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Heavy Meta Poisoning
Supernatural is truth
1x01 Pilot: John 
16th-May-2006 11:38 am

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On the Dangers of Normal: John Winchester

Twenty-two years ago, John Winchester was a regular, normal father and a husband and he became something else entirely the night his wife died, pinned to the ceiling of their younger son's nursery. What that meant for his sons and himself isn't exactly clear in the pilot of Supernatural, but based on what the boys tell us, we can make a few conjectures.

The flashback that begins the episode tells us a lot about John as a father before his wife's death. Four-year-old Dean seems incredibly glad to see his dad when John comes into the nursery, presumably to put Dean to bed. They talk about football, and John holds his son close, and it's apparent that he dotes on the boy. There's no sign that he's a particularly stern daddy, one that his son might approach with a little less enthusiasm and a little more deference. His parting "Sweet dreams, Sammy," is caring and gentle. By all accounts, a loving and involved father.

After Mary's death, we aren't given much about John as father figure until Sam and Dean's discussion in the stairwell:

SAM: When I told Dad I was afraid of the thing in my closet, he gave me a .45.

DEAN: Well, what was he supposed to do?

SAM: I was nine years old! He was supposed to say "don't be afraid of the dark!"

DEAN: "Don't be afraid of the dark," are you kidding me!? Of course you should be afraid of the dark. You know what's out there!

This says a lot not just about Dean as hardened hunter and Sam as uncomprehending son, but about John as disillusioned father. He can't tell his son not to be afraid of the dark. Given the manner of Mary's death, he never had a normal parent's blind faith that he could keep his children safe. He couldn't--not if he could lose his wife in such a horrible way, right in the center of domestic safety, a child's nursery.

Sam laments that they were raised like warriors, but I'm not sure John could have done anything else, given what little we know of him in this first episode. He was a marine, as evidenced by the photo of him in his BDUs and his USMC t-shirt (not to mention that Dean actually names him as an ex-marine later in the episode), and it's entirely plausible to assume that once he began digging into his wife's death, he'd have gone into "protect and serve" mode pretty quickly when it came to his sons.

Now, any discussion of Dean's perspective aside, I also think that John would have held Sam a bit closer, been more protective and less companionable with him. Treated him like a son. The shot of John cradling his six-month-old infant in his arms while his family home burns tells the tale. Dean was old enough to know what was going on--to remember the heat and fear of his mother's death. In a marine's mind, this might have looked like the ultimate loss of innocence, because Dean watched the aftermath with understanding eyes. But Sam was still a true innocent: too young to understand what was going on, and therefore to be protected more completely.

And perhaps that's why Dean stayed and Sam left. Perhaps that's why Sam rebelled and John retaliated. I've already discussed Dean's role in the family as the boys grew up, but what about Sam's? Well, sticking to the pilot, I'd say Sam's role was that of cherished son. Yes, he was raised as a warrior like his brother, but I think that the very fact that he had the separation from his father necessary to rebel is a sign that perhaps John held him a bit away from the action.

It's apparent that John rejected Sam's plans to attend college--even going so far as to tell his son that, if he left, he wasn't to come back. But I think, even in the pilot, we can read that as fear as much as anything else.

After all, Sam evinces surprise when Dean tells him he was dealing with his own, separate, hunt when John went missing. "Dad let you go hunting by yourself?" he asks incredulously. Because I think John was afraid to let his boys too far out of his sight, at least while Sam was at home. Why that might have changed is a subject for a different meta entirely *g*.

So John's obsessed not only with finding this demon, but, seemingly, with keeping his boys safe, and in the pilot, John's obsessions are already characterized as all-consuming. Who but a man truly obsessed with vengeance and the safety of his children would raise his sons to protect themselves by killing demons and ghosts, yet try to deny one of them his dreams of a normal life?

And here's the deal with John Winchester and the raising of his sons: I don't think, given the look on John's face as Mary burned, that he ever truly believed in normal again after that. Normal was what happened when people weren't on their guard. Normal was what he thought he and Mary and their two beautiful children had, and look how that turned out?

I think that John must have felt that Sam leaving to pursue a normal life was Sam leaving himself open to the horrors that normal people don't know about. "We're all in danger," John tells Dean on the voicemail that begins Dean and Sam's hunt for their missing father. And I think he's always thought that. Safety in numbers was quite likely his rule of thumb, so when Sam suggested leaving the pack, John lashed out, and drove his son farther away.

Which is a typically fatherly thing to do, by the way.

