Largest Review/Discussion Fansite for Supernatural and SPNFamily Shows! Plot/Character Analysis, Spoilers, Games, News, Gallery, Interviews, Fun!
Yes I know I’m going to get some flack for this and I know a lot of people aren’t going to agree with me but that’s ok, I’ve always been one for a lost cause. I started thinking about this when I saw an interview with Jeffrey Dean Morgan on ‘The Losers’ in which he was asked about Supernatural. What struck me was how angry he seemed about how the character of John Winchester had been handled in the later seasons. This got me thinking. It’s true in the later seasons John is suddenly being described as a “deadbeat dad” which, for all his faults, I never believed John Winchester was, let me explain why.
 
John Winchester had many faults and failings but as I was sat in my team meeting I began to consider what exactly those were and I came out with three. In my opinion all of the criticism of John Winchester can be filed under one of these three things: the burdens placed on Dean, not trusting anyone else especially his sons and leaving the boys.
 
1. The burdens placed on Dean
 
Dean and Sam were left alone a lot so it fell upon Dean to look after his brother, he took him to school, he cooked him dinner and he was even left to protect him when he was nothing more than a child himself. There was far too much expectation on Dean to pick up his fathers slack, to take on the role of an adult to watch over and protect his little brother. It often seemed that John forgot that Dean was a kid himself, that Dean might need protection and comfort and the reassurance that he was doing a good job. John treated Dean more like a colleague or a companion then as his son and as such gave him the burdens and responsibilities of a colleague. The two prime examples of this come in Something Wicked and In My Time of Dying.
 
In ‘Something Wicked’ John leaves his sons in the motel room for the night while he goes to hunt down a creature that is attacking children. Aware his children are possibly at risk he tells Dean, who I imagine is about 10 (if I have the ages wrong I’m sure someone will correct me) to protect his brother and hands him a weapon with which to defend himself and his brother if necessary. Now what comes later, Dean’s absence allowing the creature to attack Sam and John’s reaction, is all part of the same idea. John leaves Dean in charge of Sam, to look after him and to protect him if necessary and when Dean lets him down he seems to react as if he were dealing with an adult and a colleague not a scared boy who didn’t quite understand the full implications of what was going on. When John assigns Dean the responsibility of protecting his younger brother and then the responsibility when it almost goes wrong, he does so looking at Dean as a cohort not as his son.
 
In ‘In My Time of Dying’ John has made the deal but places the burden on Dean of the secret about Sam, (if he doesn’t find a way to save him he has to kill him). That is a huge burden on anyone to be responsible for saving someone without being given a steer on exactly what from or how to do so, but your own brother? That just makes the burden all the heavier. John asks Dean from a very early age take on responsibilities that a lot of adults would bulk at and continues throughout his life to treat him as a fellow hunter and gives him responsibility as such.
 
The burdens placed on Dean are too much, especially when he is a child, I’m not denying that but in a certain respect who else did John have to rely on? There were other hunters but they are people he barely knows with whom he may be able to leave is kids for a couple of nights maybe a even a couple of weeks but not for long, they had their own lives to live, hunts to do. He has no family, no close friends and he broke ties with the community he lived in once he found out about the supernatural world. From John’s point of view something evil killed his wife, was probably after his son and he had no back up and no one to rely on. He was a single parent with a dangerous job with no family, friends or support system to rely on it seems almost inevitable, rightly or wrongly that he comes to rely on his eldest son. John admits as much, in his speech to Dean in ‘In My Time of Dying’ he says he placed too much on Dean, that he grew up too fast. This often happens in single parent families where the parent either works long and/or irregular hours or has care needs, the burden often falls on the children and most often on the eldest to take up the slack. John and Dean are not alone in their situation or predicament. I read an interesting statistic in the London Evening Standard a couple of weeks ago which stated that in London alone there were at least 17,000 known child carers and that’s for families with care needs and doesn’t include single parent families like the Winchesters which suggests that this situation is actually fairly common.  As such and facing so much John I feel puts Dean into the role of his number two, his fellow hunter and his decisions and reactions to Dean are more often as a fellow hunter rather than his son.
 
When faced with his immanent demise John has a decision to make over whether telling Dean about Sam. We’re never told how much John knows about the Yellow Eyed Demon or his plans but he opts to give Dean a warning as he will no longer be around. Yes it’s an awful burden to give someone especially about their brother but what was John’s other option… not to tell Dean? Let Dean go on in ignorance not knowing that there was a very real danger lurking. I think that John told Dean because he was trying to protect him to let him know that there was danger in their future and that he felt he needed to make it very clear to Dean about the choices he may have to make (John doesn’t strike me as a sugar-coating-it kind of guy). Yes it’s harsh and yes it’s a heartbreaking burden but I believe that John felt he couldn’t leave Dean in the dark, that he was trying to protect his sons – to be forewarned is to be forearmed after all. So yes John puts too much on Dean too young but I can see how it happened, it doesn’t make John a bad man or a bad father, just a man without a whole lot of options.
 
2. Not trusting anyone else, especially his sons. 
 
This is a character flaw more than anything, even young John as seen in ‘In the Beginning’ and ‘The Song Remains the Same’ is a stubborn character who likes to do things is own way. He’s an ex-military man with a set way of thinking with a stubborn and competitive streak which is well known long before he gets into the demon hunting business (as Dean and Sam found out from his ex-business partner in Home). Then faced with the horrific death of his wife and the sudden revelation of the evil that surrounds him and is stalking his family it’s no wonder he has little trust in anyone else. He ends up falling out with a lot of other hunters, including Bobby, due to what I imagine is his ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. He never gives much reasoning to his orders just expects people, especially his sons, to follow without question. He doesn’t tell his sons anything unless he feels it is necessary and expects their blind obedience. This is a very military style of leadership one with which he was familiar and one he would have relied on when starting out as a hunter. His Marine training would have given him resources to plan, train and survive as a hunter. He gives the boys orders, sends them on missions like he would have as a marine, treating Sam and Dean like squaddies and keeping with the militaristic line ‘information is on a need to know basis’. This is a somewhat unhelpful trait as John has two smart sons who are both capable and resourceful but he never really makes the most of them, which isn’t a good idea from a tactical point alone let alone a family one. He lies to them, disappears on them and they have to find out he’s not dead via voicemail. He seems to work on the premise that he and he alone can protect his family and that all dissenters aren’t welcome. Which makes for a somewhat fractious relationship with anyone, let alone a son who shares a very similar personality (yes I’m looking at you Sam).
 
