, smile and think. Well constructed and supported. I don't agree everything you wrote, mostly because I think that Something Wicked damages what is other wise a very good argument. That first season episode will always be the turning point where John became the Bad Daddy to me. Not because of the damage that one instance did to Dean but because I really believe he used his own family as bait (I know I maybe the only one that feels this way) or at best unnecessarily endangered his children by taking them into the hunting grounds of a Child killer when he could have left them in safety only 3 hours away.

Zaz


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dodger_winslow
dodger_winslow
I'd Sell My Soul for a Blunt Instrument ...
Sun, May. 4th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
Shtriga 1

I know a number of fen who see it your way. I, myself, will always feel the clear impication of Something Wicked is that John did leave them in safety, several hours away from the shtriga's hunting grounds. If he'd taken them to ground zero with him, he could have easily checked in every day or night. His lack of contact for 3 days running said, to me, that he was out of range of a nightly checkup call, too far away to drive over, check on them, and drive back to work.

So for me, John's "convenient arrival in the nick of time" isn't played or written as proof that he was using the boys as bait. Far to the contrary, he is clearly horrified that the shtriga is there and equally not yet letting Dean hunt with him. Were John using his children as bait, he would have either anticipated the shtriga being there and come in blasting away, angry only to have lost the shtriga and likely pursuing it rather than coming back to check on Sammy, OR he would have had Dean prepped to take the shtriga out when it arrived, not left him in the blind that the sthriga was coming.

There is no logic, to my mind, in the idea that John would leave Dean, expecting him to protect Sam when the shtriga came for them because John was setting that up to happen, without making sure Dean knew what to expect: that the shtriga, in specific, was coming, so he wasn't merely being left to watch over Sammy from any nebulous danger out there the same as if it was any other day in their dark lives.

If he thought Dean was capable of standing between Sammy and the shtriga, there is no reason for him not to tell Dean what was coming so Dean would be prepared to do his job. If he didn't think Dean was capable of standing between Sammy and the sthriga, there is no reason for him to freak when he arrives and the shtriga is there, nor is there any reason for him not to pursue the shtriga when it runs if his plan was to use his sons to bait it there.

So I see the convenience of John's arrival coupled with him not checking in for 3 days as proof indisputable that the boys were outside the shtriga's hunting range (thus, in John's eyes, at least safe from the one supernatural monster he knew out and about in the area, making leaving them now nothing more than leaving them any other time ... a babysitting job for a son he'd trained to protect both of them against supernatural threats in a way no other babysitter would be adequately trained, and with whom he'd left adequate defensive skills and supplies, as well as money and a safe zone where he'd been ordered to stay), but the sthriga had picked up on John hunting it, so it was going after his kids in retaliation.

And John, close enough up it's ass in the tracking to see/realize where it was going, put his supercharge on to get to his boys before it managed to do what it was trying to do. Which would explain why he was so freaked when he showed up, and why he didn't chase the shtriga when it escaped. Because he was terrified by realizing the shtriga targetted his boys to get to him, and that he'd left them vulnerable to that attack by 1) doing something to let the shtriga know he was onto it and 2) not realizing that, as a ten-year-old, Dean might be perfectly trained to follow the orders he was given to assure their protection, but he wasn't mature enough to be trusted to follow those orders with enough 100% assurity that their lives could be the consequence of failure.

(continued ...)


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