Creating a True Villain — The Absentee Father

SatS Cover Lo-resAs I noted in my last blog on The Sword and the Sorcerer (You’ve got your copy, right? It’s only $4.99 and 20% of the sales benefit Freedom to Marry.), the plague of the modern hero seems to be daddy issues. It’s the rare protagonist who doesn’t have some sort of damaged relationship with his or her father.

While I wasn’t trying to ride the wave of the current heroic zeitgeist, I did make the failed relationship between Calibot and his father a central theme in The Sword and the Sorcerer. Last week I blogged about keeping Calibot sympathetic. Today, I want to look at the source of his angst — Gothemus Draco, the titular sorcerer and Calibot’s father.

The Power of Paternity

Fathering a child — by which I mean actually raising and parenting, not just siring — is an awesome responsibility. I have three children of my own, and they all have different needs, different personalities, and different interests. Parenting them as a group is difficult, because the approach for each is unique. What works for one doesn’t work for another.

However, despite needing different things from me as a role model and authority figure, they all three need me and want me. They desire me in their lives (even when they say they don’t), and they get angry if they perceive me treating one of them better.

I think it is an exceptionally rare individual who understands this before having children. We all want our parents. We want their love, we want their approval, and we want the security those things provide.

Thus, absentee parents are real villains. They leave holes in their children. They leave them unfulfilled in a profound way.

Gone and Omnipresent

The dreadful irony of absentee parents is that they are both not there for their children and constantly haunting them. The kid cannot get away from the anguish of missing the parent.

This is Calibot’s dilemma. He is so angry with Gothemus he wants nothing to do with him as an adult. But he can’t escape the misery of his father’s absence. Early in the novel, his boyfriend Devon suggests Calibot’s poetry is a kind of sorcery, a comment that makes Calibot think of his father, and it angers him.

Devon should know better. He knew damned well how Calibot felt [about his father], and [Devon] calling him a sorcerer was just about as mean a thing as Calibot could imagine.

An innocent comment intended as a compliment instead causes a negative reaction in Calibot. This is the legacy of a father who was never there but is constantly missed.

Feeling a Presence

Gothemus Draco is the largest character in the book, and that’s an interesting fact, given that he dies at the very beginning of the novel. He doesn’t even say anything before his death. The novel opens with his succumbing to poison. He casts one final spell and chuckles before expiring, but he doesn’t actually say anything.

But Gothemus is larger than life. Not only did his absentee parenting haunt his son, he shaped the balance of power in the world. His reputation is legendary. Everyone Calibot meets in the story has heard of his father, and many people actually knew him. Gothemus Draco is everywhere, even in death.

Except for the one place Calibot wanted him: his life.

Everywhere Calibot goes, he hears about what a great man his father was. He hears it from his patron; he hears it from his father’s failed apprentice; he hears it from his uncle; he hears it, however disingenuously, from the people who murdered him. Calibot can’t go anywhere without his father’s legend intruding on his consciousness.

And that infuriates him, because that reputation doesn’t jive with the person Calibot knew. As a youth, Calibot wanted to become a poet, not a magician like his father. But Gothemus didn’t respect that. He kept trying to make Calibot a sorcerer and took no interest in his poetry. When he was old enough, Calibot left home. His father never tried to get in touch, causing Calibot to infer Gothemus didn’t care what he was doing or what happened to him. It’s a terrible, sad burden that drives Calibot to self-loathing and confusion.


Gothemus is also the most sinister kind of absentee parent. He was never there for Calibot growing up (except as a provider), but he wants Calibot to follow his dictates as an adult. He wants Calibot to become the important world figure Gothemus always envisioned.

To that end, he manipulates his son, even after his own death. He bequeaths Calibot a magical sword and leaves orders for Calibot to lay his body to rest. These innocuous instructions disguise a spell designed to force Calibot into the role Gothemus wants for him.

Throughout the novel, Calibot and his companions are having to unravel riddles Gothemus has left behind. Each moves them a step closer to Calibot completing the destiny Gothemus had in mind. It’s insidious and disgusting, and it wreaks further emotional havoc on Calibot. Already grieving the absence of his father’s love and the fact that he’ll never get to reconcile (since his father is dead), Calibot is forced to relive his unhappy childhood. Gothemus constantly taught through riddles, and he forces Calibot to do it all over again after his death.

This is the real crime of the absentee father — it’s all about him. During Calibot’s childhood, Gothemus was too busy and too focused on his own business to take any interest in Calibot’s passions. After he left home, Gothemus didn’t care enough to reach out to reconcile. He was too busy or too angry or too disinterested to make any effort. And then, after his death, he tries to make Calibot do what Gothemus wants instead of leaving Calibot to his own self-chosen destiny.

The absentee father sends the message that the child is not important. Only the father is. And Calibot is typical of these type of children and learns the lesson well, engaging in self-loathing.

Gothemus Draco is a poor father. But it doesn’t matter how bad he is; Calibot still wants his love. He spends the novel attempting to exorcise this particular demon. He has to learn that the fault in the failed relationship is his father’s, not his. It’s a challenge all poorly parented children face. Hopefully some of them will find comfort in Calibot’s journey.

The Sword and the Sorcerer is available in both eBook and print format. Twenty percent of the sales benefit Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide. Click on the links below to get it.
Print Edition


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