He doesn’t trust anyone, not even his sons and in a way that’s understandable. John Winchester suddenly finds himself in a world where something evil and unknown has killed his wife and is stalking is after his son, people don’t believe him about the death of his wife and again he has no family, no friends and no support network to fall back on. Hunters in general seem to be a distrustful bunch and on the whole loners, with all the demons and shapeshifters and creatures that appear human you can see why hunters tend to be on the distrustful side. John also happens to be a single parent to two small children while doing this dangerous job which means he has to resort to illegal methods to support him and his children. He’s trying to avoid the evil, avoid the law, avoid people who don’t understand what he’s doing and think he’s some murderer or sociopath, protect his children from the evil stalking them and the well-meaning do-gooders who don’t understand why he allows his kids to handle a .45. He’s trying to protect his kids from the evil he sees all around and to make sure that they’re prepared and capable to face what’s out there.

Later on when his sons are grown up he still doesn’t tell them anything just carries on treating them the same way. I think this is in part military training keeping the flow of information on a need to know basis with him making the decisions and the boys following orders and in part a natural parent reaction - no matter how old their children get it’s still a parent’s job to protect their kids. I believe John’s reaction to Sam going to Stanford is less about wanting him to stay in the “family business” but more about being scared, his little boy being out in the world facing the danger and evil he knows is out there all alone. Of Sam being in a place where John can’t be on hand to watch over him and protect him if needs be. My mother informs me that there is nothing quite so terrifying as letting your children go out to make their way in the world, letting them make their own way and not being able to protect them. I think John was scared and that he’d rather his sons were where he could keep an eye on them no matter what they wanted. I think John took the line that he was older and more experienced and it was his role to protect his boys and he was going to do it whether they liked it or not. This might not be the best line to take but it’s not unusual and it is understandable.
 
3. Leaving the boys
 
He leaves them alone to fend for themselves as children. He goes away at the beginning of season 1 not letting them know if he’s alive or dead, they find out he’s still alive because his voicemail message changes. There are so many times he seems to leave the boys alone and in the dark (both literally and metaphorically) choosing to pursue his hunting obsession over the welfare of his boys leaving them to cope with so much with only themselves to rely on.
 
Jesse’s parents in ‘I Believe the Children are Our Future’ and Adam’s mum both leave their kids alone at times to fend for themselves, John isn’t alone in this but it still doesn’t sit right. I was re-watching ‘Something Wicked’ the other day and I noticed that the show never is exactly clear how often and how long John left Sam and Dean alone for. In ‘Something Wicked’ he leaves them alone for the evening but it’s not clear if he’s not a gone for days, just is gone during the nights. When things go wrong he takes them to Pastor Jim’s then goes back. This made me think when they were younger that maybe he left them alone for hours maybe a couple of days at a time but he never seemed to leave them for long periods, it’s only when they’re older in ‘After School Special’ and Dean is around 18 that he seems to be leaving them for weeks at a time probably figuring that adult Dean can take care of 14yr old Sam.

The only exception seems to be in ‘A Very Supernatural Christmas’ where John is gone and supposed to be home for Christmas but doesn’t make it. We don’t know how long he’s been gone (a couple of days seems to have been implied) but we still never know why he didn’t come back when he said he would. I figure that there are several reasons, we know that on at least several occasions he ended up in hospital as a result of a hunt, including the time he met Adam’s mother. If you uses Dean and Sam’s hunting jobs as typical examples of hunts then think that John had to do all of that work by himself, the tracking down of witnesses, research, digging graves etc all without that extra pair of hands that Sam and Dean have without realising it. I’m not excusing John’s behaviour, but I can see where he is coming from, and who could he leave his boys with? He could have handed the boys over to someone to look after on a permanent basis but I doubt he trusted anyone to protect them. Who could he have left the boys with, not Pastor Jim or Bobby because although they both, unlike John, had permanent residences both would have been away frequently on jobs and both would have felt that they weren’t in a position to raise two small boys. He has no close family or friends and no one he can leave them with longer than a couple of weeks. Again as I’ve said earlier with no friends, no family and no support network to rely on his choice of options was limited.
 
I’m not saying that I agree with all the decisions made or the reasons behind why he did things the way that he did, the case I’m trying to make is that actually he wasn’t a “deadbeat dad”, that title should be left with the likes of Max Miller’s father, that he did care about his boys and that, although he made mistakes and went about things the wrong way, actually John Winchester for all his many faults was just a man faced with overwhelming odds trying to protect his boys the only way he knew how. John’s major problem was that he became obsessed with the supernatural and the thing that killed his wife. He put everything into tracking it down and protecting people from the supernatural as and when he finds it. His life became a battle with supernatural forces played out on the back roads of America and he took to the role like a military man, often becoming John the Hunter at the expense of John the Father; he admits as much to Sam in Dead Man’s Blood “somewhere along the line I stopped being your father. And I became your drill sergeant”. I maintain that John Winchester was a good man (not a righteous man) and not a bad father. He was a man with misguided priorities, a man who saw his wife murdered was thrust into a world surrounded by evil and monsters and darkness with something evil and unknown stalking after his family, people didn’t believe him about the death of his wife and he had no family, no friends and no support network to fall back on. He didn’t know who or what he could trust. He was scared and alone with only himself and his wits to rely on to protect himself and his children. Faced with the same conditions who’s to say that we would have done any differently?
 
I will leave the final words on this matter to John himself. For me this speech says all you need to know about John Winchester.
 
