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God of War and the Weight of Fatherhood} ?>
I never wanted to be a father. I love my two children and the people they are growing to be, but there are many days I wish I wasn’t responsible for them. Not that I’d want my children to cease to exist, rather I often wish I could give them a better father, one who acts more like the other dads I meet.
I’m sure I’m not alone in these feelings of inadequacy, but when I talk to other fathers, they often mention how much they love being dads. They show off their photos of their kids and enjoy being in the company of children. I never feel that way. That doesn’t mean I want to be a distant father, I just feel like my goals for parenting, and the “unconventional” ways I may express love or encouragement, are wrong when compared to others. I’ve struggled with feeling alone in these emotions.
But when I began playing the latest installment of God of War, I found a kindred spirit in Kratos. Kratos is the god of war in the Greek pantheon, and after spending three games murdering every other god he could get his hands on, he’s grown tired of killing and retired to Midgard. There, he’s settled down with a fierce warrior woman, Faye, and had a son. But with her death, he is left alone with “the boy” (this is literally what he calls Atreus, 99% of the time). Near the beginning of the game, Kratos cries out to his dead wife: “Why did you leave me alone with him? You were always better at this.”
Every time Kratos almost reaches out to comfort Atreus or tries to say something nice and fails, I feel both his good intention and his pain.
God of War begins as Kratos and Atreus gather wood for Faye’s funeral pyre and begin the journey to fulfill her final wish: that the two of them deliver her ashes to the highest peak in the realms. It soon becomes clear that their issues don’t just surround Faye’s death, but involve Kratos keeping secrets from his son. Atreus does not know that Kratos is a god, and that he is one as well. Instead of sharing this news with Atreus, Kratos has told him all about the dangers of the gods, the ways in which they abuse their powers, how they are all bad. Kratos hates the gods, in no small part because of the way he was used and has lost family to them. So, he keeps his identity from his son for the majority of the game while trying to instruct “the boy” in the ways to hunt, defend himself, show honour, and govern his emotions.
My family laughed a lot as they listened to the things Kratos said and watched me play, because I’ve tried to teach many of Kratos’s lessons to my children, and often using the same words he does. There’s a moment when Kratos says, “This is not the end of this conversation, boy” and my family said that I’ve voiced those exact words to my son in the last couple months. And as we discussed the ways Kratos is making a mess of fathering and how destructive his secrets are, I found myself understanding more how he feels and what his motivations are, particularly when he reveals the truth to Atreus.
Atreus overhears Kratos talking about him as cursed, and believes his father hates him. When Kratos finally tells Atreus the truth—that they are gods—Atreus asks why his father kept this information from him. “I had hoped to spare you. Being a god… it can be a lifetime of anguish and tragedy. That is the curse,” Kratos replies.
The responsibility of godhood is a burden Kratos hoped his son would never have to face, even as he prepared him for a life of violence and danger because eventually someone would figure it out and Atreus would need those skills. In his own way, even if it wasn’t the wisest way, Kratos tried to help his son become strong while protecting him from pain and danger as much as he could.
His attempt to protect his son resonated with me at a fundamental level. I too have tried to defend my children from pain and suffering by shielding them from the truth of the world around them. I’ve held things back from them or echoed Kratos’ words: “we are not talking about this right now.” I often try to teach my children the way to think about the world and face difficult things, even if those dangers aren’t currently present. There are times I’ve stepped back, even though they are really struggling, so they learn to face adversity and challenge. And I’ve said at least a million times, “control your anger,” rather than legitimizing it. But as I played God of War, I found myself wanting Kratos to be more open, to explain more, to be more compassionate—and realizing I’m saying those words to myself.
I’m trying to be better at listening and explaining, while still preparing my kids for the challenges and pain that come with life. I’m trying to give them permission to feel emotions while encouraging them to control their reactions (i.e. “I know you are angry boy, but you can’t lash out” rather than saying you aren’t allowed to be angry). I still hold some stuff back and I probably always will because that’s who I am. I still believe it is my job as a parent to make sure they are prepared to face those dangers and to instill in them a confidence in their own strength and ability. And like Kratos, I want them to be confident in their ability to face anything, but know that I’m still there for them, always.
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