The literary world loves fiction. It loves the stories of those who face adversity, and the lives and experiences of those who rise from nothing. However, because humanity wishes to stretch the boundaries of our thinking, these experiences can become dark and depressing. Therefore, literature explores the forces that drive characters to recover and rise from their troubled pasts. Good Will Hunting (directed by Gus Van Sant) follows the life of a genius orphan named Will Hunting, living in South Boston while he struggles with a lack of emotional intelligence and his rough past in foster homes. ‘Steps’ by Scott Loring Sanders follows a journey up a mountain that parallels his journey to conquer his alcoholism and be a better for his son. Finally, ‘The Last of Her Sons’ by Alden Nowlan follows the life of Skipper, a boy growing up in the early 20th century Canada under the wrath of his alcoholic father, Judd. These stories all share a main character struggling to control their behaviors and instincts caused by a lack of a reliable father figure. While Skipper and Will Hunting are beaten during their childhoods, the protagonist of “Steps” is treated coldly by his father, and his father enables his alcoholism due to caring little about his son’s mental health. Because all fall into bad habits and mental instability, the sources show that having a strong and caring father figure is vital to living a healthy lifestyle, as well as recovering from an unhealthy relationship.
Will Hunting lived a troubled childhood. His parents died and he was thrust into the arms of foster care, where he ended up in the care of a family where his foster father would abuse and beat him. While in counseling, Will states, “He used to just put a uh…a wrench, a stick, and a belt on the table, and just say choose… I used to go with the wrench… cus fuck him.”(Sant) Will’s treatment causes him to despise his foster parents, but it also causes him to shut down emotionally. Because the ones who where supposed to care for Will abused him, he grows unable to talk about his feelings with somebody he trusts, as he is scared that if he talks about this with his friends, he would be viewed as weak. Will fears abandonment due to his parent’s death and foster parent’s abuse; so instead of potentially losing his only friends, Will begins down a path of conflict with the law. He builds a long list of charges including assault, resisting arrest, and grand theft auto. While for a time, will is able to avoid prison due to his genius. However, the judge will not let him go unpunished for his crimes and sentences him to serve jailtime. Luckily for Will, he is saved from prison by a university professor, and in that time, he meets Sean, a counsellor that would soon become one of Will’s closest friends. At first, Will is in denial thinking counselling is stupid and that he does not need it. Sean is not swayed by Will’s attitude, and keeps pressing him, allowing Will to begin talking openly about his feelings, allowing him to express himself in a healthy manor and deal with problems. The bond between the two of them flourishes and Sean begins to refer to Will as “son”. This counselling allows Will to take control over his own emotions, leading him to realise the path away from his criminal behavior is through building relationships through people he truly cares about. While he interprets this as being with Skylar, a girl he loves but let get away, he also begins to view Sean as his new father figure, and he is truly grateful that he met Sean and received his help, as can be seen in their final exchange. As Will begins, “’Well, I just want you to know, Sean, that…’ ‘You’re welcome Will’… ‘Thank you Sean’” They then embrace, both with tears of mixed joy and sadness. By finding Sean and implementing him as his effective new father figure, Will is able to patch up the empty void where the relationship with his true father should have been. This allows him to open up, get over his fear of abandonment, and truly figure out his own place in the world, with a healthy mind, and the confidence that he will have someone who will support him when he falls upon his darkest hours.