“You know when you were a kid I'd come home from a hunt and after what I'd seen I'd be... I'd be wrecked. And you, you'd come up to me and you'd put your hand on my shoulder and you'd look me in the eye and you'd... You'd say "It's okay, Dad" Dean, I'm sorry. (pause) You shouldn't have had to say that to me, I should have been saying that to you. You know, I put, I put too much on your shoulders, I made you grow up too fast. You took care of Sammy, you took care of me. You did that, and you didn't complain, not once. I just want you to know that I am so proud of you.”
 

Comments  

mysticpeach
# mysticpeach 2010-08-10 19:12
This was an interesting article. I don't hate John, but I don't feel a connection to his character. So I guess I'd say I'm indifferent. I think he wasn't the best father in the world but that he did the best he could with what he had. Besides, without what he did I doubt there would be this epic love story between Dean and Sam. At least not as we know it.
Tigershire
# Tigershire 2010-08-10 19:50
I love the boys father, but he frustrated the hell out of me too. In the words of Missouri Mosley "I could just slap you."

As well as not necessarily having anyone he trusted to leave the boys with for extended periods of time, John many also have been concerned about leaving the boys in one place for too long.

If you read the comics, you get that from the story. The boys, Sam in particular, was a target and the best way to keep him safe, was to make sure they kept moving.

But, just to play devil's advocate (hee hee), I can also see some rationale behind the change in how John was viewed. Dean idolized his dad and burried any hurt feelings deep. Sam didn't so as the realizations came, his disappointment wasn't as bad, but, John avoided telling the boys anything. Things they needed to know, or could have helped him with, they didn't get to know or do. They already felt guilty after John sacrificed himself to save Dean, and then, every reveal of what John didn't tell them, information he didn't pass on, people like Ellen they learned of by accident. I think I can see how the boys (and Bobby's to some extent) could get twisted and bitter, especially since John was no longer around to defend himself or his actions.

Like you, and am not saying I agree with how John, or the boys for that matter, handled things, but the evolution of the feelings toward John are plausible.

I'm still hoping that a way is found to get Jeffrey Dean/John Winchester back into the show in the flesh though!

This was an interesting article Bethany, thanks for writing it.
Christine Apple
# Christine Apple 2010-08-10 20:36
I loved John too. I don't believe John was a "dead beat" dad either. He was an ex-military man who lost the love of his life to supernatural events, and had 2 small sons to protect. He wasn't perfect and would've never won father of the year, but his boys loved him. And as Sam said in "Nightmare".... A little more tequila and a little less hunting and things could have been a whole lot worse (I para phrase).

John may have made a lot of decisions that weren't the best. But it was always to protect his family, protect innocent people, and find the thing that killed Mary. Not necessarily in that order.

John was a good man. Because I believe it takes a good man to raise good men. Sam and Dean are not only good men, they are great men, flaws and all (and holy crap! are these poor boys flawed). They do a job, John included, for which they never get paid and rarely get thanked, all they get is more of the same.....Things to hunt and people to save. The family business.

What show would we all be watching and talking about if it weren't for John Winchester? :-)
elle2
# elle2 2010-08-10 20:58
Hey, Bethany,

I'm almost finished with my John Winchester article and I'll not be posting any thoughts on John here simply because they're all in my article. Like you, I was 'inspired' to write the article because of the very same interview with JDM that you indicated...hee , hee, great minds think alike!

We are very similar in our thoughts on John and that makes me feel even better about what I wrote. Also, you approached John exclusively from the father angle and I took a 'slightly' different tack so while our articles are similar, they are also different (which makes me breathe easier since you got yours out first, but also won't detract from yours when mine comes out)

Frankly, I'm loving that we're both going to be showing John Winchester some love within about a week's span of each other...bring on JDM, hopefully in Season 6 or 7 or 8...please!!! :D
LindaH
# LindaH 2010-08-10 21:08
I have always thought that John was a good man, but a bad parent. OTOH, I harbor a deep suspicion that the same can be said of anyone who is devoted to a cause. Nelsen Mandela went to jail for many years to free his people. In addition to punishing him, it meant his children didn't get him as a parent. If you read about John Adams he spent tons of time away from his family in the cause of American independence and in promoting America as a country. He had a cause that he felt needed to be put above his family.

John was in the same boat. The only difference between the men I have mentioned and John was that they had wives who could pick up the slack with the children, John had no one.

I do agree that John was not a deadbeat dad. He didn't abandon his kids. He kept them near as often as he could.

I do disagree with you on Something Wicked. It has been a while since I saw it, but I think Dean said that after 3 days of being trapped in that room with Sammy, he was going nuts. To me that didn't sound like John just left for the night, but that he left for 3 days. The orders he gives Dean at the beginning sound more like an extended leave, not just overnight.

John's quest saved a lot of lives. He stopped a lot of evil and in the process he did a lot of unintended damage to Dean and Sam's psyches. The people he saved would probably say he was a wonderful man. Sadly this came at a price to his children and made both of them so dependent upon each other that when they lost each other they could not stand on their own. Dean sold his soul in one night, Sam sold his soul over the course of a year.

John did the best he knew how. The great tragedy is that Mary hid her experiences of hunting from him. Perhaps if she had told him about how families can hunt together, rely on the support of a hunter network, and live a settled life while fighting evil, John would have been able to make better decisions.
Daunt
# Daunt 2010-08-10 21:10
You should definitely try reading the comics, specifically Rising Son and the latest series. It covers a lot about John's history and the boy's history as kids that Sam and Dean never learn about or remember. John's separation from the hunters is explained as well.

I think you'd find it really fascinating!
elle
# elle 2010-08-10 21:26
Great article! Personally, I love John Winchester. He's flawed no doubt, but I don't question that he loves his boys and he did what he felt was best to keep his boys and himself alive while his eyes were being opened to a big, scary world and grieving the loss of Mary.

I don't consider John a deadbeat at all. He did the best with what he had. Yes, there was a burden placed on Dean that shouldn't have been there - but I imagine this is the case with many single parent household so you through in a couple of demons and a quest for vengeance; ya, I can see how it ended up the way it did for Sam and Dean.

