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Geek U: Who’s Your Daddy? Models of Fatherhood in Geek and Gamer Culture Part 2 Film

Part 1/ Part 2/Part 3

Arthur Weasley, Thomas Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Voldemort, and Anakin Skywalker

by Jason McLarty

When looking for strong examples of fatherhood, we can often find them in Film. Some of society’s most prominent examples of fatherhood live in this medium. Within a comic book, we see examples through word and story progression. However, in film, we see the subtle inflections of emotion in the faces of both father and child on the screen. Movies present us with a dynamic view as opposed to the static panels of a comic book. While Television presents the same opportunity, the difference lies with how we receive Film.

Films tend to be perceived as larger than life, great spectacles to amaze audiences. Historically, Film also carries with it a certain prestige not relegated to television. There are some amazing movies that are produced for television that do not get the same recognition as Film simply because they are Television movies. Film contains so many examples of fatherhood in Geek and Gaming culture. For our purposes, we will look at some iconic examples in Batman Begins, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.

With the recent reboot of the Batman film franchise, we experienced a different take on the character of Bruce Wayne by exploring his origins and how he created the cape and cowl. In exploring these origins, we go back to his experiences with his father. The previous series of films never showed interaction between Thomas Wayne and his son Bruce16. These movies often touched on his memories of either their death or the aftermath. Modern comic interpretations portrayed Thomas Wayne as distant from his son and the Year One series barely touches on an actual portrayal of the relationship on panel17. However, in Batman Begins we do see the relationship between Thomas and Bruce Wayne18.

     In the film, Thomas evokes a benevolence of both caregiver and moral teacher. After rescuing an injured young Bruce from the caves, he tenderly cleanses his son’s wounds and imparts wisdom about fear. Sigmund Freud described the father as fulfilling the psychological needs of the child for protection, nurturing, and discipline19.

Thomas Wayne shows that he has a relationship with his son and that he is very active in day-to-day interactions. In the train ride to the opera he instills further lessons into Bruce about the responsibility they have to take care of others, showing that he fulfills both roles as caregiver and moral teacher. What is extremely different from many other films is that Batman Begins gives very little detail about Bruce’s interaction with his mother Martha Wayne. At the opera Thomas is the one who decides to leave the theatre when he sees Bruce’s fear. This decision further exemplifies the role as nurturer and caregiver. After his parents’ death, Bruce Wayne needs to fill this void as he grows into adulthood. The family’s butler Alfred Pennyworth fills that void.

In Batman Begins, Alfred Pennyworth exemplifies the archetype of the positive surrogate father figure. Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred shows a caring nurturer and disciplinarian that Bruce Wayne accepted as a father surrogate. We can see that vigilantism aside; Alfred’s involvement as a father surrogate led Bruce Wayne grew to be a rather socially well-adjusted young man. Psychologists associate this level of involvement and nurturing with intellectual development, social competence, and empathy for others20. Throughout Batman Begins and in The Dark Knight we often see Bruce seeking Alfred’s guidance on the decisions he makes21. In Batman Begins, we see Bruce as a young man home from college to attend the hearing of his parents’ murderer. At this visit, Alfred seeks to guide his ward to leave the anger behind and live his life how his parents would have wished. We see Bruce blame himself on some level for his parents’ death. This can often present itself in children with absent fathers as children may idealize absent parents and hold themselves responsible for their absence22. The way Bruce dismisses Alfred’s plea shows the level of relationship between the two. Bruce does not rebuke Alfred for crossing a boundary or treat Alfred as the “help.” Bruce politely ignores the request; similar to a petulant teenager dismisses a request from his parent.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both show the importance of the fatherly relationship in the guidance of a growing hero. Being a father most importantly helps to foster a child’s feelings of autonomy and individualism23. In Begins, we see Alfred supporting Bruce’s mission while still imparting reason and moral guidance along the way. In the role of surrogate father Alfred had a positive effect on Bruce’s development of his moral code as Batman23. Alfred still serves as caregiver when nursing Bruce’s wounds and saving him from burning to death in the film’s climax. We see this same perspective of how Bruce sees Alfred as caregiver in Dark Night after Rachel Dawe’s murder. Bruce is inconsolable and truly does not know what he is going to do or what he should do. Alfred consoles Bruce and protects him from the truth that Rachel would not choose him. Alfred then offers him the advice that he needs to endure and hold true through the hard times, being the voice of reason throughout the film. Our culture often explores relationship of the surrogate father figure and the absent father. The Harry Potter series present an example where several different examples present themselves.

