The Walking Dad

(Caution: This article will contain spoilers for The Walking Dead by Telltale Games.)

I am a twenty-seven year old male standing in the foyer of the doctor’s office. I have been sick for several weeks, with snot and mucus pouring from every inconvenient slot or hole possible. I had made this doctor’s appointment myself and had made sure it worked with my health insurance.

Yet I stand paralyzed at the entrance, looking at the different desks and the other ill patients sitting in old, rickety chairs. They stare — at the crusty carpet, walls, even at me — with a grief-stricken grimace that looks like how I feel. I stand here and wonder what, for the life of me, I am supposed to do. What was it my parents always did when walking into a doctor’s office? I don’t know. I had always just found a corner and powered on my GameBoy or opened the pages of one of my books.

No one in my family saw it coming, but I have become a victim of the parent characters in Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Alright, so I’m not exactly a walking zombie, but I certainly am not prepared for life in the dark and dangerous world beyond home. Even throughout my years at college, I could always count on my mother refilling prescriptions and scheduling dentist appointments before I realized it was time for a check-up. To this day I have to tell my mom — in strict terms — that I’ve got my own medication covered now and don’t need her taking care of it for me.

It’s something I had always complained about, and my mom’s overbearing nature caused a lot of conflict with my father’s approach (which is more responsible for my fear of screwing up). Yet it never occurred to me the ramifications of her actions until I had played The Walking Dead.

The way I see it, Telltale’s The Walking Dead isn’t about a zombie apocalypse. It’s about being a parent. Sure, this is obvious in how Lee, the player’s avatar, becomes surrogate father to Clementine, an eight year old girl left alone in this frightening world. But what I never picked up on during my run through the game was how many other parents were present, or how often the subject of children came about.

I could probably sit here and ramble on for several paragraphs about how Hershel doesn’t seem to pay much mind to his son’s stories of the outbreak beyond the farm, or perhaps how Kenny’s family-first attitude tends to drive him to frustrating points of irrationality — and let’s also not forget how Lilly certainly proved herself to be the daughter of her asshole father, Larry. I instead want to focus on two very specific moments in The Walking Dead that illustrate the difference between protecting one’s child and preparing them.

Lee is given advice throughout the game on how to take care of Clementine by many other parents, each of whom somehow fails and loses their own child. Yet the advice that keeps Clementine alive is received by a train-hopping hobo. He tells Lee to prepare the girl, to cut her hair so she can’t get snatched by a zombie too easily and to learn how to fire a gun. He is essentially telling Lee to toss aside any notion of a child’s innocence and to prioritize her survival.

Throughout the rest of the game, Clementine will have several opportunities to defend herself, all coming together in the final climax when Lee is too weak to fight for her. He must instead instruct her, his final lesson before he passes on.

Contrast this to a moment in episode four, where Lee and company arrive at an empty and deserted house. Up in the attic they find a zombified child, a little boy that had been left up there alone. Thin and frail, he poses no threat; his legs snap beneath him as he struggles to reach Lee. The child's parents had locked him up in the attic in a desperate attempt to save their son, and instead doomed the child to a cruel and lonely fate.

The post-credits cut-scene delivers the final sucker punch to Telltale’s thesis. If you want to protect your child, you must prepare them. One day their fate will be out of your hands, and the only reassurance you will have is that you tried. This is what makes the final sight of an uncertain Clementine so gut wrenching. You still want to be there for her. You want to make sure she is okay.

Parents will not always be around, however. Their child will either become the starved young boy in the attic, a victim of the cruel realities of the world, or they shall be Clementine, armed to face those same realities with the lessons taught by their father and mother.

I leave the doctor’s office with a prescription for more asthma medication and the revelation that I have allergies. It turns out that a trip to the doctor’s office was a simple task to complete. It was not this big, complex thing that only grown-ups could do. In fact, aren’t I a grown-up now? I’m twenty-seven, after all.

Yet I will repeat this process several times throughout my life. That very same day, I approach the back of the CVS and realize I have never dropped a prescription off before. I become paralyzed every time I file my taxes, scared of making a mistake and summoning the irate steeds of the IRS upon my home. Any time I must do something generically “grown up,” I find myself frozen, uncertain of what I’m doing and frightened of screwing up.

It is in those moments that I realize I am the boy in the attic, and my parents have failed to prepare me.

Credit for the title goes to Roger "TinPeregrinus" Travis, and his wonderful typo.

