Oh Father, where art thou?

by Nomad (Buy Dapper Dan Haircream) Otto

I was originally going to write something pointing a finger at the virgin/mother/whore trichotomy you find in a lot of work, even those things written by women. Then I realized that I don’t really have anything to SAY about it, other than “look, it’s this weird thing. You may now shower me with gifts.” On the other hand, when I was thinking about this topic, something else occurred to me, and that’s that the father figure in…. basically every show I’ve seen in a good, long while is either absent (either physically, as in, they’re not around, or emotionally, as in, you occasionally see them, but they have no real influence over the lives of their progeny) or bad (sleezy, corrupt, manipulative, or otherwise a jackass).  Especially considering that Japan is a very male-dominate society, and that anime/manga is a very male-dominated  hobby, you’d expect that an important relation in the lives of the characters would be the bond between fathers and sons. This post is designed to look at the issue, both from the literary standpoint and the social standpoint, and, then, will degenerate into crushing irrelevance. Join me for it, won’t you?

ahahahah, suck it batman, my dad isn't dead (......for a while)!

ahahahah, suck it batman, my dad isn't dead (......for a while)!

So,  since this isn’t going to be focused on the specific missing father roles, I’m going to focus instead on reasons for the lack of fatherhood, of which I see three. First, the lack of available fathers could be a reaction to the actual condition of society over there. Second, it could be the case that the absence of father figures is being used to make a literary point/make it easier to write plots that make sense. Third, it could be that the problem is primary psychological, with the trait being a function of being young and male, a state which is true of most manga authors etc. Let’s examine each theory in turn.

The theory of absent fathers corresponding to an actual social condition at first seems very attractive, because the traditional salaryman work ethic pretty much minimizes the amount of contact the fathers have with their children. If you leave at the crack of dawn, and stay at work or out drinking until late at night, your interaction with your beloved progeny is likely to be extremely minimal. This will naturally be reflected in the mind-scape of children, who become adults, who write books, comics, and shows, none of which have the presence of a strong father figure. Moreover, since the ethic of the salaryman pervades the culture, fathers who AREN’T gone all the time do so because of personal failing, or, rather, they may be perceived as being failures because they can’t fit into the salaryman system.

Would you trust this man with YOUR children?

Would you trust this man with YOUR children?

The problem with this idea, at least in my mind, is that even salarymen have days off. Regardless of how little influence they have, they have at least SOME place in the minds of their children. But we don’t see salarymen fathers. We don’t, in general, see fathers that place work above their children. We don’t see fathers who appear only from time to time. We see NO fathers. So, either the extent of the salaryman deprivations on normal (from the perspective of an upper-middle-class westerner) family life are much larger than I’d expect, or, there might be another explanation for what’s going on.

Maybe the reason for the absent fathers is narrative, rather than sociological. The lack of strong male characters other than, you know, the main character, allows writers to force the lamest of milquetoast protagonists to become heroes. Also, many of the shows that I watch are coming of age stories, in which a boy needs to become a man, something that becomes more difficult to accomplish if there are already men, at least, reasonable sorts of men who might be trusted to do things, on the scene. If this explanation were correct, I would need to get out my old-man cane and rantin’ stick to talk about the sins of Lazy Writing, and invoke the phrase, “just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that you should do it,” along with, perhaps a little of the old “art exists to mirror life.”

I don’t think that this is the case, at least completely. I think that a lot of the properties which are based on visual novels, or have a strong component of relationship issues, do exclude other strong male characters, because it makes it harder to identify with the lead, who, frequently, is something of a cipher. Moreover, in many stories, the characters are not supposed to be the people you’d turn to in a crisis, and, so eliminating the father figures allows for the second rank of folks to take center stage, that is, children, women, etc. On the other hand, a lot of stories would be markedly improved by the existence of another male character, and, moreover,  many stories substitute surrogate father figures in place of dad himself. Why the need for surrogates? After all, everyone HAS a father, so, why the need to create a father figure while, at the same time, removing the father himself?

In other words, why this guy?

In other words, why this guy?

To use my customary lack of anything resembling tact, Daddy issues! At least, that’s one way of looking at it. The Freud Dude, as Keanu Reeves once said in the best acting job of his carreer, theorized that young men grow up hating their fathers and loving their mothers. While I don’t think that most authors want to re-create the story of oedipus Rex, there might be something going on with the need for surrogate fathers. After all, one’s own father can be a threatening figure, as well as a helpful figure, as he not only is a source of support, but also a source of condemnation and discipline. Moreover, the choice of one’s family is outside of one’s control- many people end up with family that are a continued source of annoyance.  On the other hand, a father-replacement has the potential for all of the benefits of a traditional father figure: he can provide support, guidence, and even discipline, occasionally, without the whole: “he’s your father, reguardless of how you feel about him.” A surrogate father is a father you can select, and can if he proves unsuitable for the role, walk away (of course, in general, you won’t HAVE to walk away).  A surrogate father is a father over whom you have some control, but, as a surrogote, he can only fufill his role if the real thing is unable, or unwilling, to serve. Thus, it’s an easy step, and one that may not be even thought about a great deal, to get rid of the figure that threatens the power of the hero, by eliminating or marginalizing him, and to introduce his replacement.

I’m just saying. I mean, I’m probably wrong, but it’s interesting to think about, innit? Anyway,  I’ve got a hundred pages of paper to get read. Laters!

