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Heavy Meta Poisoning
Supernatural is truth
The John Winchester Parenting Handbook. :p 
30th-Jul-2006 11:47 am
TDW Angelica: smile!
On John Winchester and Parenting
Why I, Ellipsis Black, do not actually believe that John Winchester is a bad father.


I have been re-watching certain episodes of Supernatural, I have been struggling around my feelings about John Winchester. The consensus (correct me if I'm wrong) about John Winchester is that he is a Bad Father, even among the apologists and John-lovers. In fact, I even went along with this myself, because certainly the vibe one gets from the final arc ("Dead Man's Blood" through to "Devil's Trap") is not a positive one. Then, through a discussion with wickedtruth on one of her fics, I realised that the issues I was having reconciling my views on John was not between my liking him as a character and his being a bad father, but that my liking him as a character was based on his being a good father (well at least, a decent one), and this was being contradicted by my active rationalisation of his character. I have no problems with liking characters who are bad parents or who have other faults; I write them myself, and tend to lean towards the flawed characters in general. And I'm not arguing that John isn't broken: I think he is more broken than either of his sons, to be honest, but that is a view based on speculation not canon, and so I'll leave it aside.

Before I get into the serious meta, I'd like to throw a quote out there. It's from Savage Garden's "Affirmation," and, leaving aside comments about the band, I think this line is directly relevant:
"I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do."
I'll discuss that quote more later, but I believe the dislike of John's parenting skills is based on four propositions.
  • He treats Dean and Sam like soldiers in his war on the Demon instead of like his sons.
  • By extension, he constantly puts his sons in danger.
  • He is emotionally repressed and inaccessible.
  • He went off the rails after Mary died and everything else was subsumed in his quest for revenge.
I'm going to address these one by one, with specific reference to "Pilot," "Bloody Mary," "Home," "Asylum," "Scarecrow," "The Benders," "Shadow," "Something Wicked," "Dead Man's Blood," "Salvation," and "Devil's Trap." This is simply because those are the episodes I have access to. If anyone would like to comment with pro or contrary evidence from other episodes, please do, and I will most likely incorporate it.

"I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do."
The reason that I think the "Affirmation" quote is so relevant is that I really do think that John is doing the best job he knows how to do. Without making excuses for his actions, one has to remember that John has had his wife incinerated on the ceiling, and consequently has discovered that the things that go bump in the night exist and apparently want his family dead. That's a scenario that doesn't show up in the parenting handbook, so safe to say that John is flying blind, raising two sons by himself, in circumstances that would strain two ideal parents working as a team. We also have a very striking comment by Sam in "Nightmare":
"I'll tell you one thing: we're lucky we had dad. … it could have gone a whole ‘nother way after mom. A little more tequila, a little less demon hunting, and we would have had Max's childhood."
Yes, alcoholic John is directly contradicted in canon. More importantly, I think the episode, "Nightmare" had two purposes: one, to show the link between psychic abilities and mom's burnination, and two, to show Sam (and the audience) that while the boys' childhood may not have been apple pie, John had handled it as well as he knew how, and, "all things considered, [they] turned out okay, thanks to [John]" (again, to quote Sam). Given Sam's obvious tendency to be highly critical of John's modus operandi, this comment cannot be dismissed as some sort of rationalisation, like it could be if Dean had said it (though Dean agrees with an unusual lack of aversion to "chick flick moments").

The flipside of the "doing the best job they knew how to do" argument is that, of course, he made mistakes. Dean, we know thanks to the Shapeshifter in "Skin," has a pretty severe abandonment complex, partly because he "did everything Dad asked me to and he ditched me too," (though more because Sam left) and also (again, from "Skin"), we know that Dean had dreams of his own, but unlike Sammy his were subsumed because John "needed" him. We are not told in what capacity John needed him: as a hunting buddy, or a companion. We don't know whether John said he needed Dean or whether Dean just came to that conclusion himself, but given that John says something similar to Sam in "Dead Man's Blood," it's a fair bet that John did actually say it.

Sam is carrying a lot of baggage over the fact that he and John had a fight before he left for college and John told him not to come back ("Dead Man's Blood"). So, John had a roaring argument with Sam because Sam was leaving them, Sam internalised John's words because he was a kid and kids do that, and he's been carrying around the baggage ever since. Big whoop. I've done the same with comments from my dad. Is my dad a bad father? No, he's great and I'm very lucky that he's my dad, even if he is not the most emotionally accessible person ever, and I had the constant feeling when I was growing up that I could never match his expectations. Most parents don't, I think, understand how much kids can be affected by what they say when they're angry, or as throwaway comments. I have never forgotten the time (forgive the anecdote) when I brought home 5 A's and a B+ on a report card and my dad said, jokingly, "what, not straight A's?" Trivial, but definitely a contributing factor in my eternally unrealistically high standards. That doesn't make my dad a bad parent any more than John is a bad parent. Max's dad, who blamed Max for his mother's death, and beat Max, was a bad parent. John didn't blame Sam for Mary's death, nor is there any evidence that he was wilfully physically or emotionally abusive. Given the traumatic events they went through, there would be a desire to find an accessible target for blame, and Sammy would be an obvious option, given the givens. But John does not do this.

John Winchester treats Dean and Sam like soldiers in his war on the Demon instead of like his sons.
All the evidence is equivocal. If John viewed his sons as soldiers, they would be an acceptable casualty in the war. Are they? In "Dead Man's Blood" John uses a colt bullet without hesitation to kill Luther who is threatening Sam. In the grand scheme of the war on the Demon, the colt and its ammunition are infinitely more important than Sam. Of course, it could be argued that John used it as an opportunity to confirm that the colt really could kill anything (since we know that the only [other] way to kill vampires is by beheading), and it's pretty clear from his expression that he's thinking this afterwards. But it can't be that alone. Similarly, in the Pilot, Sam says,
"When I told Dad I was scared of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45."
Again, this quote is equivocal. John may have given Sam a .45 so he could defend himself, but it is also possible to argue that it was because John wanted the thing in Sam's closet dead and thought Sam should be the one to do it. Yes, giving a nine-year-old a gun is pretty screwed up. But as I've said and will saya agin, the rules changed when Sam was six months old. John is just trying to cope with it as best he can.
"After your mother passed, all I saw was evil. And all I cared about was keeping you boys alive."
John says this in "Dead Man's Blood", explaining why he got so mad when Sammy went to college. I think the only way this comment can be reinterpreted is by assuming John is outright lying to manipulate Sam, which I just don't buy. The primary objective for a commander with soldiers is not to keep all the little soldiers alive. It's to neutralise the enemy. Soldiers are acceptable casualties.

I think the strongest evidence that this theory is incorrect is the fact that as soon as John caught the Demon's trail he took off. He subsequently spent most of the series trying as hard as he could to keep the boys out of the fight, and only agreed with extreme reluctance in "Dead Man's Blood" that they should be involved at all. Although he might justifiably be concerned that Sam might screw everything up (given that Sam hasn't been in the hunting line for years), he does, as previously mentioned, tell Sam in "Dead Man's Blood" that they "needed" Sam and Sam just left. He also trusts Dean enough to let him work his own gigs, so his elusiveness seems more like drawing the fire than the fear that the boys will do something to ruin everything. This also tallies with what he says towards the end of "Dead Man's Blood" (which I will discuss later).

