Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
Kratos with all his flaws is upheld as a reasonable example of fatherhood in God of War because he is present and confronts his own failings.
To begin with, there are only so many characters in God of War, and only so many of them are paternal in even the loosest definition of the word. Odin makes no appearance and arguable has manipulated his son, Balder, into being his hatchet-man. As Odin’s cunning and foresight are mentioned multiple times, the game suggests the events that play out do so at his direction, with his tacit approval, or at his behest, knowing events cannot be altered. In any case, his absenteeism is damning and contributes to the death of multiple of his family members.
Thor, similarly, has potentially a single appearance in a vision Atreus has once he and his father return home following the events of the game. The foretelling is ominous but little more. The stories about Thor seen throughout the game suggest he is a vicious killer and possible sadist as he enjoys the combat and bloodshed he causes. As a father, he is judged no better as he sends his petty and brutal sons, Modi and Magni, to help Balder threaten and murder. These two seem to have inherited their father’s taste for violence and reveal themselves to be selfish cowards when the scale tips out of their favor. It’s unlikely the audience morns Modi and Magni, but that Thor sends his sons off to die and never appears to either prevent those fatalities or seek retribution puts him as a foil to Kratos who repeatedly puts his body and mind in harm’s way for his son.
At the same time, Kratos has not been a frequent fixture in his son’s life. A vision of Atreus complains at one point how distant, physically and emotionally, Kratos is, and it’s clear his son longs for a meaningful connection between them. He readily accepts any praise and is apprehensive about being left alone. When Kratos comes out of the Light in Alfheim, Atreus is understandably angry at being left behind. Kratos tries to be aloof because he is afraid at failing as a father, but that aloofness only serves to make him fail as someone his son can admire and emulate.
The Ghost of Sparta
Odin and Thor set a low bar for depictions of fatherhood, but it is not at all guaranteed that Kratos could rise above it. Kratos failed a previous family and ultimately committed patricide against Zeus. His crimes and history of violence are so overwhelming, it has brought him to the taciturn life of isolation seen at the start of God of War. Alone now with his son, Atreus, Kratos is clearly uncomfortable. He frequently is disappointed with Atreus and himself. Especially in the early going, there are several moments when he hesitates to show any display of physical affection such as putting a hand on his son’s shoulder. He doubts himself as a role model, underscored by how much about his nature and history he withholds from Atreus, afraid of the judgment he knows he deserves. At some level, this secrecy and distance is a function of his wanting to protect Atreus, but even Kratos becomes aware of the futility of this choice. His attempt to protect could easily become a prison, which is reflected in the nature of the relationship between Freya and her son, Balder. Her attempt to save her son at all costs has cursed him and crippled his life.
At the same time, Kratos sacrifices willingly to protect his son, as when he thrusts his arm into a monster’s mouth to keep it from biting Atreus. When his son’s existence is in danger, Kratos does the hardest thing in accepting and embracing his past by taking up the Blades of Chaos, his ancient, bloodstained weapons and undertaking a perilous quest for the chance to restore Atreus. He can never escape himself or the evil he’s done, but as he says to Atreus near the end, that doesn’t mean they cannot try to be better. The moment is surprisingly optimistic from a man who has been consistently stern and pragmatic. This dialogue happens around the same time that Kratos affirms that he would forfeit his life if it meant that Atreus would survive. When Kratos makes this claim, the audience believes him, having witnessed the physical and emotion danger he has endured for the sake of his son. This is a claim no other father in the game can make.
Gods of War
Kratos is by no means a perfect father, but he has a leg up on nearly all the competition in God of War simply by being present. Additionally, he sets a good example, perhaps unintentionally, by confronting his faults and struggling to be better than the game’s antagonistic fathers and his own prior poor behavior. Kratos may be grim and brooding, but he gives hope to his son and himself that they can rise above their personal failings and the misdeeds of the past.
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