The Flash season finale aired over a week ago, so this might not seem like the timeliest of articles. In my defense, however, I’ve been thinking on this since the show aired. I even live-tweeted during the show, as I frequently do.
— Lincoln Crisler (@lcrisler) May 20, 2015
But I really needed to give the matter more thought, before expounding on it. Fatherhood’s always been an issue for me, and probably always will be. My own father left when I was about the age my son is now, and I rarely saw him after. My mother’s subsequent choices of mate were so poor so as to make him look like a God amongst men. For most of my formative years, I didn’t see a man get up in the morning, go to work and earn a living. Certainly, I didn’t have one to regularly play catch with or teach me how to shave (for more on my childhood, read this and this). Fatherhood is the primary source of marital dissent in the Crisler home. We don’t argue about most of the standard issues, like money or intimacy, but parenting gives us enough grist to make up for those other areas. I’m most definitely not a television dad, and most days, in the back of my head, I’m 100% confident that I never should have spawned. Love me or hate me for it, it’s how I feel. I regularly envy those folks who figure out they’re unsuited for parenting before it’s too late. Like most parents, I’d die for my kids in a second, but the harsh reality is that dying for them is much easier than living for them.
I have three children myself. My first, from a historical perspective if not in age, will be eleven this year, lives in Canada with my ex-wife and her new boo (who rapidly impregnated her after they met on an otaku forum), and I haven’t seen her in about four years. I can email and Skype, and have a couple times, but it’s a one-way street and I’m not one to ram myself into someone’s life. I’ve basically resigned myself to being a willing and open book whenever she’s ready to talk to me. I adopted my wife’s daughter shortly after we got together, and she is now in college and starting a family of her own. Finally, my wife and I have a son together, who’s seven. He’s a lot like me, and a lot like I was as a child. This is by turns a source of pride and exasperation. Incidentally, we watch The Flash together, without fail. I don’t watch it without him, and even at an impatient seven years old, he won’t watch it without me–if I have duty on a Tuesday night, or even if I fall asleep in the middle of an episode after a long day at work, which I’ve done once.
All of this gives me a certain perspective through which to view a show like The Flash, which to even a casual observer has fatherhood as a major theme.
Barry & Henry
There’s only so much to talk about here, because their relationship is obviously strained by Henry’s imprisonment. Henry’s unjust incarceration took Barry’s father away at a time when he truly needed him most. The loss of a parent is horrible, but under most circumstances, the child at least as their other parent to anchor them. It would be very easy for Barry and Henry both to feel emotionally disconnected from each other, but they don’t–Barry’s drive to clear his father’s name is a major plotpoint in the show, and during the finale, Henry’s primary argument hinges on how proud he is of the man his son has become, and how changing the timeline might make him a different person entirely.
Barry & Joe
Which brings us to the relationship between our hero and his surrogate father. Henry’s not a fully-developed, fleshed-out character, per se, and it’s not really his fault–he’s in the hoosegow, after all. So we really don’t see much of him in who Barry is, other than circumstantially. Joe, on the other hand, is a more realized character. He has a relationship with people other than Barry, and he has a career and some backstory. His influence on Barry is undeniable, starting with his chosen civilian career as a police forensic scientist (shades of Dexter, here, between the adopted cop-father and forensics career angles. But I digress). Joe is just as proud of Barry as Henry (and having Joe in his life is one of the things that Barry realizes is something good that came out of his childhood tragedy), but where Henry teaches us that a father’s pride and love can be unconditional and extend past any boundary, Joe teaches us about a father’s influence on his child. We wouldn’t have the same Barry (or the same Flash) without Joe West.
Barry & Wells/Thawne
Sometimes, your father can be a challenge, an adversary to beat. Tough to measure up to, but when you do, that’s how you know you’re a man. Of course, on the flipside is the duty a good father has to push and motivate his children. This is exactly how I perceive the relationship between Barry and Thawne. Eobard Thawne is, unarguably, the father of the Flash. He went back in time and built the particle accelerator to create the Flash when he found himself stranded after killing Barry’s mother. Most of the first season of the show has been about Thawne, as Wells, pushing Barry to discover and exceed the limits of his abilities (for his own villainous reasons of course) and about Barry’s physical and emotional struggle with not being as fast as the Reverse Flash.
Cisco & Wells/Thawne
Their relationship is similar to that between Thawne and the Flash, but it’s different in a few subtle ways. Thawne grew to look as Cisco as a son over the course of the past few years, as they worked together at STAR. It didn’t have to happen (i.e., he didn’t have the primal connection he has to Barry, though he’s not related to him, either) but it did. There’s a mutual admiration, at least for the first half of the season, and even when Thawne kills him in the alternate timeline Barry undoes, he seems to have genuine feelings for Cisco. When they have another solid chunk of time together in the finale, it’s Cisco again who lets us see some actual humanity in Eobard–one-percent of something to relate to in a character we otherwise love to hate. If I’m going to impute a moral to their relationship like I have with the others, I’d say it’s that our children–and being a father–can bring out the best in us, sometimes even despite ourselves.