Fathers of Supernatural: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

July 17, 2015

If you didn't already know, I am a huge Supernatural fan. This post focuses on the fathers of Supernatural and the lessons we can learn from them.

Fathers are not just there to help mom out, or to be "the fun parent." They provide a positive role model for their kids. They represent figures of authority and help foster a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem in their kids. Ideally, they create a safe and accepting environment for their kids to develop into whatever or whoever they want to become, to find and create their own identities. Ideally, they provide their children with a good model for relationships in how they interact with their spouse.

Father figures are a big theme in Supernatural. The first one we are introduced to is John Winchester.

Many fans will say that if there is one line that grasped their attention and got them hooked on the show, it is this line spoken by Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) in the first episode:

The story started with two brothers looking for their father. Whether he was absent or missing, we didn't know at the time, but there was a sense of urgency in Dean's mannerisms that also spoke of a sense of responsibility. Throughout the season, we get to see more of what happened to Dean and Sam's father, we get to know him, and we get to realize that he is a really bad father.

John Winchester taught the boys to fend for themselves, parentified his oldest son, and alienated his youngest son. When his wife, Mary, was still alive, he sometimes walked out on her, presumably for days at a time. He also had a family on the side, and another son, Adam, that Dean and Sam did not know about until adulthood. John Winchester never took Dean and Sam out to play catch, to go fishing, or on an actual hunting trip, but Adam had wonderful memories of great quality time spent with his father.

Why was John Winchester absent so often, and what does it tell us about absent fathers and their kids?

The story was, he was out hunting monsters, and oftentimes this seemed to be the case. Probably much of the time, he was also trying to find the demon who killed his wife. He was always busy. He was focused on his own goals, so much so that he lost track of the importance of his own role in his two older sons' upbringing. He failed to provide the one thing his two boys would have benefited the most from after losing their mother because he was focused on his own pain, or his own sense of purpose.

John turned his oldest son into a parentified child. A child who is parentified will often:
  • act more mature than his/her chronological age, including the way they express themselves and the things they care about (example: perhaps they do not engage in play as often);
  • tend to their younger siblings, which can include waking them up in the morning, helping them get ready for school (even if the parentified child is of school age himself/herself), preparing meals, ensuring that there are enough groceries, etc.;
  • take on adult responsibilities because a parent is either absent, unable, or unwilling to perform them;
  • worry about the well-being of their siblings and the parent/s. 
  • Sometimes, parentified children are treated by their parent/s as a friend more so than a child. 
It is healthy for a single parent to at some point begin dating again, to have romantic relationships, and to spend time with his/her own friends. Parents who spend all of their free time with their children may create an unhealthy dynamic in which the child is the sole provider of the parents' needs. This may make it harder for the child to become independent. John Winchester did have his own life separate from his sons, but went to an extreme. He had another family that Dean and Sam never knew about.

Keeping another family hidden from his two sons, especially when all they had was their father and all they wanted was a family was a very selfish thing to do. The values he taught Adam were the opposite of what he taught Dean and Sam. For example, John Winchester was very upset when Dean, at age 9, was taught how to throw a baseball instead of how to shoot a double barrel by the man who was caring for him at the time (because John was, of course, absent). But Adam played baseball with his dad all the time.

Why the favoritism?

This is just brainstorming, but one reason may be that John wanted to protect Adam from the lifestyle that Dean and Sam had been sucked into. He would have seen no need to bring that part of his family into it, and after all, John did not meet Adam until the boy was twelve. Perhaps John felt that he, Dean, and Sam had no choice but to carry on with that specific lifestyle, but saw Adam as his chance to get it right this time. Maybe he wanted to give Adam what he could never give to Sam and Dean. Adam fulfilled certain needs for John that Dean and Sam could not, including the need to be a good, normal parent, and to engage in father-son bonding activities.

Despite the fact that he was absent much of the time, John was deeply loved by his sons, and he loved them too. They took what lessons he taught them to heart. They understood him. He gave them a sense of purpose in life. When he was present, he was very firm and showed tough love, and instilled the value of family in Dean, and in Sam to some extent.