What separates John from the deadbeat dads is that, among other things, he acknowledges to his children his failings and that's a big thing - especially for a man like John - and he is clearly proud of them, even if he doesn't say it to them - recall the things in John's storage locker that had sentimental value? Dean's sawed off shotgon is essentially the Winchester equivalent of macaroni glued to construction paper that all parents save from their children. Bottom line for me is, he loved his children and did what he felt he had to do to survive. Can't fault the man for keeping his family alive as long as he did with the evil chomping at his heels.

(I won't even speak to the Adam storyline - because that whole mess just kinda tweaks me the wrong way).
CitizenKane2
# CitizenKane2 2010-08-10 22:00
Great article - I enjoyed reading it.

I tend to think that even though John became obsessed with hunting down the YED (leading to many, if not all, of his failings you listed), it should be remebered that John also had a very strong sense of right and wrong.

After all, he withstood tortue in Hell for a hundred years without breaking (unlike Dean).
Kalixa
# Kalixa 2010-08-11 00:35
I like John because he is such a controversial character: was he a good father or a bad father? was he truly a righteous man? It's fodder for endless debate in Fandom...

He definitely wasn't a deadbeat dad - deadbeat dad's don't care about their children, and John DEFINITELY cared about his children, more than that, you can tell (by the way JDM played him) that he absolutely LOVED his children.

Parents always do what they think is best for their children - whether or not their actions are ACTUALLY best for their children can be debated case by case. That's the problem with parenting...one man's 'right thing to do' is another man's 'horrible parenting'

My mother tsked over parents that coddled their children, and I'm sure the parents that coddled their children tsked over the fact that my mum taught us to do our own laundry before we were even taught how to read.

John definitely made mistakes, and like LindaH pointed out, he DID leave Dean alone with Sammy and a shotgun for three days, not just evenings...but he armed his boys to survive the best way he knew how - and they DID survive (albeit roughly), and that's a success. Yes, there were casualties - Dean's self-esteem, the boy's co-dependence, Sam's genetic blind-obsession /anger... but I don't think there's a single person out there that can't name some flaw in their personality and pin it back on their parents (I mean, isn't that half of psychiatry?)
Kalixa
# Kalixa 2010-08-11 00:37
I like John because he is such a controversial character: was he a good father or a bad father? was he truly a righteous man? It's fodder for endless debate in Fandom...

He definitely wasn't a deadbeat dad - deadbeat dad's don't care about their children, and John DEFINITELY cared about his children, more than that, you can tell (by the way JDM played him) that he absolutely LOVED his children.

Parents always do what they think is best for their children - whether or not their actions are ACTUALLY best for their children can be debated case by case. That's the problem with parenting...one man's 'right thing to do' is another man's 'horrible parenting'

My mother tsked over parents that coddled their children, and I'm sure the parents that coddled their children tsked over the fact that my mum taught us to do our own laundry before we were even taught how to read.

John definitely made mistakes, and like LindaH pointed out, he DID leave Dean alone with Sammy and a shotgun for three days, not just evenings...but he armed his boys to survive the best way he knew how - and they DID survive (albeit roughly), and that's a success. Yes, there were casualties - Dean's self-esteem, the boy's co-dependence, Sam's genetic blind-obsession /anger... but I don't think there's a single person out there that can't name some flaw in their personality and pin it back on their parents (I mean, isn't that half of psychiatry?)
Yirabah
# Yirabah 2010-08-11 02:41
I always liked John and I am hoping to see older JW again. Actually have my hopes up high for up-coming season. Just have this feeling not much I can pin it on.

But I can understand the single-parent point of few. My boys loved to stay with their grand-parents when they were little. But half way through elementry school they didn't want to stay over night at their grand-parents anymore only because I had to go to a parental-meetin g or what so ever.Even before they were 10 they wanted to stay at home alone. Scared the crap out of me but I lived with it (even though that was only for hours not days) but I made sure they knew how to handle everything. Told them who tho call in case of emergencys etc. They never did need help so. Always handled everything by themselves. During their growing up they learned how to take care of themselves as well as others and learned to solve probs by themselves. That's just the course it goes if you try to protect you children but don't over protect them.

Yes I can understand John Winchester. Understand how torn up he must have been between his job and the responsiblity for his kids.

Then again wasn't his job taking care of his kids. He knew the yellow eyed demon did something to Sam and I believe he even knew that that demon had plans for Sam. I like to think that John thought going after him was part of protecting Sam. If he could have killed that demon maybe his son would have been save.

At the hospital he send Sam to get some coffee and then he started his farewell speech to Dean. So much he wanted to put in there during Sams coffee run. He touched a few things but had no time to go into depth of it. Maybe he wanted to explain to Dean why he might have to kill his brother but Sam was already back with the coffee we never know since it was the end of the ep.
Karen
# Karen 2010-08-11 09:01
Hi Bethany
It’s one thing to loose the love of your life, but to have her die in such an unexplainable way. It’s a hell of a way to find out that the Supernatural world exist. And not only that, John now has to accept that Mary’s killer will never see the inside of a courtroom. There would be no justice through the normal judicial system. How do you cope with that? (I still wondered what he told the police and fire department.)
With this I believe his military training came into effect. This became a war to him and he was now on a mission and he would either never stop until the mission was complete or die trying.

Although I do understand why John did what he did, I still don’t condone all of his actions. Leaving two young boys alone for days and expecting one to be fully responsible for the other just doesn’t sit well with me.
However I too never felt John to be a Dead Beat Dad. He would definitely never win Father of the Year, but there is no doubt in my mind that he truly loved his son’s. I believe he was quite sincere when he admitted his failings to both Sam and Dean. I just think that when he found out the truth of what really happened to Mary he let his grief, anger and fear take over and with this fear he had to teach his boys to be hunters so they could protect and defend themselves.

Thanks Bethany, this was an excellent read and mind pondering.
Randal
# Randal 2010-08-11 10:24
John was like most of us, flawed. I'm a pop, and I think of myself in his situation, what would I do? Would I have handled it better, would I have handled it worse, a maddening descent into basketcase-dom? One can certainly quibble with his methods, but one cannot doubt that he loved his sons.
elle2
# elle2 2010-08-11 11:59
Bethany,

I reread my comment and realized I didn't tell you how much I enjoyed your article :oops:

I like how you approached John from the father point of view and categorized his 'failings' if you will in three categories and then listed examples from the show.