Because I think popular characterization of John as taskmaster and slightly callous drill sergeant misses the point that he, as a father, needed to keep his boys safe. Yes, he's obsessed (Sam and Dean both seem to agree on that point) and yes, he raised his boys in a way that most would call bad parenting, if not outright abusive, but it was all done out of the knowledge that was in his eyes as he and his sons watched their home destroyed twenty-two years ago.

His sons could never be safe, even if he was with them, but at least, keeping them close, he could do something.

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16th-May-2006 04:47 pm (UTC)
*hugs Papa*

I think you've hit the nail on the head with John's parenting motivations, here. I've seen folks talk about his bad parenting and the boys' childhood, but from the point of view of what he was dealing with -- he gave his boys a very good childhood. He prepared them for adulthood, for the world they would find themselves in. He taught them to think, to act, and deal with what they encountered. If we look at Dean - who is a capable hunter, a good person, and an intelligent guy who enjoys his life where he can -- we can see that John did a great job being Dean's father. It's just that the world John was raising them in its the world we know, or the world Sam wanted to be in. But Dean (and John) have accepted that he lives in another world from most people.

For example, if *everyone* suddenly found a member of their family on the ceiling, and was driven out of house and home by demons -- then pretty much the Winchester's life would be normal, and considered a good one, because John really is a good Hunter, and taught his boys well.
16th-May-2006 05:04 pm (UTC)
he gave his boys a very good childhood

Exactly! John lives in a world of demons and poltergeists--hell the guy in "Phantom Traveller" openly admits that he'd be dead without John and Dean's intervention. The world is dangerous, and he trained his sons to tackle it and protect themselves and others. Calling him a bad parent without taking into account reality as he--not "normal" people--knows it is like saying Dean is evil for causing Meg's death. John raised his sons to be safe and kept them safe for as long as he could, and Dean saved a girl from a possession that had, essentially, already killed her. They both made very moral, right decisions based on reality. Just because it isn't reality as most people see it doesn't make their decisions wrong.

I really think John gets a bad wrap. Yes, he's phenomenally fucked up, and yes, he probably could have had better (read: more openly loving) relationships with his sons, but really, faced with what he was, could he have responded differently?
17th-May-2006 01:59 pm (UTC)
Creepy, because yes. Totally. I wrote 2 ficlets that are called a World Without Sam and a World Without Dean that illustrates this! Hrm. guess I could post those in my LJ, too. Hee.
And, Love the Icon, BTW. You have children, or fond memories of Sesame Steet, don't you? *L*

17th-May-2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
Now I'll have to hunt down those fics. Where they be?

You have children, or fond memories of Sesame Steet, don't you?

Well, the fond memories bit, anyway. And how can you resist something like that when all three of them have J names! They made the icon all by their beautiful, hot selves. *g*
17th-May-2006 05:35 pm (UTC)
*L* yeah. My LJ has them, and x posted to sn_fic.
17th-May-2006 06:27 pm (UTC)
Nice! Yeah, I've always wondered what would have happened to one or both of them without all three of them together...

Damn you! Now I must think through what would have happened to Sam if Dad had died in the fire...
19th-Mar-2007 11:07 am (UTC)
anteka and I have decided to put a collection of metas, essays and other fandom related projects that explore the world of Supernatural in detail. The book will be available in either a print-it-yourself .pdf format or a bound book available at-cost from Cafe Press.

I particularly loved this meta of yours so I thought I’d ask you if you’d like to be involved in this project. You might like to put forward this meta, or some others or write a new one. Or even rec someone else!

We are accepting up to 3 submissions per person. At this point we just need you to put forward links to the essays you would be interested in being considered for the collection by 31st March. If accepted we’ll get back to you and give you time to edit/polish the piece.

There is a sticky post at the top of my LJ with the submission guidelines, but feel free to email or comment with any questions you have.
4th-Oct-2007 06:55 pm (UTC) - Thank the Gods!
No John bashing! I find that annoying. John did what he had to do, at least in his eyes BECAUSE of what happened. In the modern world, most ppl don't believe in ghosts, witches, or any other "supernatural" things. They're wrong. Some of these things DO exist! Just ask TAPS or the team of Most Haunted (even if they are a bunch of dweebs).
9th-Jan-2016 06:16 pm (UTC)
I'm never opposed to bashing John. He did not do what he had to. He made a decision, a borderline reprehensible one. It had long-lasting consequences, ones that could have been prevented, had he just thought as a father who wanted the best for his sons, and not only has a revenge-obsessed father. He did the furthest thing from a good job, IMO.
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