We do know that John is the "command and control" type, because it drives Sam batty not only that Dad bosses them around (even in absentia) but that Dean follows Dad's instructions. Dean's motives are debateable: fear, desperate need for approval, trust? John, we know, is ex-USMC. It is also not surprising that John wants to run the show rather than making an open debate of everything. There is a good reason why the military is run like that. In life-or-death situations, the last thing you need is a committee. It is my opinion that Dean understands that and believes it is better to trust John than to waste time arguing, not that he is scared. It is more (and I've used this example before) that Dean and John have the same sort of connection as Mal and Zoe in Firefly. Although Zoe doesn't believe Mal will make all the right decisions all the time (and she's patently not a doormat), she follows his orders because she trusts his judgement and trusts him to get them out of whatever situations he gets them into.

John also says in "Dead Man's Blood" that somewhere along the line he stopped being their father and started being their drill sergeant. Honestly, I think the fact that he is able to admit he lapsed from being their father into being their drill sergeant shows that he's been soul-searching, presumably after Sam left. I think he's right, and he regrets it, and is trying to make amends. Then, also in "Dead Man's Blood" he shows that in some respect he is trying to be their father by keeping them out of the Demon's line of fire. Does this mean John sees the boys as soldiers? Or does it mean that he is trying to keep them safe the best way he knows how to? Are the boys a means to the end of killing the Demon? Or is killing the Demon a means to keeping the boys safe? Note, in "Scarecrow," John says he would have done anything to protect Sam from the pain of Jessica dying, and by extension, the pain of the Demon's influence. Then he says that Dean and Sammy can't be any part of the hunt for the Demon. He doesn't say why.

I don't know that this theory can be proven either way. All the evidence I can provide can be interpreted depending on what your bias is. I don't think John sees the boys as the means to an end. I don't think he sees them as soldiers—to be more precise, I don't think he sees them as only soldiers. They may be soldiers in the way where he knows they're trained and capable of carrying out missions, and trusts them to get their job right, but not in the way where they are acceptable casualties of a war that is bigger than them.

By extension, John Winchester constantly puts his sons in danger
I split this out of the previous segment because it was getting long and chaotic. I'm going to transcribe the relevant dialogue in "Dead Man's Blood" to begin with.
Sam: "You're leaving again, aren't you? You still want to go after the Demon alone? You know, I don't get you. You can't treat us like this."
John: "Like what?"
Sam: "Like children."
John: "You are my children. I'm trying to keep you safe."
Dean: "Dad, all due respect, but that's a bunch of crap."
John: "Excuse me?"
Dean: "You know what Sammy and I have been hunting. Hell you sent us on a few hunting trips yourself. You can't be that worried about keeping us safe."
John: "It's not the same thing, Dean."
Dean: "Then what is it? Why do you want us out of the big fight?"
John: "This Demon? It's a bad son of a bitch. I can't make the same moves when I'm worried about keeping you alive."
Dean: "You mean you can't be as reckless."
John: "Look, I don't expect to make it out of this fight in one piece. Your mother's death? It almost killed me. I can't watch my children die too. I won't."
So what does this dialogue tell us? John considers the Demon to be a whole other level of dangerous, so that while he trusts his sons to keep themselves alive in the little league, he doesn't want to risk them in the big league. This, I think, puts the audience in an interesting bind. On the one hand, if you're of the opinion that John isn't being a father to the boys by being constantly absent and letting them get themselves into danger hunting, then his refusal to let them here must be the first time he is actually acting like a father (self-destructive rhetoric notwithstanding). On the other hand, a lot of things about this dialogue are deeply disquieting. John is still keeping his kids out of the decisions—which could be being infuriatingly autocratic, or protecting them like a father should—he also expresses for (I think) the first time his willingness and nay, his intention, to die in this fight, which is not really something a father should say to his children. It's almost like he's priming them to lose him (which is beyond the scope of this meta, but an interesting observation on John's character).

But, in relation to the proposition that he is constantly putting his sons in danger, yes, he is, but he's only putting them in danger he believes they can handle. His obstinate insistence on keeping them out of serious danger is driving Sammy, at least, batty.

John Winchester is emotionally repressed and inaccessible.
Nope. This one I definitely disagree with. Actually, I think Dean and John are a lot less emotionally repressed than we tend to portray them as. Dean is perfectly able to express his own emotions, as he does in the Pilot when he says to Sam, "I can't do this without you… yeah, well I don't want to", in "Phantom Traveller" when he admits to being not okay with the plane thing (there were a lot of emotions expressed about that), and in "Salvation" where he says he's barely holding it together, to name a few of instances. Sure, he doesn't express all his emotions, but who does? What he's not comfortable with is other people (ie, Sam) expressing their emotions, but I digress (see this by astri13 for pretty much the best treatment of Dean I've seen). The first time we actually see present-day John is sitting in Missouri Mosely's living room in "Home". He says,
"You have no idea how much I want to see them."
The next is when he's talking to Sam on the phone in "Scarecrow." I won't transcribe the dialogue, but basically, he asks how Dean and Sam are doing, then says (because Sam brought it up) that he's after the Demon, then says he's so sorry about Jessica. Someone who had trouble expressing emotion, would have trouble saying to his until-recently estranged son that he was sorry for his loss. It's a difficult thing to say for many people under any circumstances.

Another interesting observation with this is in "Nightmare":
Max: "When my dad used to look at me, there was hate in his eyes. Do you know what that feels like?"
Sam: "No."
As I mentioned earlier, part of the purpose of "Nightmare" was actually to demonstrate to us how much worse it could have gone for the Winchesters. It is telling here that Sam never thought that his Dad hated him, considering the baggage he has with the college fight, and that he says at some point (I caught it in "The Road So Far" so I'm not sure where exactly) "When we find Dad, I'm not even sure he'll want to see me". The implication of the "No," is that Sam may have seen a whole range of emotions when his father looked at him, but none of them were hate. Does that sound emotionally repressed?

Somehow, John has found a way to express some emotion other than hate when he looks at Sam. Indifference, maybe, but anyone viewing "Shadow" could call John's expression indifferent, or repressed, or masklike, or anything like that. He actually cries. He's teary when he turns around, and by the time he has hugged Sam, he's crying, and can't stop smiling. That is not emotionally repressed. Even his dialogue with Sam at this point,
"Last time I saw you we had one hell of a fight…. It's good to see you."
is not, to me, the dialogue is someone who can't express his emotions. In fact, this was an extremely emotional scene. In the finale arc, it is true that John is distant. But (again, at the risk of offering excuses rather than evidence), it's a pretty damned stressful time. He discovers the colt exists and that Elkins had it all along. He has to go retrieve it from a pack of vampires (when he thought vampires were extinct), then he discovers that the Demon and Co are killing everyone he ever held dear, and will only stop if he bring the gun to them. This goes wrong and he gets possessed by his arch-nemesis who then comes damned close to killing his elder son. Then his younger son lets the Demon go rather than killing John (who, remember, had basically written himself onto the casualty list a long time ago). Forgive me, but he is justified to be a bit terse. It doesn't make him a bad parent, it just makes him human. Dean and Sam have a roaring argument in this arc too. That doesn't make them bad brothers, despite Sam's wall-slam manoeuvre.