And I really appreciate how you summed up John in the final words he said aloud to Dean...that speech said so much about the character, that he realizes where he made mistakes and owned up to them takes great courage (especially for a man who lived so much inside of his head and not trusting anyone (as you stated))

I love this character, both as Matt Cohen portrays him in the younger, prehunting days and as Jeffrey Dean Morgan portrays him.

Thanks for writing this great article!
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2010-08-11 12:38
THANK YOU SO MUCH, Bethany! No flak from me...I totaly agree. JW was human and made mistakes, but no one could have loved their sons more. A man who made mistakes, yes, but not a 'deadbeat dad'. Hopefully JDM will read this too. Thanks for writing. Hope you do more soon.
Bevie
# Bevie 2010-08-11 13:12
I never doubted that John loved his sons, and so was definitely not a dead-beat dad. He did the best he could with what he had, and he had Dean who was so reliable right from carrying Sammy away from the fire. He relied on Dean and took him for granted. Also, from what we have witnessed, Dean never revealed to his dad how much he missed the reassurances and loving moments that his dad gave to his youngest, so John probably never even thought that he was depriving his eldest of emotional support.

Also, I don't believe that John was the righteous man who was destined to break the first seal and held out being tortured for 100 years. In my opinion, Alistair was lying through his teeth in order to upset Dean even more and lower his self esteem even more than it already was, which was very nearly zero at the time. And it worked beautifully!

I too would love to see John again and perhaps be reconciled with both his boys. Where are John and Mary that Ash could not find them? That could be a great episode.

I'm sure that Dean still loves his dad dearly, but has been disappointed so very much both by what he felt was God letting him down and associated that feeling with how he sees his dad now. Dean's misery was all about how he was unable to keep his beloved Sammy from going off the deep end and when he asked for help, he feels that he never received it. Even so, I believe that God does work in mysterious ways and was on his side all along. (he was able to kill the whore of Babylon after all and found the strength to defy Zachariah).

Great article Bethany! Thanks.
Bethany!
# Bethany! 2010-08-11 13:40
thanks everyone for your lovely comments. glad to see some JW love out there! it was just a topic that i found interesting and the more i thought about it the more questions i had so i wrote it down...

elle2 can't wait for your article!

if anyone is interested this is the interview i was talking about in my article:
http://www.collider.com/2010/04/21/jeffrey-dean-morgan-interview-the-losers-plus-info-on-red-dawn-the-fields-unblinking-eye-and-heart-shaped-box/
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-08-11 16:24
Bethany,
this is a wondefully thought out article! Thank you!

I have to admit, in regard to John, there are two voices in my soul - the one that wants to slap him, and the other that wants to comfort him. If he was a real person and I was to meet him, we might have some serious disagreement in many ways.

From a therapist's point of view, I am mad at him but I understand him, too. I have the results of such a life 'on my couch' often enough to know that the way John treated his children had a huge part in their low self-esteem, especially Dean's - he never had the notion of being good enough.

His reaction to John's acknowledgement of Dean moves me to tears every time - he can't believe what his father is saying.

When you burden a child with more than he can understand at the time, it will leave scars, and we've seen them throughout the show. Even later, when Dean realizes that his dad didn't torture in hell but held out, while he didn't, that old wound of 'not being the son our dad's wanted us to be' opened that toxic river of pain that has been flowing within him all his life.

On the other hand - John winchester is himself a traumatized man and he clings to what he knows best - behave like a soldier, as that gives him stability. And he hopes to give that to his sons, too. I understand. But he distributes the weight in a problematic manner - too much duty, training, too little comfort.

When someone is scared out of his wits, like John must have been, he will behave erratically, holding on to well-known structures (like the ability to handle a gun or go on a quest)...

I have had a love-hate relationship with the character of John. I used to hate him in the beginning, being all envelopped in a 'he should have been a better father'-mode.

But I think of him differently now. He tried to protect his kids, at all costs. He didn't think of their emotional needs, as he was all too aware of what was awaiting them and needed them prepared. Plus he was blinded by his yearning for revenge, hoping to find peace then.

He didn't find it, unfortunately.

Sam acted a lot like his father after Dean had died. I always supported Sammy for his decisions and defended him. Now, I can't defend Sam and comdemn his father - as their reasons were so much alike.

I would like to talk to John winchester, apologize for cursing him and see what he would say today about his sons. He would surely be proud of them. I'd like to hug him and slap him. And tell him that I'd like to help him get over the pain that- undoubtedly - still reigns his soul.

sorry for rambling, Bethany, you really got me thinking. thanks again for this amazing piece. Love, Jas
marie-a
# marie-a 2010-08-11 17:20
thanks for this article, Bethany.
John Winchester was an ordinary man in a non-ordinary situation. One day, he was a proud father of two sons and a husband of a lovely wife, and in a minute, he was alone, alone, with nothing at all, except Dean and Sam. At the scene in the pilot, you can see he loved his sons by the way he held them. They were his anchor, and they were after, always in his mind. But he was a soldier, and what do a retired soldier in a crisis situation ? He was in war again, so he became a soldier again. He did it in the only way he knew (he was a vietnam veteran, that say something, isn't it ?) All he did was for his sons, to protect them, save them, to learn to live through this nightmare. And to be able to take revenge. During this time, he forgot he was also a father, and the compassion, the confidence and the morality a father has to show to his heirs, and specials heirs (a thing he knew way before Dean and Sam). He has his flaws (this obsession), and he knew them ("in my time of dying") but I deeply think he didn't know how to do it different. It's good because after all, he was only a human being in a supernatural life.
Now, if I could talk to John Winchester I'm sure he told that he's proud of them, the "Team free will", and the choices they made. That Sam has his redemption. Its a Winchester trademark, do what you want, what you have to do, like a stubborn brave soldier.
thanks again, it's was a pleasure to read.
Tim the Enchanter
# Tim the Enchanter 2010-08-12 21:47
This is what happens when you come late to the party; all the best opinions are gone! Dear Bethany, magic piece. Thanks a million. It’s always nice to pick up something new about a character that can change or affirm what you think about him.

