On Mother’s Day, I called Mom and thanked her for not shooting me in the back. She replied that she was happy we got through the rough times without Dad pushing me through a window.
My family follows Lost, which ended its fifth season this week. Drinking game enthusiasts may fixate on such tics as Hurley’s use of “dude” (if so, give someone else the keys to the raft, brother). But for my reasonably well-adjusted family, the most persistently noted motif is familial dysfunction. Have you noticed how many characters have serious conflicts with their parents?
I watch Lost with my children. My twelve-year-old was the first to pick up on the leitmotif of parent/child relationships around the time Ben slipped on a gas mask to bid adieu to Roger Workman. “Man, talk about daddy issues,” my son observed, covering his nose.
Mothers certainly don’t fare well on Lost. On the island, pregnancy has been a death sentence. Claire abandoned her son, who was subsequently left behind by stepmother Kate. Walt lost his mom, Rousseau lost her daughter, and Eloise lost any hope of being Mother of the Year 1977.
But, as my son noted, fathers are the show’s truly bad mofos. Sawyer was orphaned in an instance by his father’s shotgun. Kate put a torch to her abusive dad. Jack, Sun, Charlie and Penny had controlling, dissatisfied fathers. Miles and Hurley were abandoned to ghosts and candy bars, respectively. Claire and Faraday never knew their fathers or their siblings. Locke’s father never ceased to come up with ways to torment his gullible son.
Still, putting aside their obvious failings, some of the fathers of Lost do seem to do the right thing, if they go about it in the wrong way. My children and I keep a running list of the show’s lessons in fatherhood.
Be consistent. Children prefer order to chaos. “All babies want to be swaddled,” Locke told Claire. “It’s only later we crave freedom.” It’s a lesson Locke learned from his own father’s consistency. When Locke needed to be loved, his father told him he loved him. Locke was conned, swindled, ruined and defenestrated, but throughout, the son always knew what to expect of his old man.
Be a role model. Dr. Chang honed his skills in offering clear instruction. He helped others to always make the right decision by removing the margin of error introduced by free will. Reunited with the son he had yet to abandon, Dr. Chang was always clear in what he expected from Miles. Drive me here, drive me there, deliver this package; Dr. Chang provided clarity and purpose to his often-distracted son.
Always be there. Whereas many of his friends suffered the neglect of their fathers, Jack feels sure that his father will always be with him. Always. Always and always.
Offer safety. Ben loved his daughter Alex as best he knew how. He stole her away to a contented suburban life, keeping her safe from the dangers of the world beyond the home in which he himself had been tormented as child. Fearing Alex’s sexuality as she matured, Ben offered a fatherly brainwashing to her boyfriend. When she was threatened, Ben made sure the voice she heard clearest was that of her father.
Encourage independence. When Michael was reunited with Walt, he failed to remember the adage about loving something and letting it go. After his father barked “he’s my son!” a few too many times—and dropped “it’s a father’s right!” as an excuse to kill a few too many friends—Walt had had enough. Michael was left with nothing but a string of unfortunate boating adventures.
You can have “do-overs.” Look, we’ve all been there. The kids are wrecking havoc, the place is a mess and you just don’t have the energy to consider dinner. Frustrated, your temper snaps and you say or do something you regret. Maybe you raised your voice. Maybe you murdered your future son in haste. Take a breath. You’re only human. Saying “I’m sorry” helps. For the bad times, keep a stock of hydrogen bombs.
As a father, I know that the show has taught me the danger of pushing buttons. For other parents, Lost may serve as reminder why they originally had children: you never know when you’ll need a kidney.
Also posted at Time Out, New York