Three Angry Fathers
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? ONLY FIRE WHEN I TELL YOU TO FIRE!”
The words take me back to the reveal trailer of God of War (first shown at E3 2016), where a rage meter rises as Kratos reprimands his son harshly for scaring off a prey. Just five minutes into their first hunting trip, things are already tense. With bow confiscated, the young Atreus can only wish that his mother is still alive to guide and comfort him.
While Atreus may have missed his target, this short scene hits a sore spot for me. It illustrates a mere average day of what it’s like to have a critical, distant, and above all, angry father.
From East to West
For a high-budget game, God of War is surprisingly focused. Aside from its tight mechanics and consistent world design, it is the thematic exploration of difficult parent-child relationships that permeates the experience: from the protagonists to the antagonists, from the side quests to the underlying lore, family drama always finds a way to intrude.
Perhaps it all stems from the Spartan’s troubled lineage. The struggle between Kratos and his father, Zeus, is front and centre in the first trilogy of the series, culminating in nothing less than patricide.
Those versed in Greek mythology would recall that Zeus also fought and overthrew his father, Cronos, in what is known as the Titanomachy (a ten-year battle for dominion over the universe); and going further back, Cronos himself was guilty of killing his own father, Uranus.
With the entire Greek world now destroyed, Kratos seeks a new beginning under Norse cosmology. His transition into Midgard grasps at the possibility of a fresh start, in hope to leave behind the dark memories that have plagued him for most of his life.
Real-world migrants relate to this idea of breaking away from the past and starting over in a new location. But all too often we fail to realise that a mere change of scenery may not have much of an impact on the disfigured landscapes of our hearts.
When my father moved our family from the island nation of Taiwan to the island continent of Australia, he brought with him a mountain of unresolved issues. This severely damaged our relationship; as an adult, I am still scarred by patterns familiar to dysfunctional migrant families.
The critical treatment of Atreus reminds me of the style of parenting perfected by stereotypical Asian culture. In order to avoid any projections of disapproval, kids like us must truly excel while expecting little to no encouragement for what we are “supposed to achieve”.
I managed academic dominance in my primary years and performed well enough to gain entrance into the best selective high school for boys at the time. Later on, however, as school subjects diversified and increased in complexity, I began to struggle and fall behind, especially in areas dependent on a good level of English (my second language).
Failure was new to me, and I wasn’t taught how to deal with it. All I knew was that if I didn’t soar above the rest, I might as well bury myself in a hole to escape incoming criticisms. Asking for help was also out of the question, because that equated to a confession of defeat — not the type of honest vulnerability that would earn points with my super successful father who had figured out everything on his own since he was young. The few times that he did try to teach me something, it was at best done with a frown; at worst, explosions of rage.
So it isn’t surprising for me to see Atreus acting tough to impress his father. As a warrior, Kratos is second to none. The Spartan’s formidable record of battle victories places tremendous pressure on his son to perform. The boy is ever eager to prove his worth with a view that every weakness deserves ridicule, every mistake justifies shame. Sadly, this mentality leads to irrational and dangerous decisions, followed by cycles of frustration and failure.
I have long realised the futility of trying to live according to my father’s wishes. As I grew older, the conflict in his mind became increasingly apparent. For as much as he admires the achievements of the West — to the point that he would relocate the three of us to Sydney and assume that I should naturally become “better than him” due to the opportunities given to me — the methodologies and principles he forced upon me were mired in the rigid traditions of the East. Instead of celebrating strength in diversity, I was caught in the unproductive confusion of cultural differences, adding another layer of tension to a family poorly rooted in two distinct worlds.
From Fear to Rage
Despite the numerous issues I have mentioned so far of my experience growing up, none of them are as definitive and impactful as the volatile, unadulterated anger that erupts from my father’s soul. He may lack skill with axes and blades, yet his thunderous voice rivals the Spartan’s trademark rage.
For Kratos, his journeys have always been littered with all manner of fearsome, pissed-off creatures, some of which measure more than a thousand times his size. But at the end of every encounter — often following a sequence of brutal quick time events — we are reminded that he is meaner, scarier, and more dangerous than anything roaming the nine realms. Regardless of what Kratos wields in his hands, the rage in his heart remains the deadliest weapon.
It is unnerving for kids to have a father like this. On good days, we must still tiptoe around the house; on bad days, we face the full brunt of his wrath. The amount of fear and anxiety that accumulates as part of daily life becomes exhausting, not to mention traumatic for young minds.
It’s not like my father required a solid reason to unleash. On countless occasions, it would be due to inconsequential preferences, while other cases involved taking out work frustrations on the family. As years went by, he also became increasingly unpredictable. Unlike in videogames, it was impossible to keep an eye on his rage meter.
