Fiction is full of horribly abusive parents we are encouraged to hate with a passion. The Tywin Lannisters and Shou Tuckers of the world are meant to horrify fans with their abominable parenting. The writers intend for us to hold them up as examples of how not to raise a child.
But not all bad parents in fiction are intended to be seen as bad parents. Every once in a while, you’ll see parents in fiction that the writer doesn’t seem to even realize is a failing desperately at parenting 101. They’re clearly supposed to be a good parent, a decent parent, or at least not nearly as awful as they end up coming off as.
The reason we get unintentionally bad parents in fiction are often interesting and varied. They can range from plot needs to writer incompetence. Here are some of the most accidentally awful parents to grace sci-fi and fantasy.
Bruce Wayne as Batdad
It’s true that the comics often point out that Bruce Wayne is an incredibly flawed father. But there’s quite a few times writers have Batman cross the line “fallible, screwed-up parent” to “monster that shouldn’t be allowed within 20 feet of children and yet we’re expected to sympathize with him somehow”.
And no, it’s not that he lets children fight murderers alongside him. We can accept that as the unrealistic way comics are. Of course, it’s kind of hard to do that when it’s also combined with “gritty realism”, meaning 3/5 of these kids have died once, but hey. No, even setting all that aside, Bruce is horrific to his kids.
Take Tim Drake, the third Robin and Bruce’s eventual adopted son. It was his sixteenth birthday and he already had a car. What could Moneybags Bruce possibly give him? A yacht maybe? No, instead, Batman celebrated this milestone by sending the kid a faked message from the future that someone he loved was going to betray the Batfamily and plunge Gotham into destruction.
Robin #119- Nothing says "party" quite like tricking your kids into suspecting each other of murder.
Tim quickly descended into despair and paranoia, distrusting everyone around him and going off food and sleep for weeks. Of course, in the end it turned out this was a completely unnecessary test to see if Tim would figure out the message was fake and also to teach him not to trust anyone (especially Bruce, apparently!) Happy birthday, Tim!
It gets better, though. When Tim’s biological father found out his son was fighting criminals with a funny costume, he understandably wanted him to quit. Tim did so willingly and rather than respecting that, Batman tried to make Tim jealous enough to crawl back by making his girlfriend, Stephanie, Robin instead. A grown man callously manipulated two teenagers in an effort to drag one of them back into a dangerous crimefighting hobby against his family’s wishes. The mind games he played with Stephanie were partly what led to her death.
After he became Robin again, Tim’s biological father, best friend and girlfriend all died and his stepmother had a complete breakdown. Bruce officially adopted him after this. He also let him live in another city, by himself. Leaving a grieving, depressed child who’d lost 99.9% of his loved ones in a short period of time with no supervision is a fantastic idea. Bruce Wayne: Dad of the Year.
And that’s just one of Bruce’s kids! He has like, four others! Some of Bruce’s other greatest hits:
-Forcing Cassandra Cain to live in a dark, underground cave
-Telling Cassandra that she didn’t need stuff like “education” and “a social life” because her entire existence should be devoted to fighting crime
-laughing it off and not doing anything when she was brainwashed into killing people.
-Slicing his son Jason’s throat rather than letting Jason kill the Joker, the man who had beaten Jason to death with a crowbar when he was a teenager. Just let this sink in: Bruce risked killing his own son to save a dude who has literally blown up piles of babies.
Batman #650- You can argue he's so good he knew it wouldn't be lethal, but it still seems pretty risky. Holy crap, that's a lot of blood.
And so much more. So yeah, Batsy checks off nearly every type of abuse. We’ve got physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect and gaslighting. Batman has to be the best at everything and that includes ruining the lives of children.
This is probably down to the fact the writers love Batman they feel he can do anything and its okay because he’s really just sad and also super dark and cool! Don’t get me wrong, I like Batman too! But writers need to realize that being a Dark Knight doesn’t give you a pass on being a dick to kids.
It’s been hotly debated, but many Dragonball Z fans will tell you that Goku’s a good guy, he kind of fails at being a responsible dad. Obviously Goku loves his family and would die for them, but it’s hard to overlook that he encourages his five year old son to fight monsters to the death, against his wife’s wishes. There are tons of instances of tiny Gohan getting the crap kicked out of him by grown men while Goku stood by.
Probably the most egregious case of this is when eleven-year-old Gohan went up against Cell and Goku just stood there as he got pummeled. Even Piccolo got ticked off at him for that. Of course, in the end Gohan was able to defeat Cell, which was probably supposed to tell us Goku was right all along, but the ends don’t justify the means, y’know?