Clementine post-credits

Comments

Chris Cesarano was foolish enough to submit a one-off to me before the call for writers began. You'd think his parents would have warned him about such things.

My parents were too busy warning me about the dangers of Metallica and Dungeons & Dragons.

ccesarano wrote:

My parents were too busy warning me about the dangers of Metallica and Dungeons & Dragons.

That James Hetfield is a scary dude.

IMAGE(http://s3.postimage.org/d3sk63qer/image.jpg)

Oh, and congrats on being published on the front page!

ccesarano wrote:

My parents were too busy warning me about the dangers of Metallica and Dungeons & Dragons.

Tinnitus and dice-induced RSI are no laughing matters.

Congrats on making the front page!

Congrats!

And yeah, the things in this article are why I can't play these games. Someone else spoilered that little boy in the attic and my visceral reaction at his parents and that world in general was hard to handle. I've got too much of this in my real life.

You end up doing it all the way through their lives. You start to dread "firsts" like the first day of school or first school dance. Each time you have to let them go off and try out all that you've tried to teach them and hope for the best.

Even now, six years after the fact, dropping my eldest son off at the muster point to head off to BASIC and really realizing that, for better or worse, he was truly on his own was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. In the intervening time I've had plenty more practice with all my kids and their various steps forward into their own lives, but it hasn't gotten any easier.

The world hasn't been eaten by zombies, but several gators, some adventures with household current, lost jobs, broken hearts, and all the world throws at young people have added their own relish to my worries.

And someday, I will have to leave them behind like he did. And that is harder for me to bear than the fact that it means I'll be gone.

Congratulations on making the front page, ccesarano! Nice article to boot!

Possibly related from The Atlantic, "Why Parents Need To Let Their Children Fail."

Congratulations on making the front page, ccesarano!! And for making me teary-eyed (granted, that's not much of a feat, but still). I don't think I can word it any better than momgamer has, but you conveyed the point beautifully. It's so hard, being a parent, and trying to both protect and prepare your child for what's ahead. Trying to reassure them that you'll be there for them as long as you can, but also attempt to teach them that you won't always be there. This is something that really hits home for me, and my son is only 16 months old!
That kid in the attic, in Walking Dead... It's odd, because I hadn't picked up that his parents had locked him up there, I'd actually understood that he'd barricaded himself up there. Either way, that scene hadn't been spoiled for me, and hit me really, really hard.

Anyway, kudos on a beautiful, poignant and tought-provoking piece!

Good article, ccesarrano. Reading it made me realize just how thankful I should be to my parents. They were kind, yes, but they also had no problem explaining how the "real world" works and letting their children become independent early and then leaving them to make their own mistakes.

It's why I let kiddo pinch her fingers when she plays with a drawer rather than snatching her back. I'm not always going to be around to protect her...

MyLadyGrey wrote:

Good article, ccesarrano. Reading it made me realize just how thankful I should be to my parents. They were kind, yes, but they also had no problem explaining how the "real world" works and letting their children become independent early and then leaving them to make their own mistakes.

It's why I let kiddo pinch her fingers when she plays with a drawer rather than snatching her back. I'm not always going to be around to protect her...

Ditto. My parents weren't train-hopping hobos, but they did tend to treat me like a small person instead of a child.

I left home with at least a basic understanding of how most grownup things worked (I could do my own laundry and taxes, find a doctor and an apartment, pack a moving van properly, etc), though of course you don't really grok the importance/non-importance of all that stuff until way later. And so many people still can't do some things by the end of their 20s... parenthood is about preparation, no?

Thanks for the kind words everyone. After this went up I was actually worried it would come off as melodramatic. After all, my parents have also done a lot for me. It is just interesting how they've also caused psychological harm in ways you might not realize at first.

If I am lucky to have kids one day, I hope to do my best in trusting them and teaching them.

If I am doubly lucky, I'll also get on the front page again.

EDIT: Sorry for digging up an old thread, and sorry for linking to a Facebook page since I don't have the time to find a proper YouTube link (even though Google and Facebook both pretty much use your browsing info and history for the same purposes), but this video about swimming babies reminded me of my article.

I shouldn't be surprised that a baby is capable of swimming. They are durable and adowable widdle things. But it is still startling to see something like this when the common reaction is to try and protect children from every little thing.

