Character Studies 16: The Missing Father, The Destructive Father. Part One.

Happily stable relationships do not make interesting or illuminating narrative, so it’s no surprise the series features a lot of miserably fractured families. We see only a single instance of an intact, functioning nuclear family and it is Dobeys, in Season One. But even Dobey is depicted as strict and patriarchal, and showing little outward affection to his son and preoccupied with work to the point of endangering his family. Intact yes, but happy? Maybe not.

In literature, as in life, women often bear the brunt of domestic duty. So it’s not particularly unusual or noteworthy there are many single mothers juggling children and personal anxieties (none, to my mind, entirely successfully): Bobby’s mom in “Survival”, Mitzi Graham in “Nightmare”, Helen Yeager in “The Plague”, Janet Meyer in “Crying Child”, Mrs. Carston in “The Trap”, showgirl Vicky in “Las Vegas Strangler”. However, it’s the many, many fraught single fathers in this series who are strikingly unusual – and nearly identical to each other. All have daughters, all have a temper, and all imperil those daughters through an involvement in crime not unrelated to that temper: Nick Edward in “Little Girl Lost”, Lee Bristol in “The Collector”, Thomas May in “Targets Without a Badge”, Andrew Mello in “Death Ride”, Professor Jennings in “A Coffin For Starsky”, Dan Slate in “Strange Justice”, Frank Malone in “Rosey Malone”, and Charlotte Connery’s missing father in “Playboy Island”. Joe Haymes in “The Psychic” might as well be a single father to his daughter Joanne, as we never see his frail wife or, for that matter, have any sense of her in the ultra-masculine den in which he lives. “Crying Child”‘s Eddie Mayer puts both daughter and son in a dangerous situation in part because of his violent temper. Jimmy Spenser in “The Heavyweight” is the single exception as he has a son (Stevie, saddled with poor role models on both sides, a morally weak father with a temper and an inattentive mother). Although we think of poor Mac in “The Specialist”, an aging father who has lost his son in an explosion and there is no Mrs. Mac, we can surmise there probably was for many years, so I don’t count this father-son relationship in the overall narrative.

Grandparents may try to heal the rupture caused by the missing father. Hannah Kanen in “Deckwatch” tries her best in the wake of a murdered son, Laura’s father (and where is Laura’s mother?). Mrs. Walters in “Manchild” similarly tries to fill in when they are left behind, grandmother and grandson, again no mother in sight, the father now gone. And the Lionel Fitzgeralds in “Quadromania”, one dying and one insane, the link between them broken, like a skipped stitch unraveling the entire garment.

And so the lost children floating through this universe: teenage hoodlum Lonnie Craig in “Pariah”, neglected Molly in “Little Girl Lost”, confused Kiko, angry Joey Carston in “The Trap” and later on in “Ninety Pounds of Trouble”, the various waifs and runaways in Artie Solkin’s Neverland, and Junior Walters in “Manchild”, to name a few.

Add to this the central fact that neither Starsky nor Hutch has a father to speak of. Not once does Hutch ever mention his, and Starsky’s murdered father is a private pain never directly dealt with (except second-hand in “The Set-up” and perhaps more interestingly in the tag in “The Game” in which Starsky unconsciously reveals a fear of the shadowy presence, merging precariously with Hutch). What do all these abrogating fathers mean in the context of the series? What does fatherlessness mean, and how is it expressed – or denied – in the characters of both men and in the series as a whole?

Only in the case of Starsky and Hutch can it be seen as a freeing agent, and not a destructive force. How so? Next time.

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9 Responses to “Character Studies 16: The Missing Father, The Destructive Father. Part One.”

  1. Daniela Says:

    Interesting analysis, please don’t wait too long for the rest of the story!! Don’t leave me hanging!!
    Daniela

  2. hutchlover Says:

    I think you can count the Haymes as a happy nuclear family unit. Just because we don’t see Mrs. Haymes, doesn’t mean she has nothing to do w/the family. It’s obvious the love is still there between all of them.

    I think in this respect S&H is ahead of its time; challenging what it means to be a family, having the mother the abusive parent. Heck S&H have ARE each others family!

    In an unfilmed 5th season episode, we would’ve heard abt Hutch’s sister, and missing parents.

  3. Dianna Says:

    With all the various writers and the crazy variations in quality of episodes, it is interesting how certain themes emerge. Thank you for pointing this one out.

    There are, however, two exceptions to your observation about the fathers in the series: two minor characters in The Specialist, the murdered officer McDermott and his father, Mack. Neither of them directly endanger their children, but of course they are rather minor characters.

    Also, I think Kiko’s mother is doing a fine job, even getting Kiko a Big Brother, and reaching out to adopt a daughter. Kiko is angry and confused, sure, but that happens to lots of adolescents, despite their parents’ best efforts. (Of course, it is a bit dismaying that Kiko’s mom wants to “girlify” Joey, but I’m afraid most people would do that.)

    • merltheearl Says:

      You are absolutely right, of course, and interesting to note Mack McDermott’s father is a single parent, and as far as I can recall Kiko’s father is never shown or referenced either. Not to say he doesn’t exist; he’s most likely around somewhere as a single mother adopting another child would be very unusual. This lack of a two-parent, functioning family is a very interesting feature of the series.

      • Dianna Says:

        Because Kiko’s family lives in a comfortable home, not squalor, and yet Kiko is eligible for a Big Brother, I assumed that there is no father in the picture. A father isn’t even in evidence in the Christmas scene, so I’m pretty sure Kiko’s mother is single.

        According to Wikipedia, California began to allow single parent adoption in the 1960s, and I even found a site that says that by 1965 the Los Angeles Bureau of Adoptions had begun actively recruiting single parents for hard-to-adopt children, which generally means racial minorities and older children, such as Joey. So I found that part believable.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Thank you, Dianna. I really appreciae the research!

      • Dianna Says:

        My family laughs at me and says I have Obsessive Googling Disorder!

      • merltheearl Says:

        Between that and my Compulsive Theorizing Disorder we would make the perfect team.

      • Dianna Says:

        In theory, at least! (Shall I google it?)

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