During John and Sam's exchange in the middle of "Dead Man's Blood," John doesn't go distant at all.
John: "Get back in the car."
Sam: "No."
John: "I said, get back in the damn car."
Sam: "Yeah, and I said no."
And later,
John: "Yeah, you left. Your brother and me, we needed you. You walked away, Sam. You walked away."
John practically shouts the last bit, and Dean has to physically separate them, and act the adult while Sam and John have regressed to the maturity of teenagers. Although this was probably an undesirable display of emotion on John's part, it shows that he is not distant and unreachable at all. In fact, even having been away for years, Sam knows exactly what to say to get John riled up ("This was why I left in the first place."), and we know that John and Sam had some screamers in their time. Later in the same episode, despite all the pressure from the vampires, John and Sam have The Talk where John tells Sam he had college funds for both the boys (I'll discuss this in more detail in the next segment). I think I forgot, in the face of "Salvation" and "Devil's Trap" how much John actually smiles when he's around the boys. He smiled in "Scarecrow" when they were on the phone, and in "Shadow" when they were reunited; both times we only saw him briefly. Now, in "Dead Man's Blood," again, he's smiling as he tells the story.

We know from "Skin" that Dean felt John needed him, and then in "Dead Man's Blood" John says outright that they needed Sam. This is a double-edged sword, of course, because on the one hand, it meant that Dean and Sam must both know they have a place in their Dad's life, that he needs them (and it is sometimes nice to know you're needed). On the other, Dean gave up his ambitions for that need, and Sam was expected to.

He went off the rails after Mary died and everything else was subsumed in his quest for revenge.
I've already mentioned that the alcoholic John was directly contradicted in "Nightmare" by Sam, so I'll leave that aside. I think three big areas where people think that real life was subsumed in revenge and hunting are first that they moved around a lot, second that hunting became the only important thing, and third the whole "college funds" thing. This segment is going to be a catch-all for the things that didn't wind up in the other three, because it covers a lot of the same themes.

A common assumption among fans (including yours truly) is that the Winchester moved around with almost the same frequency that Dean and Sam do now, throughout their childhood. New school once every few months, etc. I don't know if I'm reading too much into this, but there's an exchange in the Pilot that really rocked my assumption of this.
Dean: "Dad hasn't been home in a few days."
Sam: "So he's working overtime on a Miller time shift. He'll stumble back in sooner or later."
Dean: "Dad's on a hunting trip and he hasn't been home in a few days."
Sam: "Jess, excuse us, we have to go outside."
EDIT: embroiderama has explained to me that Sam is basically saying his dad is an alcoholic on a pub crawl here, which I didn't get, being not down with American lingo. ;) That invalidates most of my comments about this exchange, and I've edited them accordingly.What stopped me dead was that when Dean said "hunting trip," Sam really reacted. One would expect, if hunting was John's full-time job, that when Dean said "Dad hasn't been home in a few days," Sam's mind would have jumped to "hunting!" even if he brushed it off with a comment about John's drinking habit because of Jess' presence. But Sam's mind clearly doesn't jump there, because he reacts when Dean actually stipulates "hunting trip". To me, at least, that suggests that John has another job that he does when he isn't hunting, which suggests (as does Dean's use of the term "home" rather than something like "he hasn't checked in in a few days" or "I haven't heard from him in a few days") that they have a permanent location out of which they're based. This, however, seems so contrary to later series that I wonder if it is a mistake (like the "almost two years" comment later in the Pilot) that has been retconned since or if I'm just reading way too much into it. Because if it hasn't then it certainly challenges the assumption that John uprooted the family to wherever the hunting was whenever he had to. We also know from "Shadow (?)" that Sam was in one school for long enough to be in a production of "Our Town", and that he did, in fact, clock enough school hours to graduate (though we don't know whether Dean did, do we?). Conversely, we know ("Something Wicked") that John did take the boys on hunting trips, and left them in hotel rooms for long periods of time. I won't argue that this is acceptable; I don't think it is, especially when we know Pastor Jim lived a few hours away because John took them straight there when he returned to find the Shtriga chowing down on Sammy.

Did hunting become the only important thing? John left his job and vanished with the kids ("Home"). He left them alone in motels when he was on hunting trips ("Something Wicked"). We also have a picture of him and the boys leaning on the bonnet of the Impala and smiling like an ordinary family would (is this shown in "Wendigo"? I saw it in the "Road So Far"). EDIT: sdl_uncommon tells me this is actually in the Pilot (I must have missed it) in the hotel room and that Sam picks it up and smiles. Aww. We know Sam finished high school with good enough grades to get accepted to Stanford, probably on a scholarship. As I've said before, although I think that hunting did probably become more important to John than it should have, it is hardly surprising that hunting came to be so important to him given his USMC background and the fact that he was suddenly and traumatically ripped out of apple pie suburbia and into hostile territory. It is surprising, to me at least, that it didn't become more important. Hunting became the primary means to the end of keeping the boys safe. When they were little, every ghoul and ghostie John killed must have seemed like one less that could hurt the boys. In "Something Wicked," when he discovers the Shtriga attacking Sam, his first action is to get the boys out of danger, then he returns to finish the job. One thing that never became more important than hunting was keeping the boys safe.

A funny little specific example that a lot of people object to, I think, is that John spent the boys' college funds on "ammo" ("Dead Man's Blood"). So? Given the choice between keeping them alive in order to be old enough to attend college, and saving a nice little nest egg for an eventuality that might not occur of he or they got killed for lack of bullets, the first one is an easy choice. Sam got to college anyway, Dean, we don't know whether he wanted to go to college (we know he had dreams of his own—"Skin"), but we know that the reason he didn't pursue his dreams was because John needed him, not because he couldn't stand the thought of student loans.

What John did right.
So, in conclusion, I would like to look at the things I think John got right in raising the boys. I think there is plenty of literature (which I have looked at in this piece) about what he got wrong, but not much about what he got right.
  • He instilled in them a strong moral compass. Even though Dean at least has no problem with lawbreaking, he believes that what he's doing really is "fighting the good fight," "saving people, hunting things," and so forth. Dean seems to see a line over which he will not step (as in "Nightmare" where he states firmly that Max is a monster). My impression of both the boys is that they know where their morals are. I don't care if their morals aren't precisely in line with society's: the situation they are in is really outside the reasonably foreseeable scope of the law. phantomas' meta on John in "Skin" also draws attention to the distinction that Dean inherited from John between lying on credit card scams and lying to friends.
  • He equipped them to survive in the world they found themselves in. When Sam was six months old, the rules suddenly, abruptly changed. And John had to make a choice, either he taught his boys to survive in under the new system, with the weapons training, the supernatural lore, the hunting, and even the credit card fraud, or he stuck his head in the sand and let them live normal childhoods while knowing that there was something out there that not only had killed his wife but might (for all he knew) want the rest of his family dead as well.
  • We know from the entire series that Dean and Sam are both damned good at the hunting gig. That is all thanks to John.
  • He gave them a sense of trust. This might seem like a strange one, but I really think that John trusts the boys in such a way that they couldn't fail to feel it. As early as the flashback events in "Something Wicked" he's giving Dean responsibility (for better or worse). We know he trusts them to hunt and fight and keep each other safe. We also know that he is willing to change his position when they give him convincing evidence, because he does this in "Dead Man's Blood," where, at the end, without any prompting, he says that Dean was right, they are stronger as a family, even though it scares the hell out of him to put them in this kind of danger.