Uh, I guess there was Christmas or something that I missed....

Uh, I guess there was Christmas or something that I missed....

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9 Responses to “Oh Father, where art thou?”


  1. 1 ghostlightning January 6, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Here’s two daddies I want you to comment on:

    1) Izumi Sou (Lucky Star)
    2) Ikari Gendo (Evangelion)

    They were present in the anime, and played father roles (differently). What say you?

  2. 2 nazarielle January 6, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    If the parents are around, how are we supposed to have incredibly awkward and ecchi moments when the guy who lives alone suddenly is forced to live with a member of the opposite sex around his relative age?

    My sarcasm aside, you make a good point. The only anime that really comes to mind with a father figure in it is Clannad, and that’s a case of the father being a failure. It’s possible that this is a result of a combination of all three of your theories in different doses, depending on what you’re talking about. It doesn’t really have to be just any one of them, it could even be all of them.

    Though if I had to pick one, I’d have to say that I’d take it to be more of a narrative choice. As you point out, if the guy has at least a half decent relationship with his father, why would he go to any of the many supporting characters for help? Instead, if there’s no father, or the father has no real presence, there’s no thought spent on going and asking the father for help, they just go to their friends.
    I admit, ‘Daddy issues’ is a rather good bet as well. I know personally I don’t really get along well with my dad. We have clashing opinions on pretty much everything, so I could see that being a good influence on it as well. But I don’t think that one or the other is the only influence.

  3. 3 Tales January 7, 2009 at 2:13 am

    I think you brought up many true points. But, I’m sure there are many anime and manga creators who don’t put father figures in so that the children can develop on their own more like a lion and it’s cubs. They put their cubs out on their own in many situations to be able to gain experience.

    However, this aspect of fathers not spending enough time with their children is quite true I’d say. It could also be that some fathers do think that work is more important than family. How do we change this? Possibly give more support for those who think they are failures since they don’t get the great salary man job? I think it’s because too much focus is on work in Japan. That’s what needs to change. Family is a hudge focusing point in Japan already, but I’d argue that work is more important in many men’s eyes.

    In the anime Clannad, we see Tomoya’s father who was a lazy bum. On the other hand, we see Nagisa’s father who gave up everything for his daughter. Given, that the situation is different, since I gave examples of a daughter and son. Tomoya grew up not having a father figure. I think that this is sadly something more common in Japan. The daughters in Japan most likely have better father figures than most of the sons I would assume.

  4. 4 nomadotto January 7, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Ghost: Gendo is the prototypical “Shitty Father,” and, therefore, Shinji eventually turns to Kaji as someone who he actually wants to have as a father figure. Izumi is slightly different, in that he’s not, you know, a horrible monster trying to destroy the world, but, at the same time, he’s really played more for comic relief than as a real “father figure.” See also Tales

    Naz: Exactly the point of the article. I don’t think that any one explaination fits everything, but, all of the stuff I’ve mentioned (plus some things that I haven’t), play a role.

    Tales: Oh man, society has enough problems without yours truly suggesting social reform. But, yeah, I don’t watch/read much Shoujo or Jousei stuff, so, it may be that fathers are shown differently in those works.

  5. 5 dm January 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    For your next assignment, consider the absence of mothers in Disney films.

    Then consider the parental role in a lot of childrens literature (and not just the Grimm Fairy Tales with their inattentive or absent fathers and monstrous step-mothers). Swallows and Amazons have a father who is in the Navy, so he’s only home on occasion. I don’t remember the parents being a major influence in the Narnia books, either. And Huck Finn’s dad is your classic “bad dad”.

    We do see pretty normal, if sometimes workaholic, fathers in anime: Card Captor Sakura (another case of dead mother syndrome), Kare kano (where we see several fathers, only one of whom (the male lead’s natural father) is a bad father). Non-vile, if occasionally piggy, parents are present in many of the Ghibli movies (suddenly I am thinking of Dola, her mechanic husband, and her brood of Tigermoth sky pirates in Laputa).

    Mostly because it’s so common in literature, I really do think absent parents are primarily there for narrative reasons: to make a child’s struggle have more meaning than it might have if the parents were there to straighten things out/patch things over.

    And choosing your own father figure? Can the chosen/substituted father figure be a stand-in for the young man’s own target, as he finds his own path in the world?

  6. 6 xau January 11, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Anime has a lack of more ‘mature’ characters in general simply due to target group. Most characters are in their early twenties at most. Maybe the producers just thought that father themed stuff is not as fun for all the (rebellious) young adults?

  7. 7 omisyth January 11, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Dude! Light’s dad was awesome!

    Also, surrogate fathers aren’t so much chosen by, for the sake o simplicity let’s say the protoganist, because they have control of them, they’re chosen because they’ve made an impression on that protagonist. Shanks was the entire reason Luffy wanted to become a pirate, and if for some reason Shanks became a douchebag and started killing innocent people, I doubt Luffy would be able to simply walk away from someone he respected so much. (But we know Shanks wouldn’t do that, so ignore the first half of that second sentence).

  8. 8 Asperger's Anime Blogger January 25, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Dudes, you forgot Goku from Dragonball and Dragonball Z. He’s one of the most badass fathers of them all!


  1. 1 ‘My Father is a Pirate’ « The Animanachronism Trackback on January 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm

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