Despite the lessons John Winchester taught his sons, I think that Bobby Singer taught them more about family than John ever did. Bobby was the caring, tough, firm, and fun father figure that the boys never really had. He fulfilled the role of the good father. He had father issues of his own, which made him not want to have his own children. Bobby's father was an alcoholic and was physically and emotionally abusive toward both Bobby and his mom. Growing up in that kind of environment, Bobby had to do things to protect his mom that no child ever should. His was a painful and traumatic childhood, which left him scarred, and afraid of taking on a role that he honestly believed he would fail at.

Even though Bobby did not believe he would make a good dad, he was an amazing father figure to Dean and Sam. Bobby was down to earth, straightforward, and he did not hold back. He cared deeply about the well-being of the boys. In his mind, Bobby adopted the Winchesters, and saw them grow up to be men. He was proud of them as a father would be, and truly saw them as "heroes." Despite all the good things the three accomplished together, Bobby's most wonderful memory was of Dean and Sam watching a movie over popcorn and beer at his house.

In a way, Dean and Sam seemed to be more emotionally attached to Bobby. They see him as someone who can be a guide, someone who has answers, someone who is consistent and provides stability (even in death), and they trust in him completely.

One of the most important lessons we learn from Bobby:

This is important because it touches on the fact that not everybody has a stable or supportive family to count on. Family consists of people who remain with us, in our hearts, throughout our lives, not just blood relatives. This is something the Supernatural fandom as a whole seems to respond to, as evidenced by embracing the tag "#SPNFamily." Even in death, Bobby came through when Sam and Dean needed help, despite a possibly eternal punishment for him in heaven. 

Which leads me to the third father figure. This is where it gets ugly. Many people who identify strongly with a religion may find it distasteful to introduce "God" as a character--albeit absent-- in a television show. The introduction of "God" and the idea that there is a "God" in Supernatural creates the concept that somewhere behind the scenes there is someone who created an entire world... and then left it. This could, given the right situation, lead to chaos (and it eventually does).

When the angels are introduced, the audience is also introduced to the idea of heaven and "God." However, this "God" character is not portrayed as an almighty, protective, loving figure. He is portrayed as an entity who abandoned his children at some point. Most of the angels have never even met him. They follow his orders, as they remember them, on faith alone. Without their father present, the angels - like children - looked to their oldest brother for guidance. It was up to Michael to lead all of his brothers and sisters in their father's absence. It was when the angels suddenly lost Michael that chaos began. Without someone to guide them, they lost the order that they had created, they started fighting each other, and they didn't seem to know what to do anymore. Multiple angels tried, until eventually someone established some kind of order.

The absence of their father seems to instill a sense of jealousy in some of the angels, as well as anger, and in some, a sense of hopelessness, or freedom. They had to be self-reliant. Each person reacts differently to being abandoned, but the overwhelming majority are in pain, and they react in different ways.

How the angels behave in the absence of "God" teaches us about faith, hope, and patience. This says something about the power of faith and believing in someone you love. But it also says something about blindly following orders. Sometimes, the angels are portrayed as beings who do not entirely think for themselves, and they latch on to others that they can follow because their father is not present. Without having someone to follow, someone to guide them, they dove into chaos.

Supernatural (and research :D) tells us that the absence of a father is felt throughout a child's life, even when that child grows into an adult. Fathers guide us and teach us about the world. Fathers do not have to be biological. Even if a father is absent, a father figure, or a caring role model, can fulfill many of those child's needs. As Bobby taught us, "Family don't end with blood." 

4 comments on "Fathers of Supernatural: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly"
  1. Great post! I recently started to binge watch Supernatural (I am going to start season 3 right now). Though I haven't encountered the Angels yet, nor their unknown brother, I do agree with the rest. Damn, this post is good!

    1. Thank you! :D And yea, I've found with Supernatural that just when you think they've done it all and where could they possibly go from here... they go even further and it gets better! Thank you for your comments :D

  2. Bobby is definitely a great father figure to both Sam and Dean. He really cared about the boys and came through for them every time they needed him. The absentee God in this show really wrecked the (already) nervous angels, it seems. It's like without him, they just lost their sense of purpose or direction. It's messy in heaven now due to the absence of the father they (had?) put on a pedestal. Great post! :) I love "Supernatural" and my favorite is Dean.

    1. My favorite is Dean too! I do hope that they bring back "God" and I wonder if next season they will, because of the mess that the Winchesters have caused!