As I stated at the beginning, "I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do." Faced with a difficult, entirely unforeseen situation where he perceived danger everywhere, this is exactly what John did. Trained the kids like soldiers, yes, but what else was he supposed to do? It doesn't mean he saw them as soldiers, that was just the training he had and could use. Put them in danger? Yes, but this actually gave them, among other things, a sense of his trust in them, and they are grown men, after all. How well do you think they would deal with his mollycoddling? Badly, considering their reaction to his trying to keep them out of the Big Fight. Was he emotionally inaccessible? I don't think so. Was everything else subsumed in his quest for the demon? Maybe, but I think his prime directive was not "kill the Demon," but "protect the boys," and in order to do that, the Demon had to die. Later, after he sees that else the Demon is up to, he wants it dead for its own sake. Frankly, faced with the same situation, I could only hope my father would cope as well as John did.

I am a big believer in judging parenting efforts by the children they produce. Nobody gets parenting one hundred percent right. People bring their own childhoods, their history, their personality and their weaknesses to the mix, and don't realise, often, how much little things can be internalised by their children. This doesn't make them bad parents. If the boys had turned out cold-blood killers, soulless fighters, immoral lawbreakers, or anything like that, then I would say that John had raised them wrong. However, I would have no hesitation in saying that despite their faults and issues, both Dean and Sam are fundamentally good people. As Sammy says in "Nightmare," "all things considered, we turned out pretty well, thanks to him."

-

Like Plato, I believe that dialectic, argument, is the path to truth. I am happy to engage in discussion with anyone who has read this (the whole thing, please; nothing is more annoying that people calling you on points you've covered and they just haven't read properly), as long as you are willing to engage in actual debate. If you diagree, tell me so, and point me to parts of canon that I have missed or interpreted against your view. If you agree, tell me that too! :D However, if you hate John and that is that, then we have nothing to say to each other, because I like him a lot as a person and a character.

I'm sure I've missed things, especially since I'm working off only half the episodes, and I will probably come back and change this later when I get my hands on the rest. I hope, at the very least that this (all 5,000 words of it *headdesk*) was a thought-provoking read. I wanted to get my own thoughts down before I dove into reading anyone else's meta, because I have a bad habit of morphing my views based on what other people say, and I wanted this to be mostly my starting throughts in their purest form. Of course, any essay is a bit sad without references, so I may go back later and add any responses I have to meta I subsequently read. In fact, if you know any meta (yours or others') that I might find interesting in relation to this subject, please don't hesitate to link me to it!
Comments 
(Deleted comment)
30th-Jul-2006 03:04 am (UTC)
Thanks! I think a lot of fandom's meta gaze is focused on Dean, which is all very well because Dean is himself fascinating. Sam is, i think, fairly easy to pin down. But John is intriguing, and I think misunderstood. And I just can't stop metaing at him. XD Who knows why.

Your icon is hawt.
30th-Jul-2006 02:45 am (UTC)
Wow, thanks for getting all that down.

I am a big believer in judging parenting efforts by the children they produce.
I see your point but I've known too many good people who had shitty parents. Some people are great parents *because* theirs were so bad. On the other hand, you know how complex this issue is. I know you don't think the kids can be looking and, voila, parents judged.

I agree with almost everything you said. I think he failed as a parent in having his kids know they have his unconditional love, but that's about it. That one ties in with Dean abandonment issues tho' so maybe that's where some of the anger at John comes from. Still, losing your Mom at 4 would set anyone well on that path.

So, I agree. He's an okay guy.
30th-Jul-2006 03:02 am (UTC)
I see your point but I've known too many good people who had shitty parents.

Yeah, I agree with this, which is why I didn't take that argument any further than I did. It is a complex issue. Some kids do grow up well in spite of having shocking parents. However, I still think you can see the mark of the parents on the kids, and I think that in the specific case of the Winchesters, the fact that they are good kids meant that John raised them well, because it would have been a very slippery slope in those circumstances between fighting the good fight and killing for the sake of killing.

Also, with Dean's abandonment issues, I think John is only an aspect of them, because Sam left (which is actually the first thing the Shapeshifter says), and Mary died, and the only other woman we see him get actually attached to (ie Cassie) leaves as well. And, as someone with an abandonment complex myself, I can safely say that it takes pretty small things to set it off, and once you start down that path, everything reinforces it, and it's not really fair to pin it on the other party (except Cassie because she's a heinous bitch >_>).

As for the unconditional love, I don't know how I feel about that. Because on the one hand, I think they do know, in some way, that he really, really loves them. I guess it depends on how you interpret Dean and John's relationship, whether Dean obeys John about of a desire to keep him close (in line with the abandonment thing), or out of trust. I don't know what I think about that. In "Something Wicked," we have Dean saying John looked at him different after the first Shtriga thing went down, but we don't have John's POV, obviously, and his actions in that episode I find very difficult to judge.
30th-Jul-2006 02:57 am (UTC)
I agree with you pretty much entirely. I don't think John was a perfect father, but who is? The only thing I want to quibble with is your interpretation of the scene in the pilot. "Working overtime on a Miller Time shift" is Sam's snarky way of implying (probably as a performance for Jess's benefit) that John's a drunk. Miller being a popular brand of beer, and "Miller Time" being what people sometimes call the time to go drink beer. He carried on that theme a bit later when he told Jess, "He's probably got Jim, Jack and Jose with him" hunting. That being two brands of whiskey and one of tequila.

I also think that Sam understood from Dean's first "Dad hasn't been home in a few days," to mean that John was off hunting, and that it was Dean's very serious tone when he said, "Dad's off on a *hunting* trip..." that made him get concerned. But that's just my interpretation. I think that Sam had spent a few years telling his friends that his dad was an embarrassing drunk, and it took him a few moments to adjust back into the reality of how dangerous his families activities could be.

So, I think Sam was clearly either fabricating or exaggerating the drinking thing, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised if it had some kernel of reality to it. Some period in their lives, maybe, when John started drinking too much. But that's just my pet theory.
30th-Jul-2006 03:11 am (UTC)
Aaaaaaaah, I see. I didn't actually get that reference to the alcohol. That makes slightly more sense. *nods* I'll incorporate that.

I don't agree that John was ever a drunk though. Because of the line in "Nightmare" where Sam says that if Dad had taken to drinking instead of hunting things could have been a lot worse, and because John seems to me to be pretty disciplined, and I think he really did use hunting in some capacity as his outlet, like someone else might use alcohol.

It just seems strange that he changed gears so completely when Dean said HUNTING trip, but then, the later snipe about "Jim, Jack and Jose," shows that he hasn't changed gears as much as it seemed from the dramatic zoom + music.

Actually, the whole alcohol link in that scene makes me pretty mad at Sam. I mean, my issues with Sam to start off with are centred around the fact that he's damned selfish, really, so the fact that he would (in my opinion of course) fabricate stories about his dad being a mean drunk just so his college friends wouldn't pester him about his family... dude.
30th-Jul-2006 03:12 am (UTC)
First, Thank you! I agree so much. And you've given me some very interesting things to think about...

Like the lines in 1x01 about their living situation. --There are other places to check in besides a house of theirs, yes? There are the PO Boxes (not a fast way to get in touch, granted) and the other hunters. Surely a few (like Pastor Jim, Caleb...) weren't alienated by John and might have served as bases of operation or at least people to call were one of the Winchesters to be out of contact.

