Posted by: Phil Anderson | June 16, 2014

Daddy Issues

This Fathers Day I’m thinking about relationships between parents and children, both real and fictional.

Our parents are the people who raise us, whether they gave birth to us or not. They leave an indelible impact on our lives. They teach us values and priorities, sometimes with their words but more often by their actions, demonstrating what’s important and what’s not. They influence our formative years and even when we’ve reached adulthood and broken out of the mold we were formed in, its contours are still visible in who we are and who we’ve become.

Since parents are so pivotal to who a person is and how they behave, why are they missing from the lives of so many fictional characters?

A protagonist has to be (or has to become) a strong character. They need to stand up to adversity, persevere in conflict, and demonstrate on their own the qualities of a hero. Having a parent to lean on for assistance or for wise instruction seems to diminish a hero’s accomplishments.

Also, a parent (or any character) who is like-minded and supportive tends to be, from a narrative point-of-view, redundant. When the hero decides on a course of action, taking time to affirm that decision is generally a waste of page space and can really bog down the momentum of a story.

Some storytellers address these by putting the parents in conflict with the protagonist. Perhaps a parent refuses to see that his little girl has grown up. Maybe he’s concerned that the situation is too dangerous and forbids her from getting involved for her own protection. In effect, this makes parents just another obstacle for the hero to overcome.

In real life however, we all need support and encouragement to attain great things. We doubt our own abilities and we’re tempted to give up in the face of hardship. We need someone who can see potential where others can’t, who can find a needle of accomplishment in a haystack of failure.

What role do parents play in your favorite stories, or in the lives of your favorite characters? Do you have a parental figure who supports and encourages you?

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