Ok, before I start I just have to say that in terms of neutrality in relation to John Winchester, I’m not exactly Switzerland. He’s as much of an enigma now (maybe more so) than he was when he was alive. I’m not going to go through his (countless) flaws because bigger and better posters than me have done so in the preceding comments but I am going to try and understand what motivates the guy. (I’m going for the ‘defense’ in the ‘In Defense of John Winchester’ angle!)

Also, I'm sorry about the length. I really, really tried to rein myself in (this is about 20% of what I wanted to say...) but John W has so many damn layers!! If you want a summary of how I feel about John, scroll down to the last two lines....

I must admit, my initial impression of John was fiercely negative. I found him to be a deplorable character: selfish, irresponsible, single minded, with no heed to the consequences his decisions would have on his sons. Now however..... the phrase ‘If I knew then what I know now I’d be a wiser man’ would certainly apply to any assessment I make of John.

Sons, hunters, demons; everyone had an opinion on John. Love him or loathe him, by God, they respect him. Bobby, possibly the most level headed guy out there obviously respected him. He thought enough of him to treat his sons like members of his own family, likewise Pastor Jim. Other hunters, while not necessarily liking him, spoke highly of him. His sons’ attitudes towards the guy would fill a 10,000 word article (and will one day!) but it’s safe to say they too respected the crap out of him, begrudgingly or not.

Demons loathed him. Remember their glee when they talked about having him on the rack (my poor baby!). The best way to taunt Dean (aside from egging the Impala) was to remind him that John never broke, even after 100 years. Demons hated him, but they hated him out of fear. You have to respect something in order to fear it. Considering how indifferent demons generally were towards humans, the special treatment they gave John (and his sons) is like a backhanded compliment. John had the demons running scared. Like Meg said in Salvation ‘Considering what they said about you, I thought you’d be taller’. It says something of the guys’ reputation that demons are discussing him over coffee...

In regard to his actions, we’re seen John in 3 contexts; in the hunter mode we know him best, as a young idealistic man and as just a guy (admittedly he was dead in this episode but still). While his actions in many cases have been considered harsh, his motives were pure; keep his sons alive. For those who say his actions were over the top; his wife was murdered and his youngest son violated while he was caught napping, literally. That could not be let happen again. As John grew more into hunting, I think he wanted to make sure all the evil things in the world would tremble at the name of Winchester and if he had to sacrifice everything to ensure that these things ran in the opposite direction of his boys then so be it.

I appreciate all the comments about John putting too much of a burden on Dean at so young an age. However, after the fire, Dean was not a ‘normal’ child. He was a child that grew out of circumstance. Even if John had never gone into hunting, Dean became an adult at the age of 4. There was no going back from that. John now had knowledge of what was really out there; he would have been doing a disservice to his sons by ignoring it. Mary had the knowledge but she choose to ignore it and things didn’t exactly end up great for her.

John couldn’t sit idly by and HOPE no more evil would come to his family. He was a war veteran. He knew lightning could strike the same place twice, as it did with Sam and the Striga. I’d imagine if John ever had any doubts about going into hunting, they were nullified at that moment. (Jeez, Sammy targeted by the supernatural twice before he was 5. John, you probably should have twigged something about the kid back then!).

Sorry B, I can’t agree with you when you said he didn’t trust his sons, especially when it came to Dean. If anything I feel he trusted him too much, possibly more than he trusted himself. At 4, he trusted Dean with one of the most precious things left in his world and he trusted him with it every day after that. He trusted Dean to do what he couldn’t, in more ways than one. In the end, he trusted him to ascertain as to whether Sam should live or die. Should John have done this? GOD NO!! Morally and ethically it was the completely wrong thing to do. Then why do it? Maybe because John knew Dean would always do right by Sam and he felt he couldn't (and ‘do right’ does not necessarily mean ‘alive’)

Why did he keep the Sam reveal secret? At times, some secrets are just too big to be told because revealing them makes them real, it gives them weight. What started as a ‘maybe’ in Johns head would have been given credence by saying it to someone else. I’d imagine John spent countless lonely hours on the road with only his thoughts for company and Id also say, towards the end, a lot of those thoughts were about Sam; fix him or kill him. It must have been unbearable to know these things about Sam but still hope it would be different because this is your son it's happening to. With this mounting knowledge, did John KNOW, deep down, he couldn’t kill Sam? (Just as Sam couldn’t kill John...)

Is that why he told Dean, because he trusted Dean more than he trusted himself? Trusted him because he thought Dean was a better person and a better hunter? Was John beginning to see the shades of grey in hunting, especially when his son IS the grey.

But while John trusted Dean, I feel he gravely underestimated him. He might have known Dean Winchester, son, second in command, big brother but he didn’t truly GET Dean Winchester, big brother extraordinaire. I guess when you’ve spent so long suppressing your own emotions, sometimes it may be difficult to realise the depth of the emotions of others. John knew Dean loved Sam but did he understand the strength of that love? Did he know Dean would willingly go to hell for his brother, a potential candidate on the Hunters Most Wanted List? If John had understood this, would he have made other plans for Sam? Would Sam have made it to his 23rd birthday?

I deliberately chose not to go down the ‘John should have done better by his kids’ route. Yes, he is the cause of most of their problems. The pressures he piled on them were inexcusable. He put them in indefensible situations. If I was with Social Services I would have gladly whisked the two boys away from him. Sure, there were alternatives, but John knew the alternatives would come with consequences. What could he do? Give over his kids and leave them open to evil. Don’t train them? Settle down and hope. John’s hope was long gone at this stage. That went up in flames in Laurence. All that was left was the cold, unflinching reality that you are better off alive and unhappy than dead....

To equate the young, hopeful, idealistic kid, full of life and possibility that we saw in ITB and knowing that he would become cold, distant, dismissive and worn is hard. To hear words come out of (young) Johns mouth that unknowingly condemned himself and his future actions is equally tough. It’s difficult to reconcile the two Johns but the $100 in a bank account, the beer can Christmas tree, the long-kept soccer trophy? That’s as much John Winchester as the hunter who asked one son to kill the other.