Suffering long under this erratic, emotional threat led me toward abject insecurity, low impulse control, addictions, plus other mood and personality disorders. To deal with insurmountable, pent-up fear, I even turned to emulating my oppressor in attempts to outdo him in wrath and violence.
You see it happen to Atreus too. There is an instance where a giant troll ambushes the father and son during the hunting trip. After the beast is defeated, Atreus suddenly charges up to the fallen corpse and starts slashing away with his knife in absolute fury, shouting at the top of his lungs: “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET! THINK I’M AFRAID OF YOU?! YOU’RE NOTHING TO ME!!” The troll itself isn’t anything that remarkable, but the way Atreus lashes out at it is reflective of the many moments his father had been drunk with bloodlust in the past.
Kratos isn’t a stranger to losing control and doing things that he later regrets. Though he is now older and more disciplined, the influence he has on his son fuels both fear and rage. To let loose in a psychotic manner in the presence of his father, it feels like an attempt for Atreus to push back against the one who crushes him with fear: Stop provoking me, or you’ll be next!
I sure can relate, considering my own history of impulsive destruction of both inanimate objects and living beings. In a notably dark stretch when I was sick of all the abuse and felt that I had nothing else to lose, I went as far as plotting out my own road to patricide.
From Earth to Heaven
Kratos and Atreus go through many ups and downs throughout their arduous journey. Eventually, they start to uncover opportunities to talk and understand, as well as show forgiveness to each other. While the courage of Atreus is unquestionably amazing, I find deeper comfort in witnessing Kratos being able to finally shake off what seems to be a generational curse of bad parenting.
For those that may never experience reconciliation with our own fathers, it is important to realise the possibility that we, ourselves, can at least become half-decent parents. This is a big deal for me, because in my eight years of marriage, I have always steered clear of contemplating having children for fear that I would mess them up the same way I am messed up. My time with God of War has shown me otherwise. Its example of overcoming bad family patterns is a sign that all is not lost.
But above all, I owe another parental figure for the restoration of hope in my life: when things don’t work out with the earthly father, there is a heavenly Father I can look to.
Due to the troubles I have known under broken fatherhood, however, it isn’t easy to relate to God from the perspective of a son. Furthermore, since the Bible elucidates the wrath of God — the dangerous element in a patriarch that I would surely like to guard against — shouldn’t that deter me from ever approaching him? Just hear this warning from Jesus: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.”1
There is, of course, much more to the whole picture. Nonetheless, mulling over the wrath of God has proven to be a helpful starting point for understanding the full spectrum of his character, and why he is the veritable Good Good Father.
Through getting to know this God, I observe that his anger is displayed toward the violence, pride, lust, greed, and all manner of evil plaguing our world. He is righteously stern against those in authority, as their misdeeds impact great multitudes, including the most vulnerable. Words spoken via historical prophets reveal his heart: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”2
Even on a personal level, I recognise my own rebellious tendencies, my grievous sins. The reality is that I have shattered the parent-child relationship, yet show little to no regard for the heavenly Father. Such attitude justifies anger for any parent, let alone the tormented Creator who watches those made in his image hurt one another. Doesn’t this call for some firm discipline for our sake, if not a full smackdown?
So while the wrath of God is something to heed, it burns in stark contrast to my father’s rage where he flies off the handle at random. I could derive a sense of security from the heavenly Father’s emotive aggression as it focuses on things worth getting upset about. At the very least, the reasoning behind his anger and its consistent application provide clarity for my soul.
More importantly, God doesn’t lose his temper to create separation, as my father tends to do. Instead, his fury is a response to the separation inflicted by my own selfish disobedience. He has always, in fact, valued reconciliation over anything vindictive, stating: “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.”3
I am far from alone in stirring up the wrath of God, but it is his unconditional love that shines through in the end. Jesus, the peacemaker between heaven and earth, gave up his life for you, for me, for all of us. In his sacrifice, we celebrate the Father’s compassion as his anger dissipates: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”4
By all accounts, the heavenly Father’s anger is worthy of fear. Yet I never expected that his desire and care for us would be even greater in magnitude — it simply isn’t what I am used to. I could only hope that my earthly father will one day see this light.
In the redemptive work of Jesus, I now know that we have nothing left to fear. Rather, as cherished children of God, we may embrace the love that mends and transforms our hearts to become better fathers and mothers, stronger sons and daughters.
- Luke 12:4-5 (NIV).
- Isaiah 10:1-2 (NIV).
- Ezekiel 18:23 (NLT).
- Romans 5:8-9 (NIV).