Father of the century. The 17th century.[sws_pullquote_right]“A father knows his child’s heart, as only a child can know his father’s.” [/sws_pullquote_right]You see him multiple times every week; different channels, different shows, but he’s there. He’s the Bumbling Dad trope; the poor slob who can barely keep himself alive, let alone be responsible for other human lives. He’s there in such great shows as Modern Family and The Simpsons, leaving mayhem wherever he goes and leaving his poor wife to deal with the consequences. I must say with complete honestly I do not know a single dad like that. How did this become the norm? Where are the competent, even bad-ass, fathers?
To find such a man we must journey back 400 years and an ocean away.
Lone Wolf and Cub was published in 1970; it ended its run 6 years, 28 volumes and over 8,700 later, becoming an epic milestone of manga comics. The series’ protagonist, Ogami Itto, is the Shogun’s executioner, a position of high power and renown. His position places him in conflict with Yagyu Retsudo and his Yagyu clan, who seek to clandestinely take over all positions of power within the Shogunate. To that end, Retsudo has Ogami’s wife Akami murdered shortly after the birth of their son Daigoro.
Ogami is framed and disgraced; however, rather than commit ritual suicide, he vows revenge against the Yagyu clan. One-year-old Daigoro is given a choice:
“Choose the sword, and you will join me. Choose the ball, and you join your mother, in death. You don’t understand my words, but you must choose. So… come boy, choose life or death.”
Daigoro crawls toward the sword, and with that choice he and his father become ronin (master-less samurai) fated to walk the path of meifumado (the Road to Hell). They wander the countryside of Japan as an unusual team of assassins, vowing to find a way to destroy Retsudo and his clan.
A Helicopter Parent, he is not.
As a single father with a full-time job, every day for Ogami is “Bring Your Child to Work Day”. Daigoro accompanies him (and even participates) in assassinations, duels, and general mayhem. In quiet periods or for solo missions, Daigoro is allowed to “free-roam” the country-side and towns. Because of this, Daigoro learns at a young age to exercise independence and ingenuity. Ogami is the proto-typical aloof, stern father (a samurai version of “High Expections Asian Father”); towards the end of the series he regards his son more as a partner and equal rather than a dependant.
To be sure, the adventures these two go through is more than enough to warrant a call to CPS and many, many years of intense psycho-therapy for poor Daigoro. Such is their karma, however, and neither one laments their misfortune. Through their journeys, the constant for them is each other. The theme of family extends to the Yagyu clan as well; Retsudo sends his sons (and later, his daughters) after the pair, only to have all of them defeated and slain. In the climatic duel which spans about 200 pages, Lone Wolf and Cub face off against Retsudo, their respective clans destroyed; the only family left to them each other; father and son against “grandfather”.
I get that the Bumbling Dad trope grew out of the 50’s Know-It-All Dad, just like who the Helpless Housewife stereotype is removed from popular culture. Times change, paradigms shift, and as more and more dads take more responsibility for child-care and parenting, I’m hopeful this sad trope will go away. I’d much rather hang out with Ogami and Daigoro than Phil Dunphy.
You can find manga editions of Lone Wolf and Cub wherever comics are sold or online at Dark Horse Digital. The Lone Wolf and Cub films are available on DVD through Netflix.[themify_box style=”lavender rounded” ]Welcome to the newest column on Rocket City Mom! I like popular (and not so popular) culture. I like parenting. Now that I am a parent, I have begun to realize just how many lessons and examples of parenthood popular culture contain. Pop Culture Parenthood explores the many intersections of parents, kids, and life lessons contained in books, movies, comics, and games. This week, we look at the epic manga/martial arts movie series Lone Wolf and Cub.[/themify_box]
Sam Chow was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. A 5th grade field trip to Space Camp started his lifelong love of technology and engineering. He juggled working in Huntsville while studying for his engineering degree at Mississippi State and moved here full-time in 2001. He and his lovely wife Connie were married in 2006 and currently have a five year old and a nine year old, a dog, and a cat. In his spare time he enjoys training and watching mixed martial arts, watching old foreign films, reading, and video gaming.