I love when people allow John to be human, not right or wrong totally. He is a wonderful, complex character. Like Sam and Dean. *g* That's why I love all three so much.

I love John, and I very much enjoy seeing well thought-out posts about him.

--Oh, and that picture of the John and young Sam and Dean on the Impala? That was in the first ep: John left it behind on the hotel-room mirror when he hauled ass out of Jericho. Sam picked it up and stared at it, smiling. I loved that moment, btw.
30th-Jul-2006 03:19 am (UTC)
Awww, and people think that John couldn't show the boys he loved them. ;_; *...shows John she loves him* *edits bit about photo into post*

With the living situation, I did just edit that in view of embroiderama's comments, and I think now that exchange reflects (badly) on Sam rather than John, but I do think it's interesting that Dean said "hasn't been home in a few days" specifically. Censoring for Jess? Or is there a home (that Dean identifies as such) for Dad to return to? And if so, why on earth don't Dean and Sam go back to it at some point in the series? I don't know.
(Deleted comment)
30th-Jul-2006 04:43 am (UTC)
Ooooh, thank you for letting me know. So the "home" comment might be a relic from an earlier script? Do you think it's likely that this was scrapped for the Winchesters, or that it was still assumed but not directly addressed? Because I haven't read the "Harrisons" script, so I have no idea. ^^

Heh, yes, Firefly ftw~! I thought it was a neat parallel, because obviously Mal doesn't have the fandom stigma that John has, but like John it's his game, his rules, and like Dean, Zoe pretty much does exactly what he says. But there's no suggestion that she's desperate for his approval or anything like that, she just trusts him a lot because they've been through a war together. Then there's Sam/Wash always feeling left out of the army buddies vibe and being completely hacked off that Mal/John is Zoe/Dean's first in command. Haha.
30th-Jul-2006 08:15 am (UTC)
i was reading this essay with great interest, and I am a great John lover. I think he is a good father. Yet, have a different feeling from his interaction with the boys. It is clear to me that he loves them. His life was a personal vendetta and the boys were drawn in because I believe that John senses in a way that Sam is special (he isn't surprised at Misery's comment that Sam is strong...she might have been the first to tell him anyway). Yet, through the whole show, I have had this feeling of impending doom. I think that John has had it too. And accepted it. And he is acting accordingly. His comment about even dying if he has to to stop the thing summs it up clearly. I think it's Dean, who does not sense it or is willingly ignorant.
And when it comes to DSam's interaction with his father, I often had a feeling of the show lacking continuity in this aspect. It's like they are wavering. but maybe Sam's first comment about dad being on a pub crawl (I didn't understand the implication either). Is still colored by his anger...peope can curt and be condescending. Maybe they had the last argument when John was drunk. And I believe that during such a hard life he might have been drunk time or two, which doesn't make him an alcoholic though. Nothing in the show implies that he is one, except for this comment.
And even Sam admits, himself, as you stated, that John is a good dad and they are lucky to have him.

Ahem...where was I getting with this? :))
You gave me a lot of to chew on....*g* But you are right, I myself have still problems to wrap my mind about their relationship...pfff I blame it on the writing, though :)) ;)
30th-Jul-2006 08:34 am (UTC)
Lol! I believe that Sam was sniping about a pub crawl, but I don't believe there was any basis. For some reason, I just cannot imagine John as a drunkard. Perhaps, as embroiderama suggested, he had the odd bad day that stuck in Sam's mind, but I emphatically, emphatically believe that Sam was just being an ass (probably for Jess' benefit or just to annoy Dean) when he implied that John was missing because he had passed out in a ditch somewhere. Not only that, but I think (judging from their fch in DMB) that John is perfectly capable of shouting at Sam to never come back when he's stone cold sober and has just lost his temper. ^^;

You're right, I think John has a sense of impending doom. As I noted, I think he's written himself onto the casualty list, and I think this explains a) why he wants to keep the boys out of it (to protect them from suffering the same fate) and b) why he's so miffed when he finds out he's alive and so is the Demon.

Whereas John has designated himself martyr, Dean really just wants for everyone to be alive and together. For him (and he says this precisely in DT), killing the Demon is secondary to keeping everyone alive.

I just didn't get the personal vendetta. As I said, I think John's primary motive is "protect the boys", and killing the demon is a means to that end. Of course, he wants revenge for its killing Mary, but I think that is secondary, because surely if that were his primary motive, he'd want as many hands in the fight as possible, even if it meant getting the boys killed. Sure, he's channeled some of his grief into hunting, and there are certainly worse ways he could have channeled it. Of course, once, in "Salvation" he discovers that Demon and Co are killing his friends, then he heads more down the vendetta path.
30th-Jul-2006 11:32 am (UTC)
Interesting - really interesting take on John. There's lot to think about there, and I'll come back again once I've had a chance to think it all through.

As I think I've said to you before, my view of John is heavily coloured by the parallels I see between him and my own father. But you've pointed out a lot of things here that I hadn't considered before. Some of them I don't agree with, some of them I do, and some of them I'm going to need to think my way around before I know quite how I feel about them.

Thanks for posting this though, and as I say, I'll be back with more thoughts and comments shortly! ;)
30th-Jul-2006 02:41 pm (UTC)
*nodnod* I think my take is coloured too, because I do identify to an extent with Dean (*vomit* How wanky of me >_>) and his issues with his Dad and just in general, which means, of course, that to some extent I want John to be a good father because it means in some capacity that my dad is a good father (which he actually is, I think).

But, that said, I was aware of this bias from the beginning and really tried to stick close to the canon we have, rather than leaping out into wild speculation. However, I knew I'd miss stuff, and I really hoped people would disagree with me (:D which was part of why I linked you to it, lol) because yeah, I think debate is the best way to reach greater understanding.

I hope, at least, that my comments provoked thoughts, because yours really made me think!
30th-Jul-2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
Although I am now going to disagree with this essay, it's always a pleasure to read such a thoughtful, clear essay.

I really do think that John is doing the best job he knows how to do

I agree with this, but just because it is the best job John was capable of doesn't by default make it a good job. None of the Winchesters are reliable narrators of their family life, but over the course of the season we see both Sam and Dean come to incorporate the others' points of view: Sam realises things could have been worse in 'Nightmare' and realises he has to put work into the relationship himself ('Bugs'); Dean rejects John's orders in 'Dead Man's Blood' and comes to have his own priorities re: the ceiling demon in the two-part finale. John, in contrast, doesn't change; he's my-way-or-the-highway at the beginning of the season and at the end of it, he's still trying to impose his will as his son lies half-dead in the back seat.

Sam is carrying a lot of baggage over the fact that he and John had a fight before he left for college and John told him not to come back ("Dead Man's Blood"). So, John had a roaring argument with Sam because Sam was leaving them, Sam internalised John's words because he was a kid and kids do that, and he's been carrying around the baggage ever since. Big whoop.

But Sam carries round this baggage - and this is the crucial element to my dislike of John as a parent (I enjoy the dynamic he brings to the show as a character) - because John *never tries to fix things*, which I do consider his responsibility as the parent and adult. In fact John's behaviour here directly contradicts that "his prime directive is to protect the boys". In DMB he tells Sam they had that huge fight because John was worried about Sam being on his own; but if that's the case, why toss him out of the house? Although it is also Sam's decision not to try to call, the conversation with Dean in 'Bugs' and the road argument in DMB show that Sam was deeply hurt by being thrown out, by having the 'door closed', and seems to have felt he genuinely wasn't welcome, which might have stopped him calling if he did get in trouble. Yet John goes to check on Sam secretly ('Bugs'), without swallowing his pride and trying to reconcile with his son himself, and in 'Shadow' hangs back for a couple of minutes to assess Sam's willingness to hug and make up. John may be worried about Sam's safety at college but he's more worried that Sam be put in his place in the family.