As boobula said, ‘It takes a good man to raise good men’. Sam and Dean are great men, what does that say about the guy who raised them?

Again, apologies for the length. I tend to go on (and on and on...)
joelsteinlover
# joelsteinlover 2010-08-14 00:29
I love how you described him as a single parent. I haven't heard that one very frequently, if ever, before, and I liked it. As far as I can tell as a teenager in la la no-responsibili ties land, being a single parent sucks when it comes to stress and responsibility and stuff, and on top of that always having to worry about being killed or his children being killed, it's a wonder John didn't flip shit and just go insane. He must have insane coping mechanisms--lik e reverting back to his military ways. And you know, I think Dean would have played the protector role whether or not they had an apple-pie childhood, if to a lesser extent. That's generally what big brothers do, right? John just made it a lot more dramatic. When I think of it, I would have done something along the lines of what John did. If no one in the world has responsibility no one would get anything done. I'm not saying I condone what John did to Dean or the pressure he put on him, but had I found myself in the same fantastical situation, with two children and only one who could handle a weapon at all, I would have made damn sure he could protect himself and his brother too. You don't keep people from crossing the street, it's inevitable, they're going to cross the street at some point. It's better to teach them to look both ways. If any of that made sense.

I really appreciated this article. I've always found John a very sympathetic character.
Evelyn
# Evelyn 2010-08-14 02:08
I am also one of those that have always loved John from the beginning. Yes, he made mistakes as a father, but what parent doesn't make mistakes when rearing their children, regardless of their circumstances. Time and time again Dean and Sam have expressed their anger towards John in how John raised them. That he didn't do this or that. Tell me, as adults, when we look back at our childhood, have you felt anger towards your parents for something that they did or didn't do. Or say to yourself, I will never be that way when I am a parent. I know I have felt a lot of anger towards my parents for various reasons throughout the years. Mostly because I felt that they didn't protect me at a time when I needed their protection the most. I harbored that anger for a long time and have finally been able to put that mostly to rest. But there are still times when I think of things now and my "what could have beens, if only my parents would have....." and I feel that anger rising all over again. So, yes John made mistakes, but the most important thing is that he loved his boys.

If he didn't care for and love his boys it would have been so easy for him to drop his kids off somewhere and never turn back. But he didn't do that. He kept them with him and he worried about them constantly and wanted to always keep them safe as do all parents for their children. As you stated Bethany that John's anger about Sam going to Stanford was not neccesarily that John wanted to keep Sam in the "family business" but that he wanted to keep him safe because he knew what was out there and was scared of what might happen to him. I totally agree with that and that thought is even confirmed by Dean in the episode Bugs. Remember when they are talking outside the Anthropology office and Dean tells Sam that John was proud of Sam and that he was worried for his safety and would go by Stanford whenever he could just to make sure he was safe. With all that John had been through in his life, that was the best way he knew how to express his love and concern for his children. He knew what was out there and what they could do, which is one reason why he insisted so much on hunting down the YED alone. And as Tigershire so aptly pointed out, another way to keep his boys safe from what was "out there" was to move around as often as they could. Cuz if they kept moving around, the harder it would be for the evil to find them.

Lastly, I love Tim the Enchanters take on John trusting Dean. This is so true. If John did not trust in Dean, he would not have left him alone to take care of Sam as often as he did. It's just too bad that Dean doesn't understand this, I mean, who really could. It feels more like abandonment in a lot of ways. But if John didn't feel that Dean was up for the task, they wouldn't have been alone as often as they were.

I loved your take on John, Bethany, and for your insight into his character. I, along with most of the rest of fandom, would also love to see John make an appearance again in Supernatural and get the chance he so deserves (and we need to see) to make amends with his sons. (As well as getting to see the wonderful JDM on SPN again.) Here's hoping that someday soon, we'll get to see that most excellent encounter.
Jeannine
# Jeannine 2010-08-15 00:07
Hey all, it's been awhile since I've been by....summer's been busy.

Wonderful article Bethany! I'm going to apologize in advance here, I may get long-winded since I think John Winchester is sometimes overly criticized for how he raised his children.

Personally, I've always had an issue with calling John Winchester a "deadbeat dad." For me, a deadbeat dad is a man who doesn't acknowledge his kids, never calls, never visits, and lives his life as if he had no children at all.

That is NOT John Winchester. He wasn't a spectacular father, but he was definitely a loving father. He did what he could to keep his children safe. I think there was something else behind the constant moving around that they did besides John's need to hunt. It was not unheard of for parents to be hunters and you didn't need to be a nomad to be a hunter, Bobby and the Harvelles as examples. No, I think there was more to this. Lucifer revealed to Sam that he had been influenced by demons all his life, disguising themselves as normal folks that he met along the way. I would suspect that there may have been moments when John caught on, that a demon would slip up. If we are to take the comics as canon (and I'm not always so sure I want to do that) then that was definitely the case. In essence, anyone could be a demon, so no one could be trusted. He probably didn't know how they were finding him and his boys, so he did the only thing he could do...he kept moving.

I think John kept a LOT from Sam and Dean. I don't think it was just the military "need to know" mentality at work here but a father trying to protect his children. Parents do this all the time. There are things we want to protect our children from for as long as possible, the ugly side of life. We want to protect their innocence for all long as possible. Sure Dean and Sam were far from innocent and had seen some pretty awful things. But when it came to demons (the worst of all supernatural creatures), they were kept in the dark. If you look at what they knew about demons in Season 1 and what we suspect John knew, it is pretty surprising how little they did know. In Phantom Traveler, Sam was actually nervous about taking on a demon. They both viewed a demon as something bigger than they had ever taken on before.

I think John walked a very fine line between protecting his children and preparing his children. He wanted them to be able to protect themselves from the evils they faced but he also wanted to keep them away from what he considered the most dangerous of evils -- demons. I think this is why they didn't know how to fight them at first and why he disappeared. He even said he was doing it to protect them. He was hoping he could prevent them from ever needing to face this particular evil by taking YED head on.