The Harry Potter series explores many different examples of fatherhood. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone24, we meet a young Harry who, much like Luke Skywalker, lives with his aunt and uncle since the death of his parents. Harry has not memory of his parents since they died when we was a baby. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Harry’s relatives do not treat him kindly and force him to live in a cupboard under the stairs with no knowledge of his true lineage. That is until he is “rescued” from his relatives by Rubeus Hagrid and taken into the world of magic and wizardry. In the Harry Potter series, we encounter examples of absent fathers, surrogate fathers, positive father interaction and negative interaction. When looking over the series we really have to look for instances of negative father interaction.

Negative interactions present themselves rarely in the relationships portrayed in these films. The most prominent of these examples exists in the character of Vernon Dursley, who actually portrays both positive and negative interactions. With his own son, Vernon actually serves as the archetype of a positive father-son relationship. Remember that we are not evaluating the content of the message but the delivery. Vernon Dursley does impart some pretty messed up morals onto Dudley, but the two actually do have a healthy relationship. We can see this in Dudley’s learned behavior towards Harry.

When both his parents behaved negatively towards Harry, they actually reinforce this learned behavior in Dudley25. Dudley, possessing an affectionate relationship with Vernon, in turn idealizes his father and mimics his actions26. This example also relates to the relationship between Lucius Malfoy and his son Draco. Lucius imparts some very misguided morals and values to his son. However he truly does love and care for his son, as displayed in Half Blood Prince where he and his wife are truly concerned for Draco’s well being27. Vernon does not interact positively with Harry throughout the series often punishing him severely for minor inconveniences or by going out of his way to favor his own son Dudley.

We see the effect of this on Harry in Sorcerer’s Stone, as he feels unwanted and unhappy. The unaffectionate relationship with Vernon leads to this feeling28. One can suspect that had Harry not gone to Hogwarts he would most likely ended up like Voldemort.

Voldemort presents a prime example of the worst-case scenario for a child with an absent father. Tom Riddle, Voldemort’s birth name, lived without a legitimate parent relationship from a very young age. Living in the orphanage, he grew up with a warped sense of moral values. The absence of any type of father figure during his formative years contributed to this development29. In the novels, specifically Half Blood Prince, we see how Voldemort’s morality twisted as he tormented other children before learning how to adequately hide his maniacal urges upon entering Hogwarts30. Even after entering Hogwart’s, Tom Riddle lacked a stable, engaged surrogate father figure. Indirect processes such as this actually do more to develop antisocial behaviors31.

Voldemort differs from Harry in several regards, even though they both share similar origins of having absent fathers. Harry did possess a relationship with Vernon Dursley, albeit dysfunctional. Voldemort had no relationship at all. Could this difference be the one thing that meant the difference between becoming a hero or genocidal maniac? It all depends on where you fall on the nature versus nurture debate.

Voldemort could very well biologically be a sociopath and would have had those mental issues regardless of what environment he was in. I am inclined to see one of the big differences is that Harry did have a wealth of people standing in as surrogate father figures through the film series. Harry had many places to turn to when it came to fulfilling the role of a positive father relationship. He found this void fulfilled through Hagrid, Dumbeldore, Lupin, Sirius, and most importantly Arthur Weasley.

Harry kept from progressing down the same road as Voldemort because there were stable, positive surrogate fathers. We can go as far to say Dumbledore took the interest in Harry that he did because Tom Riddle, who was also without parents, became Lord Voldemort. Having seen what could come of a child without a loving family Dumbledore sought out Harry and took a special interest in him. Yes, there was the issue of the prophecy and being the chosen one. However, I think that Dumbledore took care to make sure that Harry experienced love, friendship, and someone to model himself after as a father. We see Harry realize this fact as well in Order of the Phoenix32. Studies suggest that the introduction of a highly engaged father figure will reduce the risk for emotional and behavioral problems in young adults33. As stated before Harry never had a shortage of men ready to enter that role but Arthur Weasley stands out among the crowd.