“Steps” follows a man and his son Mason going for a hike up a mountain in the Virginia mountains with their two dogs, Napoleon and Boy. As the two of them hike up the mountain, the man reflects on his life, and recalls memories of his rampant alcoholism. As he walks, he often thinks of his cravings for booze, and how difficult it is for him to stay sober, and the withdrawal from his addiction is eating him alive. He recalls his earliest memories with alcohol: “I once raided my fathers liquor cabinet… He didn’t accuse, question, put me on the spot, raise his voice, or show disappointment. Instead, he said, ‘The way I see it, you took about 8 dollars of booze from me last night. So that’s what you owe.’” (Sanders 40) The protagonist’s father doesn’t care that his son just got incredibly dunk, and abuses a substance he should not even be touching, but rather how much it costs him to replace the booze his son stole. The protagonist’s father is not concerned about how this could damage his son, even becoming an enabler of this budding addiction by not making any disciplinary actions against him. This evidence shows that the protagonist grew up without a father that cared about him, one that would take issue with such stunts. Therefore, the minimal care the protagonist received from his father was the root cause for his alcoholism, a sickness that has haunted him into adulthood and has the potential to damage Mason’s life as well. However, the man knows that his addiction is an issue, as his first memory he recalls in the story states: “When I awoke… after the 28 beer/ESPN night, my body shook and my hands trembled as I picked the bottles off the counter, the table, the floor. In that moment, I realised I couldn’t let my seven-year-old son, Mason, see such carnage anymore.” (36) The protagonist has made the connection that having a father is important, due to his experiences with his own father, and in realizing this he is able to find the strength within himself to make the change. While Will finds Sean to replace his own lack of a father, the “Steps” protagonist takes another path to filling that space, as he is able to find strength not in finding someone to replace his dad, but rather to be a better father for his son. In his efforts he manages to remain friends with Mason and ensure a healthy childhood, he finds the strength to cure himself, and while he will always know the need for drink, he will find salvation within Mason, and the need he feels to be there for his son.
Skipper is the son of Ethel and Judd Syverson. He is the fifth child in his family and grows up firmly defending his mother from Judd, who is an abuse alcoholic father figure. He has a childhood largely influenced by his mother, who “encouraged Skipper to daydream… for when he grew up he would be a clean, sober man who wore a white shirt and necktie to work,” (Nowlan 51) through his mothers influence he began loving to play with crayons and gather flowers for Ethel. However, Judd disapproves of this behavior, as he can tell that Ethel is trying to use Skipper as an escape, as she had tried with all his brothers, to raise him as a tool to get out of the drunken rage of Judd. Therefore, as Judd continues his vicious cycle of drinking and beating, Ethel continues to foster the behaviors she likes within Skipper and condemning the ones that remind her of Judd. One day Skipper kills a sparrow, and while his mother weeps, he gains the attention of Judd. This is the first time Skipper has received positive attention from his father, and he loves it. The two go out hunting, and as they come in the door: “’That Skipper’s a dead shot for sure’ Judd bragged, eyeing his wife slyly. And Skipper grinned proudly, relishing in his father’s praise,” (52). Skipper grows to learn that with certain behaviors, he can earn his father’s affection and praise, and while he does not realize it, he is being set on the path to grow up just like his old man. The father who beat him and his mother all throughout his early years, finally treating him with respect and what seems to be love. For Skipper, this is perfect, as he no longer needs to escape this situation if he’s not be beaten and tormented, plus the father figure he always wanted finally has shown himself. Though Skipper will find happiness, he doesn’t realize what this will do to himself and his mother, trapping her in this home for the rest of her days, and dooming himself to developing alcoholic tendencies just like the brothers before him.
Father figures are incredibly important in the childhood and adulthood for influencing how their children grow up and deal with their own emotions and actions. As seen in Good Will, not having that father figure can lead to repressing your emotions and misunderstanding how to deal with them. When a person finds themselves in this state, having someone to be that parent or becoming that parent is vital to the recovery and mental health of someone suffering in this way. The reason Skipper falls is because the father figure he chooses to acknowledge doesn’t actually care about him, as Judd is more motivated by keeping Ethel then actually caring for his son. Therefore, when someone decides who they are going to build a relationship with, they must find someone who deeply cares for them, like Sean cares for Will, and a father must be able to be open and support their kids, such as the protagonist of “Steps”, so that they can find strength and have a deeper understanding of their own emotions. This is learned through lessons taught by a father or father figure. Having this person to support them, a person can recover from any addictions and ill behaviors, through the love, care and wisdom of a father.
Nowlan, Alden. “The Last of Her Sons.” The Dalhousie Review, vol. 42, no. 1, 1962, pp. 50–54., The Last of Her Sons.pdf.
Sanders, Scott Loring. “Steps.” Creative Nonfiction, pp. 36–41.
Sant, Gus Van, director. Good Will Hunting. Alliance Atlantis, 1997.
I really enjoyed these pieces of media and found it interesting to write the connections between them. I think that I had a pretty good understanding of the works and the argument I was trying to make about needing to have a strong father figure to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and I was able to back it up using the sources. However, I need to work on the more basic parts of my writing, such as my tendency to include deadwood sentences and to accidentally use informal language. I also don’t have a good grasp as how to include citations and messed that up badly. I just hope to improve my writing skills for the final!