Fatherly Stuff: Of Meth and Fatherhood

Oct 1, 2013

Of Meth and Fatherhood



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  (Warning: Some Spoiler Alters Here)



Well folks it’s been a one hell of a ride, but we’re finally at the end of the road. 

One of the shows that led the charge into the television’s “Golden Age” has reached its conclusion and has left many of its viewers in a perpetual state of awe and personal reflection.  From the excellent writing, to the outstanding acting, there are so many components that made "Breaking Bad" such a pleasure to watch. Although I must admit that I came late to the party; I didn’t discover "Breaking Bad" until I purchased a Netflix subscription and the show was already about four seasons in. But like that pure, blue meth -that is such an intricate part of the series it should get its own credit; once I got a taste, I was instantly hooked. I found myself trying to watch the show any and everywhere I could. But with a wife who doesn’t like violent shows (we narrowly avoided divorce for such blasphemy) and two children who were way too young to even be in the room while it was on, satisfying my fix was quite the challenge. I often found myself watching it in my car, in between work, behind a locked bathroom door and even cheap dirty motel rooms. Eventually,  I was finally able to catch up and get through the final season. 

For me, what drew me into the show from the first tighty-whitey scene to the bitter end is the familiarity, was almost a kindred spirit feeling that helped me identify with Walter White. White, a vastly overqualified science teacher /part-time car wash worker struggling to make ends meet, suddenly discovers he has terminal cancer. After fatefully hearing  from his DEA brother-in-law, Hank about how much money could be made in the meth dealing market, he makes the resolution to do whatever it takes in order to ensure his wife, Sklyer and two children, Walt Jr and Holly have enough money to live a comfortable life after he dies, even if it means breaking the law. He teams up with Jesse Pinkman, a small time drug dealing former chemistry student of his and embarks on his journey. As a husband and father of two children myself, I would be lying if I said I didn’t think his cause was noble. I mean after all, in what way is a man valued, if not by the ability to provide for his family?
Throughout the series, there was one question that stuck in the back of my mind that I struggled to answer: Is Walter White a good father?

In the beginning of the show, my answer would have been an emphatic "yes! Of course he was".I was right with Walt and even cheered him on as he started to learn his way around the business, disposed of his first bodies (hey, they tried to kill him first!) , and collected the beginnings of what would be his vast fortune. But as the show progressed, we watched Walt transform from a kind, timid man into this violent, sociopathic, egotistical train wreck whose actions ultimately caused pain to everyone he holds dear and I felt myself slowly pulling away from him with each season.

There were couple of times during the series where Walt was given an “out”, or opportunity to leave the drug trade before the train wreck occurred, but due to his own arrogance and self admitted love of his Heisenberg persona, he disregarded each one. The first "out" was provided by Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, co-owners of multimillion company, Grey Matter. In addition to offering to pay all of his medical bills, they flat out wanted to give him a a high-paying position in the company. However, due to his own pride from feeling slighted by them in the past, he vehemently denied the opportunity because he viewed it as charity. The next “out” occurred after Walt successfully makes over $1M in a large drug deal with Gus Fring. He calculated that his family would only needed a little over $700K to live a good life, so he should have been all set to walk away from the trade into the sunset, right? In addition to that, so far his side business has caused him to miss the birth of his daughter, his son’s birthday and countless moments away from the family that supposedly so important to him. It was also around this point that his wife began to piece together all of his lies and was poised for a divorce. This would have been the perfect time to quit in order to focus on his family. But he was once again convinced to continue by a strategic speech by Gus Fring that inflated Walt's ego under the guise of being a good father:



Walt was played like a fiddle, and it totally worked. This is where I think his failure as a father is the most glaring. Because if his decision to cook meth was completely, 100 percent about his family being the money that they need, he would have taken one of the many opportunities to quit while he was ahead and gone back to his family while it was still salvageable. 

 The surrogate father/son relationship he had with Jesse contained some components of love, but based on actions it ultimately turned out to be a fallacy. Jesse is a formation character in his own right, in both skills and in cunning, but was constantly subjected to verbal and emotional brow beating from Walt. There were many scenes where Walt would project a sense of fatherly concern and affection towards him, but it was almost always done as a calculated strategy to get whatever he wanted. There are numerous examples of this, but one of my favorite occurs in season 3. After Jesse was violently pummeled by a frustrated Hank, Jesse was ready to file grievances that would have had Hank lose his job. In order to prevent this, Walk visits Jesse at the hospital, apologizes for their falling out and gives a seemingly heartfelt request for him to partner up with him in Gus's lab. Jesse was so overcome with emotion, he burst into tears and accepted the offer. In addition to this scene, Walt was indirectly responsible for the death of the love of Jesse's life (Jane in season 2) , as well as  directly for the poisoning of Jesse's own surrogate son, Brock in order to save his own skin. Not very fatherly-like actions.

In the series finale, when he ensures Walt Jr will inherit millions and he rescues Jesse from imprisonment, does he redeem himself? Yeah I think so, at least a little bit. But unfortunately, it was too little too late, as the damage was already done.

Yes, I was along for the ride as Walter White made the choices that ultimately transformed him into Heisenberg. As a fellow dad, I thought we were kindred spirits, at least initially. But somewhere along the line his actions became less for the welfare of his wife and kids and more for the thrill and power that came along with being one of the most powerful and feared men in the Southwest. As Abe Lincoln once said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."Once Walter White's character is tested, I began to see  him not as a father, but for the man he truly was. But as much as I tried to pull away, I couldn't, at least not all the way. This was a man who I think overall did love his family, but is also a human being with imperfections. If anything, I see Breaking Bad as an extreme cautionary tale of what can happen of a father allows his character flaws to overshadow the things that should me the most important in his life. I can only hope that keep this story in mind as I continue along my own paternal journey.

So what do you guys think? Was Walter a good father, or a terrible one? Looking forward to your feedback!