Spoilers ahead for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child.
When J.K. Rowling conceived her Harry Potter follow-up, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, she clearly did so with one eye on the Zeitgeist. As you may have heard, dads — both as bizarre meme and biological/familial unit — are having a moment right now, and the quasi-sequel (a stage play written by Jack Thorne, with a story credit by Rowling) is all about the fraught terrain of fatherhood: bad dads, single dads, dead dads who happen to be the Dark Lord, etc.
Cursed Child finds new Hogwarts students and BFFs Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (what a name!) grappling with the looming shadows cast by their fathers Draco and Harry, now two disaffected middle-aged men who both clearly have undiagnosed PTSD from their high-school years. Below, a breakdown of the story’s many daddy issues:
The fraught father-son relationship: Harry Potter and Albus Potter
The main relationship in the book is between Harry and his son, Albus, who commits the dual faux pas of being sorted into Slytherin and being unpopular at Hogwarts. This Harry cannot abide, because Harry is the definition of a guy who peaked in high school. Albus lashes out at his father, frustrated with constantly living in his shadow. Harry responds with a string of terrible parenting decisions: telling him he wishes he weren’t his child; breaking up him and his best friend, Scorpius (I can’t); and enlisting his professors to spy on him, thus alienating him so severely he almost pulls a Kylo Ren and goes over to the dark side.
We also hear repeatedly that Harry’s bad parenting is a function of his own unexplored abandonment issues/daddy issues/early neglect/residual trauma/childhood celebrity, because this is a play without subtext. As he tells Draco at one point: “Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons not what they needed, but what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blighted the present.”
The takeaway: Don’t blight the present in order to rewrite your own past. Also, being a child star can really fuck you up.
The single dad: Draco Malfoy
Draco Malfoy, teen bully and young dark-arts aficionado, goes on quite a redemption tour in The Cursed Child. After his wife, Astoria, dies of a rare blood disease, Draco is forced to renounce his wedgie-giving, Death Eating ways and learn to become a good father to his son, whose name is, as I mentioned, Scorpius. (The wives in this play, by the way, can do no wrong: Ginny is a saint, Astoria was a “Muggle-lover” who “could always help [Draco] find light in the darkness,” while Hermione is both a great mom and Minister of Magic.) Draco isn’t exactly dad of the year, but ultimately he and his son find common ground. In fact, he actually turns out to be more progressive than Harry when it comes to allowing inter-Malfoy-Potter friendships, thereby ending the cycle of emotional abuse initiated by his own father, Lucius. Not all Malfoys!
The takeaway: Just because your dad sucked doesn’t mean you have to suck. Everybody deserves a second chance!
The bereaved dad: Amos Diggery
The new book is, surprisingly, centered on the death of Cedric Diggory, whom you may remember as the tertiary hot guy and future sparkle-vampire who was killed at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. We meet Cedric’s dad, Amos, who is still grieving decades later, furious that his son was basically collateral damage in the Harry-Voldemort feud. Albus decides to help him turn time and get his son back, because he also has issues with living in Harry’s shadow — he “[knows] what it is to be the spare.” Aside from giving us a chance to revisit plot points from earlier books in a way that feels a lot like fanfiction, it also explores the complicated nexus of grief and how it reverberates through the generations in a way that children’s books rarely attempt to grapple with. Also, a great excuse to recast Robert Pattinson in the inevitable movie version.
The takeaway: You don’t have to be a main character for your death to matter.
The father figure who can’t measure up: Albus Dumbledore
J.K. Rowling was always a little too obsessed with Dumbleldore being the paragon of goodness, even though he was incredibly aloof and repeatedly left Harry in near-death situations without adequate magical/emotional support. This book finally reckons with this, as Harry gives Dumbledore (or at least, a painting of Dumbledore) a piece of his mind for leaving him with the Dursleys. “You were absent every time it really counted,” Harry says. “My son is fighting battles for us just as I had to for you. And I have proved as bad a father to him as you were to me. Leaving him in places he felt unloved — growing in him resentments he’ll take years to understand.” Painting Dumbledore responds that he distanced himself because he was afraid of hurting Harry like he hurts everyone he loves. Dumbledore is shockingly insecure.
The takeaway: You will probably reenact your own daddy issues with your son.
The fraught father-daughter relationship: Voldemort and Delphi
But Harry isn’t the worst dad in the book! Turns out He Who Must Not Be Named had a daughter with Bellatrix Lestrange, and now she wants to turn time to bring back her dad and usher in his tyrannical reign. Also, to reconnect with him and tell him she loves him, because as Star Wars has taught us, intergenerational supervillainy always has Freudian undertones.
The takeaway: Growing up without a dad is the cause of many societal ills.
The domestic dad: Ron Weasley
While Harry and Hermione have serious jobs making wizarding society function, Ron remains as mediocre as he was in the series. These days, Ron is just a simple, fun-loving dad who runs a joke shop and keeps the house running while Hermione is at work (he is “mostly focused on bringing up [his] kids”), while pulling terrible pranks like stealing a child’s nose (actual stage direction: It’s a lame trick. Everyone enjoys its lameness.). Meanwhile, we learn that Harry does most of the cooking, which is … something. Harry needs to take whatever father points he can get.
The takeaway: Feminism has reached the wizarding community! Also, Ron is still the lamest of the principal characters.