Within the entire Harry Potter series, Arthur Weasley stands as the prime example of a positive father role model. We often see Arthur as a devoted husband and father, never shying away from giving affection or discipline to his children. Arthur Weasley really is the only constant role model Harry has to model himself after when it comes to fatherhood. Harry sees the effects of Arthur’s methods in how well adjusted the Weasley children are throughout the series. High father engagement in families is a good indicator of lower incidences of delinquency and criminality34. He often is shown as being protective his children and Harry when it comes to danger. In Goblet of Fire, he makes sure his family is safe when the Death Eaters attack the Quidditch World Cup before going on the offensive.

Arthur Weasley’s character possessed great importance to both his children and the overall story of the series. In Order of the Phoenix, Rowling had actually intended to kill Arthur when Nagini, Voldemort’s snake, in the Ministry of Magic, attacked him. She changed her mind because she could not bring herself to kill the only true father figure in Harry’s life36. This could definitely have something to do with the fact that children who spend a significant amount of time with their fathers, such as Arthur, tend to be well adjusted37. We can see Arthur’s influence in the final book, and soon movie on July 15th, with an epilogue that jumps eighteen years into the future with Harry sending his son off to Hogwarts. He imparts fatherly wisdom and affection to his youngest son Albus Severus38. This shows that it is possible to learn how to be a father without a biological father present if positive surrogates exist. What happens at the opposite end of the spectrum where no true father surrogate exists and the only person to step up only seeks to corrupt someone into damnation?

Much like Voldemort in Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker serves as an example of the dangers of children growing without any father figure in their life. We first meet young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace39. He grew up without a father figure entirely; I doubt we could even try to count his owner Watto. Overall, he is a genuinely nice little kid. After Phantom Menace, he enters into the Jedi Academy as a Padawan learner under Obi Wan Kenobi. Here Obi Wan does function on some level as Anakin’s father figure, yet by Attack of the Clones their relationship almost seems brotherly40. I even go as far as saying the Jedi mentality of emotions being inherently bad and leading to the dark side lead to Anakin’s warped logic.

Some would view the emotional distance required of a Jedi in the training as a potentially negative father surrogate interaction. Think of it this way, Obi Wan is essentially raising Anakin from a young kid of about 8-10 years old but showing affection and giving into emotions are bad. This essentially creates a relationship that is emotionally distant, yet demanding in the sense of the training and dedication of a Jedi. This lack of emotional connection would cause most children distress, anger, and self-doubt41. Anakin only feels that he needs to live up to expectations and doesn’t feel any affection from Obi Wan similar to what he experienced from his mother. On the same note, how would Obi Wan know how to raise a child beyond the training? He would not, so Anakin has what we could call an unavailable father relationship in terms of emotional and moral development.

We see this in Attack of the Clones where Anakin doesn’t view Obi Wan as a nurturer, caregiver, or father figure; instead he feels that Obi Wan is holding him back and not letting him reach his potential. Anakin views Obi Wan’s guidance as interference. This warped sense of reality carries over to Revenge of the Sith when Anakin all to easily accepts Palpatine into the role of father figure42.

The lack of a positive father relationship in his formative years laid the groundwork for Anakin Skywalker’s downward spiral into Darth Vader. Palpatine orchestrated Vader’s fall rather well by playing against the weaknesses of the Jedi Order. Knowing full well how the Order raised younglings Palpatine saw the craving for affection and praise that Anakin possessed.

We see beginnings of this in his praise of Anakin in Attack of the Clones and it comes to fruition in Revenge of the Sith. In Sith, Palpatine praises Anakin for commendable work and rewards him. What really plays in his favor is that he is creating a positive surrogate father relationship with Anakin. He listens to Anakin, sides with him, allows him to speak his mind. While these are extremes and only serve Palaptine’s true purpose, one could reason that had Anakin had this type of relationship before with someone less Machiavellian, things would have turned out different. Anakin may have seen through the double talk and half-truths and not fallen to the dark side. Instead, Anakin feels betrayed by the Jedi Order when they ask him to spy on the only person to really act like a father to him. With this act, Palpatine successfully turns Anakin against the Jedi Order and dooms him.

Film within Geek and Gamer culture presents many different examples of father/child interactions. We have only covered some of the most prominent well known examples that span across audiences within our culture and the mainstream. This is by no means an exhaustive end all, be all list. There are sure to be others that could be included in this review, but the methods we are using to analyze the relationships would hold true for other examples as well. Next week we turn our attention to a medium that dominates society’s attention much more than comic books, films, novels combined.

