Fathers And Daughters In ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

On your recommendations, I’m about halfway through Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is marvelous. One thing that’s struck me in the second season, though, particularly with the introduction of Toph, is that while the show’s extremely adept at building up strong, nuanced female characters, it doesn’t have a single example of a strong father-daughter relationship.

This is an area I’m particularly interested in so maybe I notice it more than most, but I think it’s notable. Perhaps this’ll change later in the series, but Katara didn’t seem to have a particularly strong relationship with her father before he left to fight the Fire Nation. When Hakoda sends a message to Katara and Sokka, Sokka’s much more insistent on the importance of reconnecting with their father even if it means deviating from their journey with Aang. Her mother’s sacrifice is obviously a totemic act for her — mothers in this universe seem to be strong people, but still in a position where they have to give their lives or their honor for their children, rather than being able to hold power and protect them. The show’s adamant that there are real advantages to feminine power — Sokka and Aang are hopeless when a refugee the group is traveling with goes into labor, and Katara’s healing abilities are venerated, proof of her particular talents — and I appreciate that.

And her not particularly strong relationship with Hakoda looks positively healthy next to Toph and Azula’s relationship with their fathers. Toph’s parents keep her cloistered, and when they discover the true extent of her earthbending abilities, they’re determined to keep her even more swaddled in cotton wool and surrounded by steel to the extent that they’ll order her kidnapping rather than let her determine the course of her own life. Azula, by contrast, is the perfect expression of her father’s desires, which ends up meaning that she’s a highly talented sociopath. None of these are particularly encouraging models: having absent parents actually seems to be the best thing that can happen to a teenager in this universe. Get too wrapped up in your idea of your parents and you’ll end up on a quest that will burn you out or taint your soul, and be loved too much, and you’ll be denied the chance to be a full person.