I am a big believer in judging parenting efforts by the children they produce... both Dean and Sam are fundamentally good people. As Sammy says in "Nightmare," "all things considered, we turned out pretty well, thanks to him."

While Dean and Sam are fundamentally good people, which is no doubt down to John's influence, I would argue that the one area they didn't turn out well in, which says the most about John's parenting skills, is in their relationships with him. You mentioned Dean's abandonment complex, which may or may not be partly due to wondering whether this would be the hunting trip John wouldn't come back from when he was left to essentially solo-parent his younger brother; he's also arguably emotionally stunted, never having been allowed independence from his family (I've read some good meta about this that I will try to dig up), has subsumed his goals into John's (I find it interesting in 'Route 666' that when talking to Cassie the morning after he refers to himself as being involved in his father's work, not his work, although we have seen him identify with the hunting life many other times before); and of course the demon, in DT, shows that Dean doesn't expect kind words or approval from John, and brings up Dean's secret fears that Sam is the favourite and he himself is not important to John despite his having made John the centre of his world.

(cont. in the next comment)
30th-Jul-2006 03:09 pm (UTC)
John, in contrast, doesn't change; he's my-way-or-the-highway at the beginning of the season and at the end of it, he's still trying to impose his will as his son lies half-dead in the back seat.

I completely disagree with this, if you don't mind. ;) Although I have issues with the son-in-backseat thing, we don't know what happened between the Demon's exit and the car scene. We don't know how serious Dean's injuries actually are. We also know that John has been plugged in the leg and must be in a lot of pain himself, and that despite having practically nailed himself to the cross, he's still alive (goddamnit) and so is the Demon. But, I'm aware that any John-loving in this scene is on shaky ground, and yes, I don't really agree with his actions here anyway, so I'll leave that aside.

What I really disagree with, actually, is that John maintains his command & control approach throughout. In "Shadow," it is Dean who says Dad has to split up, not John, but John agrees with him. Then, in "Dead Man's Blood," after John and Sam have their shouter, and Sam is like "TELL US WHAT'S SO IMPORTANT, GODDAMNIT," the next day John is like, "You really want to know?" and he does tell them. Then, at the end, he concedes to Dean's and Sam's viewpoint that they're stronger as a family (after they save his ass, which he doesn't yell at them for despite their disobeying a direct order). I think that shows that he, like the boys, is able to grow and acknowledge other viewpoints. Perhaps he's not very good at it yet, as in "Salvation" and the whole Meg snafu, but he's getting there. ^^; In the finale arc, he was also damned stressed, of course.

You make a good point about John never trying to fix things with Sam, but he can't fix things if he doesn't understand that they're broken. I'm going to pass on defending this one for now, because a) I'm not sure whether I want to defend against it and b) at the moment all I can offer is excuses, not arguments, because it is a point I had failed to consider. I still don't think it's a deal breaker in the good parent/bad parent stakes, but yes, I need to think about it. ;)

I don't actually think John was the biggest factor in Dean's intimacy issues. I think the series provides a whole range of reasons Dean might have the abandonment complex, and I think the big one is Sam's leaving, because we know Dean put a lot of himself into caring for Sammy, and that he didn't want Sammy to leave, and we know that Dean thought (and Sammy agreed) that Dean's contacting Sam wouldn't be welcome (from the Pilot). Then, again, there's Mary's death, and even Cassie leaves Dean (twice). In all this, pretty much the only person who has been constant ("constant") in Dean's life has been John. I reckon Dean pulled a lot closer to John after Sam left, but at the same time, he really must fear (and have had this fear confirmed) that Dad would just be the next person to leave him, when in fact, up until the events of the series, John is pretty much the only person who hasn't left Dean (hunting trips notwithstanding--Dean doesn't seem to have an issue with periodic solo gigs).

Will continue in next comment!
30th-Jul-2006 12:21 pm (UTC)
As for Sam, I think that they have a basic personality clash (despite their similarities) that probably would have existed just the same had their family been normal. But aside from the upset at *being thrown out of the household and family*, Sam feels unsupported by his father in his interests and choices. From 'Bugs':

Sam: I respected [John]. But no matter what I did, it was never good enough.
Dean: So what are you saying, that he was disappointed in you?
Sam: Was, is, always has been.

Later in this conversation is the line you noted, where Sam is unsure if John will even want to see him. ('Bugs' is a bad, bad episode, *g* but it does have some excellent material about Sam's relationship with John) He also visibly tears up here, as in DMB he will sound choked up arguing about it. Sam may understand that John loves him, and later come to see John was trying to do his best, but at bottom (at least as the series begins) he has no *feeling* that John gives a damn, and I just find that terribly sad and, yes, an indictment of John as a parent.

In conclusion: I consider John a not-great father (not necessarily bad, although I think he tips into bad parenting at some points) because the actions and words of his children show that they are very insecure in his love for them. Kids need more than physical safety, and there's not much indication that Dean or Sam have ever had much in the way of emotional reassurance from their father.
30th-Jul-2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
*shrug* As I think I noted, it takes very little for a child to develop an inferiority complex from their parents, and like Dean's abandonment complex (and trust me, I have both >_>), it would take something so minor John would hardly notice it to start it off, and once it begins, that sort of thing is completely reinforcing, and eventually Sam would internalise the critical voice but continue to perceive that it was coming from John. We can assume from "Devil's Trap" and Demon Dad's words that John has a special soft spot for his younger son--and I'm pretty sure Dean was aware of it--so there must be an element of blindness from Sam here. But once an inferiority complex has got going, it is a really, really difficult habit to kick.

With Dean's abandonment issues, I don't think John got it started, but he sure didn't help when he took off in the Pilot. With Sam's inferiority complex, having a big brother like Dean and a dad like John would sure have kicked that one off.
30th-Jul-2006 12:49 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of what you have to say here -- certainly, that John was the best father he knew how to be, considering their difficult situation.

I think you're probably underestimating the extent to which John took refuge in drink, especially when the kids were small; it seems to me that Sam indicates pretty clearly that John was a heavy drinker, at least at times (the Miller time line, the Jim, Jack and Jose line, and the "a little more tequila" bit, emphasis mine). That doesn't necessarily mean that he was out of control, but saying that John was never drunk at all seems to be pushing the meaning of the text.

I wish you'd said a bit more about "Something Wicked;" it's a tough episode for those of us who rather like John, less because of what he does than because of the effect it has on Dean. Granted, I think that Dean would have had abandonment issues anyway, after his mother's death, it does seem to me that something there got badly mishandled. I suspect that John has no idea of the extent to which Dean believes that his father's love is conditional. As you say, it happens all the time that parents and children remember totally different things about episodes from their shared path, and draw very different conclusions from them, and I don't know that there's any way John would have realized what he'd done there.

