by Jason McLarty
Within the past 25 years, society saw a shift in the expected family paradigm. Where as before, the father went to work and the mother stayed home to care for the children and manage the household. The phrase “wait until your father gets home” originates from this period and shows that the father’s primary role was disciplinarian, moral teacher, and breadwinner. Popular culture portrayed it this way, at least with shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show. In the 1950s it was virtually unheard of for the man to stay home and the wife go to work, we see a very different picture in the world around us now1.
It was not an immediate shift, especially in the media. With new research showing that affectionate father-child relationships facilitate development gaining wider acceptance, society gradually started to come around2. It started slow with movies like Mr. Mom, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Three Men and a Baby. However, even then the father was often initially portrayed as inept and lacking any natural nurturing skills.
Now we see more examples of the father as caregiver with movies like Radio and Finding Nemo. More and more children are looking to popular culture for examples of social roles. Children may even learn these behaviors from favorite celebrities or fictional characters3. This can be especially present in single parent homes where there may not be direct examples to model themselves after. So, does it fall to the media to make sure they are portraying fatherhood and the responsibilities of it accurately? I believe it is even more important for us to present positive father examples because of the nature of our culture.
How does that picture look for Geeks and Gamers with the media that we claim as our own? Do we have stable, positive examples to model ourselves after? Geeks and Gamers share a history that is sometimes ripe with turmoil where the ability to sit and pretend you are someone else in a land far away would be very appealing4. Even escaping into a favorite movie or comic book presents a place to work through whatever it is we are dealing with. In these situations, does our culture provide examples of fathers for readers to model themselves after?
We are going to look over three different mediums, comic books, Film, and Television to see if fathers and fatherhood are portrayed in a manner that supports a positive example or archetype.
It is not very difficult to find examples of absent fathers in comic books. You really can’t swing a dead cat around without hitting an orphan or two. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and several of the X-Men are some examples just to name a few. However, many times these situations still present a father figure, someone who serves as a caregiver and teacher for a growing super hero. In this section, we will not cover Clark Kent/Superman since a lot of the more developed stories about his relationship with Jonathan Kent came as a reaction to the TV Series Smallville, which we will cover that series in our TV section. Our first study we will cover Peter Parker, an orphan taken in by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
While the reader did not initially see a lot of the interaction between young Peter and Uncle Ben, the bond shared between the two presents itself very strongly in the character of both Peter Parker and Spiderman. Peter does not actually become Spiderman because of Uncle Ben; he created the persona to make some money5. It was ignoring his Uncle’s greatest lesson that created the drive and moral foundation for Spiderman’s mission. Peter’s relationship with Uncle Ben in his early life allowed the character to have a solid grounding in moral conscience and social development. This exemplifies the quality of the relationship far exceeds the amount of actual time lost by the death6. His lesson of, “with great power comes great responsibility” resonates with Peter and influences many of Spiderman’s actions. Often when Peter strays off the reservation, it is these lessons that bring him back to his core. While Peter was still socially awkward compared to his peers, he still grew into a socially well-adjusted young man.
In contrast to Ben Parker, Norman Osborn presents a different perspective of fatherhood. Norman portrays a more rigid, stern methodology to parenting. Osborn treats his son Harry coldly and distant. Children who experience this level of parenting tend to also be associated with a high level of anxiety and maladjustment7. In Harry’s case, it creates a conflict where he constantly seeks out his father’s approval regardless of the cost. This presents itself well when Harry learns his father is the Green Goblin after watching Norman’s fight to the death with Spiderman8. Harry covered up the truth and eventually became the Green Goblin himself in order to avenge his father’s death9.
The distance of Norman’s relationship with Harry created the moral vacuum Harry lived within. Boys with absent fathers, including non-affectionate/participatory, do score lower on a variety of morality measures, such as moral judgment, guilt following transgression, and acceptance of blame, than those with present fathers10. This distance also leads to a child feeling rejected and unhappy, which will affect the interpersonal relationships with others11. To cope with the depression and the feelings on being unwanted Harry turned to drugs on several occasions. This portrayal of the father child relationship exists as a counterpoint to Ben Parker. This relationship shows the dangers of Norman Osborn’s approach that by not being an affectionate father the parent ultimately can doom their child’s development. Whereas an affectionate, involved surrogate father figure can greatly reduce the negative effects of an absent father12. In some cases, forming a strong bond with a surrogate role model would resolve anti-social behaviors in young delinquents13.
The role of a father in raising a child presents itself in several examples such as Bruce Wayne (in raising Dick Grayson and Tim Drake), Magneto (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch), and Pat Dugan (S.T.R.I.P.E). Not all of these relationships are paragons of parenthood. Magneto’s possesses an estranged relationship with his children, except in the Age of Apocalypse storyline where Quicksilver is the devoted son and has a strong bond with his father. Bruce Wayne raises Dick Grayson and takes him under his wing in fighting crime. Some would argue that dragging a young child into a crusade for justice would be horrible parenting. However, Bruce did provide Robin with a strong set of morals and ethics that he carried with him as he went out on his own as Nightwing. Pat Dugan presents a similar example when he builds a suit of armor so he can fight crime alongside his stepdaughter Stargirl and protect her.
Sometimes a father does not choose to be absent. Scott Summers, Cyclops, from the X-Men stands out as a strong example. After his ex-wife Madelyne Pryor goes nuts, becomes the Goblin Queen and dies; he raises his son Nathan Christopher Summers on his own. He rekindles his relationship with Jean Grey but still stands as a single parent. In the pages of X-Factor, Apocalypse infects baby Nathan with a deadly techno-organic virus. Scott must choose to send the baby into the future in order to save his son’s life14. The decision ways heavily on Scott and we see the effect on the child. After learning that baby Nathan is indeed the mutant from the future Cable, we see how Cable resents his father for so easily abandoning him to the future. Scott must show Cable how the decision caused him so much pain15.
Comic books do present several examples of fatherhood, both positive and negative examples. In the examples we have discussed all of them portray what should happen for a father/child relationship. In some cases, we see what should not be happening as in the case of Norman Osborn and Magneto. In others, we see good examples of men standing up to be positive figures in peoples’ lives. Next week, we are going to look at some of the examples in films that are popular in Geek and Gamer culture.
Geek U takes popular topics in Geek Culture and places them into an academic atmosphere. Feel free to cite these articles in your own papers by using the citation information on the Credit Page.
- Michael E. Lamb, “The Role of the Father: An Overview,” The Role of the Father in Child Development, Edited by Michael E. Lamb, London: John Wiley, 1976, 71.
- Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 15.
- Henry B. Biller, “The Father and Personality Development: Paternal Deprivation and Sex-Role Development,” The Role of the Father in Child Development, Edited by Michael E. Lamb, London: John Wiley, 1976, 101.
- Benjamin Nugent, American Nerd: The Story of My People, New York: Scribner, 2008, 49.
- Stan Lee (writer), Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics, 1962.
- Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 90.
- Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 106.
- Gerry Conway, The Amazing Spider-Man, issue: 122, Marvel Comics, 1973.
- Gerry Conway, The Amazing Spider-Man, issue: 136, Marvel Comics, 1974.
- Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 109.
- Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 104.
- Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 15.
- Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 136.
- Chris Claremont, X-Factor, Issue: 68, Marvel Comics, 1986.
- Scott Lobdell, Uncanny X-Men, issue: 310, Marvel Comics, 1994.