In the end though, he realized he couldn't keep them safe from demons because his attempts to distract the demons had failed. The demons had outmaneuvered him and his children were now involved. Sure he continued to keep his information close but I can only speculate as to why he did so. It could have been he was just following the patterns he had set when they were children and was unable to see them as the adults they had become. OR it could have been that he knew a great deal about what the demons plans were for Sam and the other children (which he admitted to when he was talking to YED) and was afraid to say too much. That he knew his children very well indeed and knew what effect it would have had on Sam and Dean to know that Sam was demon tainted or that YED wanted Sam to lead his demon army. There really wasn't any way of knowing what the demon blood would do to Sam and I think John wasn't sure if he could save Sam. Sam never listened to him, even at the end they were butting heads. John knew Sam would listen to Dean and he trusted Dean to do the right thing. For Dean it was about family not vengeance and that made Dean more qualified to save Sam than John in John's eyes. I think he sold his soul not just to save Dean but to save Sam as well.

As for leaving Sam and Dean alon, John did not always that. There is ample evidence that the boys stayed at various adults' homes. They had been at Bobby's. I think they had stayed at Pastor Jim's (though I'm not sure if that's canon or just fanfic fueled) but what stands out to me was a scene in Swap Meat at the beginning, when Sam and Dean are helping a woman who used to babysit them when they were children and on several occasions. I think he left them alone when he had no other choice. It was only as they got older that it became more and more often but this does not excuse him for leaving them alone for days at a time.

Yes, many of both Sam and Dean's issues stem from their sketchy upbringing and John Winchester was never going to get the Father of the Year award. There were definitely times when his drive to prepare them was greater than the need to be their father. But given the circumstances and his fears, who are we to judge? He was a man trying to raise two boys the best he could in a world that he viewed as fraught with evil looking to crawl their way into his families lives. How do we know we would act any different or any better?

Phew, I was right, this is long winded. Sorry about that.
Bethany!
# Bethany! 2010-08-16 07:11
Tim,
you see this is why i love this site, i had never thought about John, Dean and trust in that way until you pointed it out. It's an interesting point that i hadn't considered before.

but yeah i think that John gets bashed a lot on the show and in fandom and i think for all the reasons that everyone has pointed out most of it is unnecessary. I think there is a vocal minority who don't like John and have taken the show's sudden John-bashing to heart. I think the show doesn't actually think that of John but rather was using it as a way of showing Dean's disallusion with everything towards the end of season 5. He's losing faith in everything God, Sam, heaven, his father, himself... everything he used to put faith in. Yeah maybe Dean is also learning that his father wasn't the figure he used to hero worship as a child but that's a good thing.

John was just a man, with flaws and faults like everyone else. and i think boobula has it right "it takes a good man to raise good men".

Thanks again for all the lovely comments it's been fun chatting with everyone about one of my favourite bug bears!

xxx
Jessy
# Jessy 2010-08-16 19:07
I'm usually in the camp that has a serious issue with John Winchester, though this article and discussion are causing me to soften my views somewhat. I never considered John a "bad" man, but he is certainly a tragic figure (as are his sons) and there are certain things I have a lot of trouble forgiving him for.

I always had a serious problem with how John comes across in his arguments with Sam- perhaps I tend to be more sympathetic to Sam in general, but John's side of things always comes across so autocratic and irrational. "If you walk out that door, don't bother coming back." The canon is that he was very afraid, and that came out as anger, but it struck me confrontational and not knowing his second son very well at all. How on earth did he think such a challenge would go over?

I also had a major problem with their argument in IMTOD, because at one point it really comes across like he's "blaming" Sam for Dean's condition, because Sam...didn't want to shoot his own father? Once again, he was angry and frightened...bu t once again, surely he should have realized that was a seriously low blow to level against an already distraught Sam, who was visibly beside himself with worry over Dean?

While I do not agree with how John treated Dean throughout their lives, like others here, I understand that he was a desperate man, and all viable options were bad. He could have and should have done better by Dean, but I don't doubt he felt he was doing the best he could. And considering how often he might have landed in the hospital, it's plausible that some of his long absences just couldn't be helped.

I tend to have more issues with how he treated Sam, because Sam was/is so similar to him, and sometimes it struck me as if John had never really bothered getting to know his younger son, and kept using the same arguments and techniques long after it had become abundantly clear they weren't working, and that a different approach would have been much better. It was his inability to compromise or find different ways to communicate that bothered me so much when he dealt with Sam. I guess I feel it's the parent's responsibility to be the "bigger man" in these instances, and John wasn't.

I don't mean to start a flame war or anything, but I have trouble getting past these events, and if anyone can respond about those particular arguments, I am more than open to discussion on the idea!
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-08-18 19:34
Thanks for writing this, Bethany. I have so many conflicting feelings about John Winchester, and I just don't think I'll ever be able to reconcile them. I don't think he was a deadbeat dad, at least not how I view one because he so clearly loved his sons. But I also don't think he was a very good father. He just sort of...was. I get that he tried his best, but honestly, how hard is it to praise your children? Ugh, a girl could go crazy trying to figure him out.

I do appreciate that the show made him so maddeningly complicated, though. It's a pretty brave thing to have one of your presumed heroes have so many ugly traits about them, too.
Alvina
# Alvina 2012-02-16 12:03
John Wincester as a man burdened with angst, a soldier and single parent, imo, handled his responsibilitie s very well all considering.

Honestly, I think I view his character with more open-mindedness than most because my father was part of the armed forces as well and was away a lot while I was growing up. As such, my siblings and I grew up with our grandparents.

I think the hate pre-season 4 is pretty much unjustified. After season 4, it's marginally understandable.

Maybe people that hate on John, and paint him with the "bad father" brush simply came from different experiences where such behavior is horrifying and unforgivable?
Lindsey
# Lindsey 2012-06-26 05:33
I just want to know, how did John know that Someday Dean would either har to save or kill Sam? It's like he knew the apocalypse was going to happen, but how?