Daddy Issues: Sam Winchester
Fans talk about Dean’s “daddy issues” all the time, but what about Sam?
I don’t think we pay as much attention to Sam’s daddy issues in regards to John because he did have Dean who looked out for him and gave him affection and taught him life lessons. Dean was there for Sam from changing his diapers to ‘the talk’ to beyond. Sam was a smart kid from the very beginning. He’s very observant, and even in his limited contact with ‘normal’ families, he recognized that his family was different. He saw that his dad wasn’t performing his paternal duties, that he was sloughing those off on his son. Sam saw how hard that was for Dean.
Sam held a lot of resentment against John – not just on his own behalf but on Dean’s. I’ve heard way too many people say that Sam doesn’t love Dean as much as Dean loves Sam, and that is so far from the truth. Despite his age, Sam saw that John was not a father to him. That is illustrated most clearly in the scene where he gives the amulet to Dean. He’d meant it for John, but ‘Dad’ let them down once again. When he gives it to Dean, he’s saying to Dean, “He doesn’t deserve this. You do. You’re my dad.” It’s a sad kind of surrender to the reality of his life.
I think the rebellion is rooted right there. Sam doesn’t think that John has the right to order him (or Dean) around. He hasn’t earned it. He hasn’t been there for them. It makes him angry that Dean doesn’t see it. He can’t understand why Dean doesn’t have the same resentment he does. He hates that Dean follows orders without question. He hates John even more for endangering Dean’s life to satisfy his obsession. If you think about it, with the knowledge that he has, Sam is absolutely right. It is horrible that John would risk losing both of his sons to get revenge for having lost his wife.
It hurts Sam a lot that John doesn’t seem to ‘care’ for them the way a father should. Their lives are less important than John’s obsession. Instead of focusing on what he has left – his sons – and their future, he focuses on the past and what he’s lost. He is a text book model of a neglectful parent. He drags them from town to town, school to school. That they have decent social skills is a miracle, and that Sam excels academically shows just how fucking smart he is. John doesn’t appear to notice or care, however. As Sam says, most parents would be proud if their kid got a free ride at Stanford. Not John.
Of course, it’s hard to say when John realized that Sam was the YED’s focus or that Sam might become a monster. We don’t know how long he hid that from Dean. I really question the wisdom of that decision. I get that at first, he probably thought he could find it and kill it and Sam would never be the wiser, but at the point when Sam left for Stanford, it seems irresponsible not to tell him. First of all, maybe he wouldn’t have left (or if John found out after he was gone) he would have come back. Second, Sam could have been more vigilant of the people around him – like Brady? Maybe, he never would have gotten involved with Jess. Maybe, she’d be alive. The problem is we don’t know when exactly John discovered what might become of Sam, but I think it was before Sam left for Stanford. The reason he was adamant about Sam not going wasn’t to protect him, but because he wanted to keep an eye on him and whether he was becoming less than human. I’m not sure what John’s motivation was for withholding that information from the boys. I’d like to think that he was trying to protect them emotionally, but I’m not so sure about that. It may have been arrogance – ‘I can take care of this myself’ – or selfishness – ‘This is my revenge to exact.’ Whatever it is, he again doesn’t really seem to be thinking about the consequences for Sam.
To me that moment in the Impala when John says that nothing is more important than getting the YED and Sam says, no, something is (and you know, Dean agrees with Sam) really illustrates the division between the boys and their dad. They may not be more important to John than his vendetta, but they are more important to one another than anything. So, it must have been like a knife in the heart to Dean when John told him he might have to kill Sam.
He’d always done what his dad asked, but he knew in his heart that he would never do that. He must have been appalled that John would think him capable of it or ask him to. Still, he believed so strongly in his dad that he must have thought that his dad wouldn’t tell him to do it if it might not be necessary.
Of course, John sent Sam out of the hospital room to get coffee knowing he was about to die. He didn’t consider that he was denying Sam a goodbye. It’s sad, but not surprising. Sam had been working his way back to his dad emotionally, and it must have been incredibly painful for him. We see it in his reaction. Why didn’t he tell them together? Why did he not think that Sam could handle that knowledge? I think it really shows how little John understood Sam. His youngest son was a mystery to him. After all, Sam is the intellectual. Knowledge is like food for Sam. The worst thing to do was keep Sam in the dark.
Then, ugh, that conversation when Dean tells Sam that John said Sam might become a monster and Dean might have to kill him. Poor Sam. I can’t even imagine. Sam has always known he was different somehow, that he was a freak. This just proves it. But what must have been worse is that his father has driven a wedge between him and the one safe, secure thing in his life – his big brother, his surrogate father, his best friend, Dean.
Again, if he had told them earlier, the three of them could have discussed it. John could have filled them in on what he knew. He could have prepared them for what they might have to deal with. Instead, he left them with this horrible, cancerous mystery.
I think one of the reasons Sam forgives Dean so easily is because he knows that Dean is torn between being the man that his father tried to mold – the tough, merciless soldier – and the caring, compassionate person who raised Sam. (Dean on the other hand has a hard time forgiving Sam because he sees Sam’s failures as his own. If he had done a better job of raising Sam – if he’d been more like his dad – Sam wouldn’t make those mistakes.)
Do I think that John, had he lived, would have been able to kill Sam? Yes, I do. I think that if, in this scenario, Sam had been working with Ruby and drinking demon blood, John wouldn’t have hesitated to kill him. I think he would have seen Sam as a monster – as Dean said he was – and he would have mourned the son he thought he’d already lost. But, yes, I think he would have killed him, and I don’t think Dean would have ever forgiven him. John would have lost both his sons. Unless, Dean had been there. In which case, Dean would have tried to stop him even if it took a bullet. At least I hope so, because if he didn’t, it would have destroyed Dean. The internal battle during S4 was enough to nearly destroy him as it was.
This has gotten a whole lot longer than I intended and goes off into Dean and John territory more than maybe it should, but I think it is hard to understand Sam or Dean without the other. They are so intrinsically tangled together.
In the end, I can give John credit for giving the boys the skills they needed to survive – including an unbreakable devotion to one another – but little else. As I said, I think Sam was a mystery to him that he probably attributed largely to the YED’s influence. Yes, Sam was his son, but I think he was mourning Sam long before he died. He wasn’t sure to what extent Sam was his son and to what he extent Sam might already be tainted with demon blood.
And I think Sam felt that. We talk about Dean’s self-loathing but little about Sam’s feeling that he’s a freak. At first, Dean jokes about it because he thinks they are both freaks because of the way they were raised and what they do. Later, he still calls Sam a freak, but then he kind of apologizes because he realizes that Sam is a freak of a different kind. I think from the moment John found out about the demon blood, Sam was a freak to him. His son, but not his son. Poor Sam realized that his dad didn’t feel about him the way he felt about Dean, but he didn’t know why.