In fandom, I think a lot of the antagonism to John has to do with the extent to which people blame him for Dean's damage; I don't actually think that Dean is as damaged as a lot of people seem to think, to be honest, but fans love a good-looking, broken young man, and sometimes that needs a villain to do the breaking.
30th-Jul-2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
Heh, I'm more inclined to think Sam's comments reflect on him than on John. What better way to get your college friends to leave you alone than to indicate your family life was troubled? And what better way to do that than to say your Dad was an embarassing drunk. HOnestly, these comments make me pretty cranky, because I think Sam is taking out his hurt with his father by making up lies. *shrug* I also don't (and never did) think that a"a little MORE tequila" meant that John drank any tequila. That sentence structure to me doesn't indicate that he did both in some capacity but just more of the hunting. In the same way, I wouldn't take a statement like, "a little less partying and a little more studying and Lisa might have passed her exams" to mean that Lisa is studying at all; to me it sounds like an ironic way of saying Lisa never did any study whatsoever.

I'm willing to concede to the argument that John had a few bad days when he did get drunk that really stuck in Sammy's mind, but, to me, anything more than this (and I should add that I don't actually agree with this either, I just concede there is an argument) actually contradicts JOhn's drill-sergeant ex-USMC personality. I think he channelled a lot of the feelings other people would have channeled into drink into hunting and the boys (for better or for worse).

You make a very good point about pretty, broken Dean. I agree; I don't think he's nearly as broken as people like to portray him. It's pretty much canon that he has an abandonment complex, but there are a range of factors there: John, yes, but also Sam, and Mary, and hell, even Cassie (*cough*bitch*cough*). Other than that, I think he's pretty functional. Sure, he's a bit fucked up, but they live in a fucked up world. And he turned out okay. He protects the weak, and loves his family, and seems to be able to have fun once in a while. Plus, he seems to genuinely love the hunting gig, unlike Sam.
30th-Jul-2006 01:22 pm (UTC)
Long, so I'm posting in 2 parts...

ITA. I've always liked John. He's made some bad decisions (what parent hasn't?) but I believe he believes he's doing what's best for his boys. That doesn't make him an abuser or even necessarily a bad father.

That's a scenario that doesn't show up in the parenting handbook, so safe to say that John is flying blind

Not to mention (and we have confirmation of this in Home), when he tried to tell other people what he'd seen, people were telling him to seek professional help. What state must he have been in at that time - lost a wife he dearly loved, had two small boys totally dependent on him, his home and possessions burned to the ground, AND everyone telling him that what he saw couldn't have happened and thus he's a candidate for a rubber-walled room? I'd like to see any of us handle such a situation 'perfectly' (whatever THAT means).

"did everything Dad asked me to and he ditched me too,"

Unfortunately for the boys, John's Prime Directive is and always has been to keep them safe. At first, it was to train them as soldiers in his war. But once he realized he might be able to get at the Demon itself, then it became about keeping them away. I think in John's view, he HAD to disappear/keep them busy with jobs on the side, to keep them out of harm's way while he found and possibly battled the thing. He'd see 'abandoning' Dean as the lesser of two evils, compared to getting him into a situation like Devil's Trap (at least early on in S1).

"After your mother passed, all I saw was evil. And all I cared about was keeping you boys alive."

That's it - this is John's Prime Directive. Yes, I think revenge against the Demon DOES figure into it. But I think it's not his main purpose. And this is why he trained his boys to defend themselves, to hunt. And why he was so freaked out when Sam wanted to leave. And let's not forget that (according to Dean) John would visit Stanford from time-to-time, without Sam's knowledge, to make sure Sam was OK.

30th-Jul-2006 01:22 pm (UTC)
He also trusts Dean enough to let him work his own gigs, so his elusiveness seems more like drawing the fire than the fear that the boys will do something to ruin everything

ITA. The more early eps. I rewatch, the more I'm convinced John 'disppeared' and stayed away, AND tried to keep the boys busy with other jobs, because he wants them out of the fight. Of course, I'm not really sure if this is the best of a bad deal - as we saw with Meg, possessed people are just as much of a threat, and she had no problems getting close to the boys multiple times - but maybe John didn't realize that his boys would be a target until later on?

There is a good reason why the military is run like that. In life-or-death situations, the last thing you need is a committee. It is my opinion that Dean understands that and believes it is better to trust John than to waste time arguing, not that he is scared

ITA. Both John and Dean have internalized the idea that the enemy moves fast and it's better to rely on your gut/experience and DO something. Sam, on the other hand, wants confirmation for everything. Works great in academics, not so good on the battlefield.

but not in the way where they are acceptable casualties of a war that is bigger than them.

Really, I don't see John as using his boys as bait. Or that they're expendable. If so, he would've staked out Stanford the moment Sam moved in, waited for the Demon to attack Jess, and that would've been it (and the end of the series, heheh). Or he'd bring the boys along with him from the beginning. He doesn't. He's said over and over that he wants to protect him, that he was 'scared' for Sam (confirmed by Dean) when Sam went off to college....

It's almost like he's priming them to lose him (which is beyond the scope of this meta, but an interesting observation on John's character).

Probably he is. He lost Mary and knows the pain of that. Maybe this is his way of 'sparing' the boys that? If he had his way, he probably wouldn't go after the Demon, if only to spare his boys the pain he went through...but he must believe that the Demon can't be allowed to live.

He actually cries. He's teary when he turns around, and by the time he has hugged Sam, he's crying, and can't stop smiling. That is not emotionally repressed. Even his dialogue with Sam at this point,

Bingo. There's a LOT of emotion in John. He probably pushes it aside when the goal is in front of him. But does he give Dean and Sam the cold shoulder. Hell, NO.

And as to your point about Dean and Sam turning out so well as evidence of how 'good' John was - ITA. Yeah, they have issues. So do a lot of kids with NORMAL parents. But are they damaged beyond repair? Hell, no. I think the episode with Mac showed us the worse-case scenario. The Winchesters aren't it.

Great meta!
30th-Jul-2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
:D I pretty much agree with everything you said in the first comment (and may incorporate some of it if I rework my original meta, if that's okay--you phrased it better than me, lol). This comment, again, we are pretty much in accord, except for the John and Demon hunting thing. I don't think anything could keep John out of this fight. It would be interesting to see what it would take for John to give up the Demon fight. I'm poretty sure that given the choice betwen one of his kids dying and letting go of the Demon he'd pick the first, but as soon as possible he'd be right back on the trail. Once the Demon starts killing his friends ("Salvation"), the Demon hunting becomes not only about revenge, but about keeping his loved ones safe (if it wasn't always about that). And in DT the Demon attacks Dean and Sammy, so I think it's safe to say John is... pretty mad at it.

If we see Sam's prime baggage as his inferiority complex, Dean's as his abandonment complex, than I think John's is probably his death wish. When he talks to them in "Salvation," he talks about wanting all these things, Sam to go to school, Dean to have a home, their friends to stop dying, but it's like his own future is a black spot, like he really doesn't expect to (and perhaps doesn't want to) survive the Demon showdown. He wants to fight it, he wants to kill it, and then he wants to die. Dean reckons John would have "ripped him a new one" for using the colt bullet-- if this is in defence of Sammy, then it is a little odd given that John did exactly the same thing in DMB. OTOH, if it is because it was in the course of rescuing Dad... it makes more sense. In rescuing him the boys put themselves in danger AND used a bullet. St. John would probably have preferred if they left him to die. Perhaps (and this is pure speculation) he feels like his living is interfering with the boys' being what he wants them to be. But he has to kill the Demon so they can live in a world where there is nothing they can't handle, so he wants to kill the Demon, and then get out of their way, permanently. But yes, total speculation.