Speaking of Piccolo, he’s an irritable, formerly villainous slug guy who kidnapped Gohan and set a vicious dinosaur after him in the name of “training” when they first met, but a lot of DBZ fans think he’s more of dad to Gohan than Goku. This is because at least he’s actually around to parent Gohan. Goku is perpetually absent from his family’s life. Of course, most of the time, he can’t help this, he’s either dead or training to save the world. But there are quite a few times that he chose to leave his family high and dry for completely unnecessary reasons, like training some random kid he met. Definitely edging on absentee father there.
In the end, Piccolo did the Gohan-raising. He knows more about Gohan and cares for and protects Gohan more often than his own father does and that’s a little sad. I mean, the formerly (and still a little) murderous pretend-demon outperforming you as a parent would normally sting. Good thing our dude’s perpetually oblivious.
Of course, a lot of this is just a conventions of the genre. It’s common for kids to start grown dudes at a ridiculously young age in action shonen and Goku was also often absent due to plot needs. As a perpetually naïve alien who often fails at stuff that’s not fighting, it’s easy to see why he isn’t cut out for being a stable parent. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great source of dark humor for the fans. The Dragonball Z Abridged parody series does a great job milking Goku’s poor parenting for gags.
Let’s face it, it’s pretty irresponsible to let your ten year old child go on an unsupervised journey across the country, on foot, and engage in monster fights with other children. That kind of thing should wait until they’re at least 13!
But I mean. It gets pretty bad with Pokemon parents. They’ve been known to drop their kids out of helicoptors.
Also never forget the time Ash proudly gave his Mom his Pokemon trophy and her only response was to use it as dumbbell.
Ouch. That’s cold.
And in the old Pokemon games, your mom would even sleep in the kitchen! So unsanitary!
Of course, if Pokemon parents didn’t let their children wander the country freely, there would be no game. You have to have a kid character for the kids playing to relate to. And to be fair, some Pokemon parents are pretty involved in their kids journey, taking care of their money and even meeting them at various places sometimes.
The King and Queen from Frozen
You get the impression the King and Queen aren’t supposed to be bad parents. They’re portrayed as well-meaning, but pretty much everything that happened in Frozen could have been prevented with better parenting.
First of all, they decided to interpret a magical troll’s vague advice in the worst way possible and confine both of their daughters to a castle and completely isolate them from contact with other people.
They also encourage Elsa to lie to her sister and everyone else about her powers. Their actions drive her to a state where she refuses to touch anyone and absolutely hates herself. She spends her time isolated to her room. Despite the fact it’s clear this is having a terrible effect on their daughters and certainly isn’t working when it comes to controlling Elsa’s powers, the King and Queen never consider rethinking their methods.
They’re the originators of Elsa’s mantra that she shouldn’t feel anything. They only tell her to calm down, even though it’s clear the situation they’ve put her in is too stressful for her to possibly do that. And to top it all off, they leave the sisters alone in the castle even when Elsa begs them not to go.
And then it turns out that the fear and self loathing her parents instilled in her is what caused her powers to act up in the first place, naturally. The fact these two adults never even considered that despite all the evidence is unbelievable.
Basically, that shipwreck was probably the best thing that could have happened to Anna and Elsa in the end.
Joshua the Dog
I can’t really bring myself to really dislike Finn and Jake’s doggy daddy, but some of the stuff he did to Finn is deeply screwed up. After his death, he leaves instructions for Finn and Jake to go in a dungeon to fight monsters, which is fine, they’re down for it. But he also encourages Jake to insult his adopted brother to “toughen him up”. This is because Finn cried too much as an infant. The reluctant Jake tells Finn that his dad thinks he’s a “whiny baby” and then begins mocking Finn endlessly on his dad’s orders.
This causes Finn to want to kill himself because all the people he love suddenly seem to hate him and he nearly does it. It gets so bad that Jake can’t keep up the act. In the end, Finn gets a message from his dad that he loves him and made this dungeon for him, and apparently this makes it okay that he psychologically tormented his son because he was a colicky baby. It also sends a message to Finn that he should never cry, even though that’s a perfectly healthy thing to do and not necessarily a sign of weakness. (“If I didn’t cry when people died, I’d have a cold butt for a heart,” as Finn says.)
The whole ridiculousness of the situation was probably on purpose because stuff in Adventure Time is often silly and overexaggerated and a little screwed up. But even when you tone it down, the whole thing of your family tormenting you in the name of “toughening you up” is actually something that happens to kids a lot, so it might have hit a little close to home. In the end all the characters still see Joshua as a good dad since Finn declares him “cool” and Jake agrees. So! Driving your child to suicide from beyond the grave: it’s neato.