Am I a better father than a notorious meth kingpin? That’s the question I’ve asked myself since the series finale of “Breaking Bad,” which left me glued to my television set last Sunday night.
For the uninitiated, “Breaking Bad” was the story of Walter White, a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who begins cooking methamphetamine in order to secure his debt-laden family’s financial future. It was an incredible show in its contemplation of the moral consequences of our actions.
Walter justified his increasingly dastardly behavior by saying it was “for the family.” But it soon became clear that he wasn’t in the drug business for only family – it became an ego-driven crusade to prove his genius. This crusade eventually ripped his family apart, and his teenage son disowned him after learning of his father’s criminal behavior.
The prospect of my son growing up to disown me is frightening. I know I’m not a criminal (though I am a lawyer), but I’ve wondered if, like Walter White, I’m lying to myself by thinking I am good father. Am I doing anything to secretly traumatize my son? Going deeper, why is it so important for me to be a good father?
First, there’s the reason of pride: I want to be a good father because if I raise a successful son, then others will think highly of me. Second, there’s the reason of competition: I want to be a better father to my child than my father was to me. (Love you, Dad!)
But those reasons are just as ego-driven as anything that motivated Walter White. They presuppose that I am responsible for my son’s actions, that I can take blame for his failures and credit for his successes. But I can no more take credit for my son than a gardener can take credit for a flower’s beauty. The flower’s beauty was already coded into its nature.
So what can I do? As the proverb says: “Train up a child in the way he should go.” The proverb doesn’t say “way he will go” or “way we should go.” My son’s life journey will be taken without me, and I cannot control his destination. He is ultimately responsible for where he ends up, and to suggest otherwise to him only inhibits his ability to tackle life.
That thought should be a comfort to me, especially in those moments where he’s attempting to “break dad” with his toddler antics. His behavior says nothing about me – but my reaction does. It’s my job to react to him in the most loving way I can muster, and to remove my ego as much as possible from the equation. That will make me a good father.
Walter White could’ve learned a thing or two from that.