Game of Thrones makes its much anticipated return to TV screens on Sunday. And if the epic fantasy is about anything – aside from politics, dragons, murders, and zombie snowmen – it’s about the father-heir relationship.
Fathers passing on the lineage of their House, or sentencing their offspring to death for not cutting the family mustard. Sons trying to live up to their father’s name, or bumping off the old man for power instead. Yes, those parent-child relationships can be tricky.
So, taking examples from the best (and worst) fathers from Westeros, here are a few lessons in parenting that all dads can relate to.
1. Lead by example (your kids will follow – good or bad)
Dad Lesson From: Ned Stark & Roose Bolton
You know deep down that you’re far from perfect, but your kids will look up to you no matter what.
Ned Stark was honourable (to a fault, in fact – it’s that kind of integrity that got him executed) and so are his kids (though it got a couple of them executed too).
Roose Bolton, on the other hand, was a treacherous double-crosser who turned on the Starks and stole their castle. It’s little surprise then, that his son Ramsey grew up to be the North’s most vicious delinquent – and murdered his own father so he could have the castle himself.
2. You won’t get a minute’s peace (not even on the toilet)
Dad Lesson From: Tywin Lannister
Tywin knows about the unglamorous side of being a dad. You can’t even sit on the loo without one of your kids hassling you. I know how he feels. In Tywin’s case, it’s his Imp son Tyrion, who he’s just sentenced to death – the final act of fatherly disappointment. In my case, my eighteen-month-old, who admittedly just wants to sit on my lap or unravel a toilet roll, rather than confronting me about why I never loved him and then skewering me a crossbow. Still annoying though.
3. You can’t have favourites (even if one of them is a little b-word)
Dad Lesson From: Ned Stark
It’s arguably the greatest parenting taboo of them all, admitting that you’ve got a favourite. But chances are, if you’re in any way human, the thought has passed through your mind – especially when one of the kids is playing up. But if Lord Eddard Stark has a favourite, he never showed it. Even Jon Snow – the boy Ned raised as his illegitimate son – got equal treatment.
You have to admire Ned’s commitment to good, fair parenting – especially in a world where the only thing more complicated than the father-son relationships are the father/b*stard son relationships. Jon Snow has turned out pretty well. In fact, a tenner says he’s king by the end of the series.
4. Tell your kids they make you proud (no matter how utterly useless they are)
Dad Lesson From: Randyll Tarley
Lord Tarley, a proud warrior and nobleman, has always been ashamed of his son Samwell, who – to be fair – is a clumsy heffalump who’s more interested in books that beheading enemies.
Whether we want to admit it or not, a lot of us dads know how Randyll feels. For instance, my five-year-old’s performance in the three-legged race last year was an embarrassment for everyone who witnessed it. I would never tell him, of course. I certainly wouldn’t have sent him to the Night’s Watch for a lifetime of celibacy and servitude. That’s asking for guaranteed daddy issues and resentment.
5. Don’t spoil them (unless you want to raise a tyrant)
Dad Lesson From: Robert Baratheon
It’s easy to get carried away. You want your kids to have the best. You love the excitement on their faces when they get a new toy or open a bag of sweets. But it’s double-edged sword (and it could be a literal double-edged sword, if you’re spoiling them with, erm, swords). Look at King Robert Baratheon and his heir Joffrey. Willfully ignoring the fact that Joff’s not his biological son, Robert’s riches and nonchalant parenting (he only seems bothered about Joffrey when the boy’s out-duelled by a girl) turned Joffery into a spoilt brat/sadist monster.
Spoilt rotten, you could say.
6. Give your kids some attention (or they’ll do crazy things to get it)
Dad Lesson From: Balon Greyjoy
How many times have you skipped a bedtime story because you were too tired? Or plonked your kids in front the TV because you’re too busy? And how many times have the kids played up just to get a few seconds of valuable fatherly attention?
If there was ever proof that you’ll regret not being an attentive dad, it’s Balon Greyjoy. He spurned his estranged son Theon, prompting Theon to seek his father’s approval by sacking Winterfell and murdering everyone – which he ended up getting the, well, chop for.
Bet Balon wishes he’d just given his son a cuddle as he opened up that parcel containing Theon’s favourite body part.
7. You always regret tough love (it really, really burns them)
Dad Lesson From: Stannis Baratheon
We’ve all been there. The kids won’t eat their dinner. They won’t put their shoes on. They’re screaming in the backseat. All of a sudden, you snap – raise your voice, dish out some unreasonably tough discipline, then spend the rest of day worrying you’ve been too harsh and you’re somehow psychologically damaging your children.
It’s that kind of thing that makes fatherhood one long anxious worry. So think about how Stannis Baratheon feels. He dished out the toughest love of all – burning his daughter Shireen at the stake. And she wasn’t anywhere near as annoying as my kids are. It’s no wonder Stannis welcomed his death at the hand of Brienne just days later.
8. Treat boys and girls the same (girls can play with swords too, you know)
Dad Lesson From: Ned Stark & Craster
That’s not to say gender neutral parenting is the only way (it’s a bit hippy-ish, even for the decidedly gender-neutral eunuchs), but it’s a sad day when your kids start seeing the world in terms of “boy things” and “girl things” – like their innocence has been lost. Put them on the right track by teaching them boys and girls are equal.
Ned Stark – yes, that relentless do-gooder again, but to be fair, he’s a ruddy good dad – broke gender norms by letting tomboy Arya swordfight, which put her in good stead.
On the flipside, there’s wilding nutcase Craster, who’s so backward on the whole “boys and girls are equal” thing that he leaves his baby sons out in the woods to be gobbled up by White Walkers. Saying that, he marries his daughters too. Terrible parenting.