Plus, just look at how awesome that swimming baby looks. That's just awesome.

ccesarano wrote:

Thanks for the kind words everyone. After this went up I was actually worried it would come off as melodramatic. After all, my parents have also done a lot for me. It is just interesting how they've also caused psychological harm in ways you might not realize at first.

If I am lucky to have kids one day, I hope to do my best in trusting them and teaching them.

If I am doubly lucky, I'll also get on the front page again.

EDIT: Sorry for digging up an old thread, and sorry for linking to a Facebook page since I don't have the time to find a proper YouTube link (even though Google and Facebook both pretty much use your browsing info and history for the same purposes), but this video about swimming babies reminded me of my article.

I shouldn't be surprised that a baby is capable of swimming. They are durable and adowable widdle things. But it is still startling to see something like this when the common reaction is to try and protect children from every little thing.

Plus, just look at how awesome that swimming baby looks. That's just awesome.

It's stuff like that that makes me wonder when a historian says pre-Roman Brits couldn't swim. Meanwhile, I feel awful about the filming process.

So my reaction to that video was something along the lines of "OH MY GOSH, WHERE DO WE SIGN UP?" That baby looked a bit younger than mine, and he just flipped over floated, wow.

Babies do know how to swim, very small newborns still have certain reflexes that they unlearn after they've been out of the womb for a while, that's why our children can drown (because they forget small, important things like "you can't breathe underwater").

One of my coworkers taught her daughter to do this over twenty years ago. Evidently the teaching process is interesting. Before you dunk the baby you blow into their face, which will cause the baby to reflexively close their eyes and mouth. Dunk the baby, and after repeating a few times the baby figures out how the two relate.

ccesarano wrote:

One of my coworkers taught her daughter to do this over twenty years ago. Evidently the teaching process is interesting. Before you dunk the baby you blow into their face, which will cause the baby to reflexively close their eyes and mouth. Dunk the baby, and after repeating a few times the baby figures out how the two relate.

Yeah, that's teaching babies how to swim. You can start teaching babies to be comfortable in the water as soon as they're able to hold up their heads (or at least that's when many pools will accept babies).

As for Infant Swimming Resource Self-Rescue, it's come under criticism for how it teaches. This is all getting totally OP, so interested parties can pursue that themselves.

Oh, we've been putting him in a pool as often as possible, since a friend of ours has one (and going over there is also nerve-wracking, I'm on constant alert, pools and toddlers are a volatile combination). So he's comfortable with water, enjoys it A LOT even. I try to dunk him every now and then so he'll get used to it and learn (I even spray him in the face with the shower head during bath or rather shower time), but (when this is where we get back on topic) it's just so scary to do these potentially dangerous things with your child. What if he inhales water? What if he then gets a pneumonia or something? Not sure I'd really be comfortable with letting him roam freely next to a pool though, so many things can go wrong. What if he hits his head as he falls in and knocks himself out cold? Then how would he put those skills into action?
Yup, parenthood goes hand in hand with over-thinking stuff.

Eleima wrote:

Oh, we've been putting him in a pool as often as possible, since a friend of ours has one (and going over there is also nerve-wracking, I'm on constant alert, pools and toddlers are a volatile combination). So he's comfortable with water, enjoys it A LOT even. I try to dunk him every now and then so he'll get used to it and learn (I even spray him in the face with the shower head during bath or rather shower time), but (when this is where we get back on topic) it's just so scary to do these potentially dangerous things with your child. What if he inhales water? What if he then gets a pneumonia or something? Not sure I'd really be comfortable with letting him roam freely next to a pool though, so many things can go wrong. What if he hits his head as he falls in and knocks himself out cold? Then how would he put those skills into action?
Yup, parenthood goes hand in hand with over-thinking stuff.

And to continue to stay on topic, you can only provide your child with as many necessary skills to survive as possible. Realistically, a parent should never be so careless as to allow a situation where a baby falls in a pool. However, let's say grandpop is having a heart attack. Everything becomes chaos. Suddenly everyone is thinking about grandpop, call the hospital, lay him down, etc. etc., and no one is paying attention to oblivious baby distracted by the colorful giraffe flotation device close to the edge of the pool.

A baby that knows how to swim or orient themselves to float is more capable than a baby unable to do such a thing. While the teaching process may be harsh, and I'm sure a baby's discomfort when dunked under water is enough to make any parent uncomfortable, but this, too, is part of the lesson from Walking Dead, especially at the very end when you basically had to instruct Clem on how to properly kill a zombie.