Thanks! :D It was interesting to write, and the responses have been (as I hoped), very, very interesting.
30th-Jul-2006 04:27 pm (UTC)
I agree with most everything here, but you've put it all much more coherently than I could've managed. :)

My one disagreement would be, oddly enough, on Dean's moral compass (and perhaps John's by extension). Dean feels that what Max does is wrong/evil, but the solution he immediately jumps to is homicide; similarly in Faith, he wants to leap straight to killing Roy. IMHO, Dean is walking a slippery slope between fighting the good fight and becoming his own private vigilante executioner. My preferred method of explaining him, in comparison to I-wanna-be-a-lawyer!Sam, is John gave too much a lot of responsibility to Dean for taking care of Sammy in seedy little dives against evil little critters, probably breeding a kind of desperation in Dean to protect Sammy at all costs (even his own innocence). I don't this was premeditated on John's part, just an eventuality that came about.

Or something. *shrug*
30th-Jul-2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
Ooh, good point. I think you're certainly right that once Dean dumps a [person] in the "evil" pidgeonhole, they stop being a person and start being a monster. He does something similar, as I recall, in "The Benders." Maybe when I say he has a strong moral compass I mean that it is my belief that he can walk that line without crossing it. And, of course, with Sammy along to play the good cop. ♥
30th-Jul-2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
No offense, but I'm not going to read the whole thing because I've never seen Supernatural so I'd have no clue what you're talking about, but I wanted to comment to say how much your anal-retentive organization in this "essay" amuses me, and reminds me of myself when I get super serious about topics that shouldn't be taken so seriously. And also makes me want to sort you into Ravenclaw. ^_^
30th-Jul-2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
Lol, I'm not offended. And I wouldn't call this all that anal-retentive in the grand scheme of things. Actually, I used the headings because I was being lazy and couldn't be bothered structuring the essay well enough that it stood without them. I also didn't structure any of the paragraphs properly, and if I'd been being a good girl I would have referenced more sources outside of canon. This isn't even scratching the surface of anal-retentive essays, little girl. ;)

I'm a Slytherclaw. >:D
30th-Jul-2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
Papa for me is a very intriguing character. Sympathetic and infuriating both. I find it hard to classify him as "bad" or "good" parent, after all what are the criterias for this? The show has given us a counter-example in the Dad in Nightmare that showed us that John at least wasn`t so bad after all. But then I`d wager the Pilot!Dad pre-fire would be kinda horrified himself by some of the things he did to the boys later on.

I think after Mary`s death he fell back on the one thing that could enable him to pull through in an impossible situation, his marine training. It brought back order, power and structure to a life that had suddenly dissolved into chaos. Yet that exact same thing brought also some of the big screw-ups in his parenting. By his own admission he embraced that so completely, he stopped being a father and became a drill seargant.

And that is still in effect in their present dealings. On the one hand the father wants to keep them safe, out of harm`s way so he takes off and doesn`t share his knowledge about the Demon with them. Otoh the commander sends them to work jobs that are still dangerous enough on its own. If he were completely the first, he probably couldn`t send them into harm`s way at all. If he were completely the second he wouldn`t exclude them because knowledge is power and them flying blind on the Demon front is counter-productive. Two sides are warring within him and it`s just not working.

Also John has a, uhm lets say, colorful personality. :) He is stubborn, prideful, doesn`t like to lose, is generally quite bossy. I don`t wonder all that much about the multiple fallings out he had with people. *g* Even though these would be too the very same traits that helped him to stubborn-mule his way through the last 2 decades and still be standing when others would have folded like a card-table. Blessing and curse.
I think his problem with the attitude in DMB is that he sees that as the Grand Army of John Winchester. Yes, in the military there is a clear command structure. But every superior has someone who supervises him. And for the last 20 years John was top dog. So he waltzes in and just expect his grown-up sons after they successfully hunted a year by themselves to just fall in line. But the fact is, he needs to show them the respect he wants from them. And it needs a good kicking from Sam and Dean putting his foot down until he sees this. I adore the Sam-John-scene in DMB.

As far as his relationship with the boys is concerned I think he doesn`t realize a lot of the underlying damage. He would probably think that his boys are sure of his love and approval. Yet his actions from their perspective (throwing one son out of the house, abandon the other without a word, not reacting to the phonecalls in Home and especially Faith but coming running anytime it is about the demon, bitching out on son for not commiting patricide while ignoring the other bleeding to death in the backseat) paint a sketchy picture. I can`t begrudge them their doubts about their standing with John. He was probably always very sparse and gruff with voicing approval yet quick with pointing out errors. Not to mention not dealing with certain situations *cough* Something Wicked *cough* .
And for that I often wanna shake him because, yes, I consider that an important parental duty to stop and look what kind of impressions you give your child. Yet this is sadly not an unheard of dynamic and not just in parent-child-relationships.

In conclusion I think both Dean and Sam have some legitimate issues with John as a parent. And there were certainly a few times in the show I wanted to drop-kick the man for being an asshat. :) But to truly judge his characters and I agree that he is the most broken/ screwed-up of them all I feel I have still way to little puzzle pieces. Especially of their childhood.
Only one thing is certain, he is far from an easy to figure out, unassuming character.
30th-Jul-2006 10:53 pm (UTC)
Though, of course, John fell back on the marine training probably partially as a safe haven, I don't think there are many better places he could have fallen back to. Given the givens: namely, that something supernatura had killed Mary, he could either do like Max's dad (not up to the drinking and blaming) and deny it, or he could accept that there was something out there that (as far as he knew) wanted to kill his family. In the face of people telling him to seek help, etc, he went the second route. So, having accepted that there were things out there that might kill his kids, he trained them, not only in the best way he knew how, but in the best way, full stop, to be able to survive the threat.

As for taking them on hunting trips, well, one can go either way on this. On the one hand, he put them in danger (as in "Something Wicked") and put a lot of pressure on them; on the other, his letting Dean work solo jobs, and then Dean and Sam to deal with hunting things, I think, shows (and should show them) that he trusts them. Both Dean and Sam are able to say that they're good at the hunting gig, and Dean, at least, must have caught some of this vibe from John.

I think in many ways, John shielded both the boys from the worst effects of their life. He managed to keep Sam at least in school, and he did the hunting while the boys stayed out of it. I think those bits of crazy that John couldn't shield them from (which was quite a lot, but then, there was buckets of crazy to begin with), Dean took, so he too tried to protect Sam, he started hunting, he took on the role of (seriously awesome) older brother and father figure when John was absent dealing with the crazy. So then we have Sammy, who, on the one hand, is the only Winchester who can conceive of having a normal life, because I think he had a relatively (relatively) normal childhood, "we were raised like warriors" aside. On the flipside, because John was full-time shielding Sam and Dean, and Dean was full-time shielding Sam, Sam must have felt like completely the third wheel, the baby who had to be protected, the outsider, the one who couldn't ever match up to Dad's expectations, the one who was left out, and so on. Catch-22. Either they dragged Sam into the crazy (when Sam makes it pretty clear that he, unlike Dean, would be pretty happy to ignore the crazy forever), or they protected him from it, thereby shutting him out of it.
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