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.


    1. 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.
    2. Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 15.
    3. 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.
    4. Benjamin Nugent, American Nerd: The Story of My People, New York: Scribner, 2008, 49.
    5. Stan Lee (writer), Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics, 1962.
    6. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 90.
    7. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 106.
    8. Gerry Conway, The Amazing Spider-Man, issue: 122, Marvel Comics, 1973.
    9. Gerry Conway, The Amazing Spider-Man, issue: 136, Marvel Comics, 1974.
    10. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 109.
    11. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 104.
    12. Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 15.
    13. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 136.
    14. Chris Claremont, X-Factor, Issue: 68, Marvel Comics, 1986.
    15. Scott Lobdell, Uncanny X-Men, issue: 310, Marvel Comics, 1994.
    16. Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin
    17. Frank Miller, Batman: Year One , DC Comics, 1987.
    18.  Batman Begins [Blu-ray], Blu-Ray, Directed by Christopher Nolan, Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2008.
    19. Kim Jones, “Assessing Psychological Separation and Academic Performance in Nonresident-Father and Resident-Father Adolescent Boys,” Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 21.4 (2004): 334, Academic Search Complete. EBSCO, Web. 22 May 2011
    20. Heather Geddes, “Reflections on the role and significance of fathers in relation to emotional development and learning,” British Journal of Guidance & Counselling 36.4 (2008): 402,Academic Search Complete, EBSCO, Web. 22 May 2011.
    21. The Dark Knight (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]. Blu-Ray. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2010.
    22. Heather Geddes, “Reflections on the role and significance of fathers,”402.
    23. Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 16.
    24. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Widescreen Edition). DVD. Directed by Chris Columbus. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2007.
    25. Michelle DeKlyen, Mathew L. Spetlz, and Mark T. Greenberg, “Fathering and Early Onset Conduct Problems: Positive and Negative Parenting, Father–Son Attachment, and the Marital Context,”Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review 1, no. 1 (March 1998): 4, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost 22 May 2011.
    26. Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 15.
    27. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Full-Screen Edition), DVD. Directed by David Yates. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2011.
    28. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 104.
    29. Henry B. Biller, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 109.
    30. J. K. Rowling and Mary GrandPré, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
    31. Michelle DeKlyen, “Fathering and Early Onset Conduct Problems: Positive and Negative Parenting, Father–Son Attachment,” 6.
    32. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Widescreen Edition), DVD. Directed by David Yates. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2009.
    33. Sven Bremberg, et al, “Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies,” Acta Paediatrica 97.2 (2008): 156, Academic Search Complete, EBSCO, Web, 22 May 2011.
    34. Sven Bremberg, “Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes,” 155.
    35. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Widescreen Edition), DVD, Directed by Mike Newell. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2005.
    36. Carol Memmott, “J.K. Rowling’s fond look back at Harry Potter,” USATODAY.com, http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2007-07-25-harry-potter-spoilers_N.htm 7 June 2011.
    37. Kim Jones, “Assessing Psychological Separation and Academic Performance,” 341.
    38. J.K. Rowling, and Mary Grandpre, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press, 2007.
    39. Star Wars – Episode I, The Phantom Menace (Widescreen Edition), DVD, Directed by George Lucas, Tucson: 20th Century Fox, 1999.
    40. Star Wars – Episode II, Attack of the Clones (Widescreen Edition), DVD, Directed by George Lucas, Tucson: 20th Century Fox, 2002.
    41. Heather Geddes, “Reflections on the role and significance of fathers,” 403.
    42. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (Widescreen Edition), DVD, Directed by George Lucas, Tucson: 20th Century Fox, 2005.


3 thoughts on “Geek U: Who’s Your Daddy? Models of Fatherhood in Geek and Gamer Culture Part 2 Film

  1. Wow! Well researched!! The fathers will be proud especially when they view it on 19th June – Father’s Day.

    Posted by mychronicledlife | June 8, 2011, 7:48 am
  2. WOW, that’s an amazing amount of thought on these fictional fathers/surrogates. Nice work.

    Posted by Katrina Hill | June 9, 2011, 7:22 am

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