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Playing God of War and Fighting to Love My Father

It’s not unusual for my parents to argue. I’ve become numb to their loud voices from practice, but on rare nights, when my father was especially angry, his hateful words were forever embedded in my memory. My mom never seeks out conflict like he does, and even though she has been partially to blame at times for stoking his anger, no one deserves to be rashly called “of the devil.” Sincere apologies flowed from my dad in the aftermath, but they never healed the scars. I was on my college campus the next morning quietly shaking from rage as I considered punching my dad for his tirade. All I could do was rush to my car and sob after my classes, struggling to hold myself back from fighting fire with fire. It’s but one tale of my dad that illustrates our strained relationship. I found the same kind of emotional struggle in Kratos’s bond with his son Atreus in God of War.

Kratos’s bloodlust and pursuit of glory as a Spartan captain compromised his love for his family. When he sold his soul to Ares in exchange for victory, Kratos abandoned what morality he had left. When Ares tricked him into tragically murdering his wife and daughter, the Spartan’s grief blinded him with rage against his master and the Greek pantheon. It’s easy to assume Kratos never considered how his dark path would bring about an empty world ravaged by chaos: a lonely soul wrought with greater pain in pursuit of peace. However, in rare moments of self-awareness, he said to himself, “By the gods, what have I become?”

In the latest God of War, we see a subdued, melancholy Kratos secluding himself from the world. He aims to teach Atreus about how to live justly, but a desensitized man like Kratos has become scarred, hopeless, and emotionally hardened. He struggles to connect with an innocent boy who wants to see the good in everything, so it’s not surprising this affects their relationship and rubs off on Atreus. I see similar instances in the relationship I share with my dad.

I remember when my dad was different. He’d joyfully join in on family activities and coach for the sports I played as a kid. Even when the latter didn’t catch on with me, he’d invest in my nerdier interests by playing video games or engaging in mock sword fights. I enjoyed being with him because he was happy. Approachable. More relatable. As I grew older, his anger and emotional distance have grown as well. His love toward my mom became emotionally complicated since he seemingly forgot how to express tender affection. He lets inconsequential things drive him to the brink of madness by lashing out with hurtful words toward my family that have made me cry into the night. His obsession with work and keeping up appearances publicly has not only torn him from my life for years, but also driven him to unleash his bottled-up frustrations at home.

It’s easy to assume Kratos never considered how his dark path would bring about an empty world ravaged by chaos, a lonely soul wrought with greater pain in pursuit of peace.

Like Kratos, my dad has given too much of himself over to his vices and own pursuits at the expense of his loved ones. It’s too little too late to change the fates, and the Spartan knows as much, too. He wants to show Atreus how to avoid the pitfalls of revenge, anger, and power because he truly loves and cares for him. However, Kratos is slow and stubborn, eventually realizing that his stoicism and secrecy must be squashed in order for his lessons to stick with Atreus. In other words, Kratos has admirable traits and is trying his best despite continually faltering. I can’t help but think of my dad.

The same man has inspired me with his unparalleled work ethic and moving conversion to faith. He’s endured so much emotional and physical stress for the sake of my family’s well-being. His generosity toward others is astonishing, especially toward me since I wouldn’t be where I am without him. My dad’s willingness to discuss the troubled life he was saved from with anyone is when he imparts his most poignant wisdom, all in the selfless goal to spiritually impact others.

How can this be? All at once, I hate him for his evil and love him for his good. And when he comes in sincere repentance for not knowing why he does what he does, my heart becomes a typhoon of emotions. It’s like two different people in the same person. Sometimes I don’t know what to do, instead choosing to quietly simmer by reciprocating the emotional distance he’s instigated over time, but Atreus reminded me that this isn’t the way. He allows his kind, altruistic, forgiving nature to indirectly impact Kratos, like a candle’s flame patiently melting an iceberg. Who his son is slowly moves Kratos to be better.

Who Kratos tries to be moves Atreus to do the same as well. After all, he’s flawed in ways that Kratos helps him through, too. There’s a point in the story where Atreus is intoxicated with power, so the once amiable kid becomes cruel, entitled, and violent not only from his father’s influence, but his own hubris. Just as Kratos remains steadfast to Atreus, how could I not for my father when he endures and encourages me during my struggles with depression and self-love? We should be there for each other so our better halves will prevail and grow.

I wish I had a dad I could relate to more. I long for the fun family man he used to be, but I consider myself blessed to have a father with flaws who remains committed to improving himself, however long that may take. I feel like I’d be justified in giving up hope for him some days, but he has grown in some ways. He continues to fight against his darkness, and since he helps me battle my own, I can’t turn my back because love is willing to share in others’ burdens, and I see that in my father’s heart.

When he seeks forgiveness or relates his marred past to those around him, I hear the pleas of Kratos to his son.

“You must be better than me. Understand? Say it.”

I will be better … no.

“We must be better.”

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