The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
The trope of the ‘Bad Husband, Good Dad’ is something we see in books where the female character will have a good relationship with her father, but his relationship with her mother will make her resent him. I first came across this theme in the book, ‘It Ends with Us’, by Colleen Hoover where Lily’s relationship with her father is defined by a paradox: hatred and love. When alone with her father, she enjoys the time she spends with him and glimpses the potential for him to be a good man. However, her father’s relationship with her mother makes a loving relationship between father-daughter impossible, as she is forced to watch her dad abuse the woman she loves most in the world. This theme of the ‘Bad Husband, Good Dad’ can also be seen in the real world, where bad husbands with a history of cheating or violence towards their partners are viewed as good dads towards their children. It’s interesting to analyse the difference in treatment between the mother and daughter, with one being the recipient of abuse and the other of love.
Intertwined with the present day are the letters from Lily’s past which she talks about the relationship between her parents. In one letter, she talks about witnessing her father knocking her mother to the floor after an argument. She predicts that he would have continued the abuse and kicked her, but when he saw her “he stopped” and “walked to their bedroom and slammed the door”. When it’s her parents alone, her father feels comfortable abusing her mum but when he sees her, he pauses because he doesn’t want her to see him as a bad person. During these incidents of abuse, Lily will talk about feeling shocked and angry at what is taking place before her eyes, as she struggles to comprehend the cruelty her father is capable of inflicting on her mother. It’s hard for her to comprehend because it is at odds with the man that she believes he has the potential to be, the one who asks about how her studies are going and her plans for college, and compliments her for the tasty cookies she made. One-to-one interactions with her father help her see glimpses of how a normal relationship with a father could be, which she treasures because they are rare. As a 15-year-old girl, she acknowledges that she is limited in what she can do to help her mother’s situation, which only adds to her frustration and feelings of helplessness. She struggles to understand her mother’s reasons for choosing to stay with her father but makes it clear that she is not okay with her mother using her as her excuse as she believes that if she did choose to leave him, she would follow her willingly out the door.
It is clear that Lily is unhappy with both of her parents for different reasons: she’s upset at her father for the way that he treats her mum, and she’s angry at her mother whose refusal to leave her father keeps them both stuck in the house with him. The main reason that Lily chose to stay in Philadelphia for as long as she did was because of her mother: she knew that the only thing that was standing in the way of her father’s violence was her physical presence. This meant that when her father was diagnosed with cancer when she was in college, she was “relieved” because it made him “too physically ill to hurt my mother”. His illness replaced her presence as an obstacle to abusing her mother, finally giving her the freedom to leave for Boston and start a new life on her own terms. In this way, even though Lily was never physically abused by her father, and ostensibly had the option to leave, she felt obligated to stay to protect her mother. I feel like this obligation that was placed on a mere teenager contributed the most to her resentment towards her parents, as the abusive dynamic in their marriage kept her trapped in her home and place of birth.
In Boston, Lily creates a new life for herself: she sets up a florist shop with the help of her friend Alyssa, she meets Ryle who she starts dating and then marries, and it is here where she meets Atlas, her first love, who reminds her to “keep swimming”. What started off as a romantic relationship with Ryle which was based on honesty, as they regularly opened up to one other and did ‘naked truths’, takes a dark turn. The man that she had married who loved and cared for her turned into a duplicate of her father, abusing her physically and then apologizing with empty promises of never again. In the first incident of abuse, Lily in a drunken state laughs at Ryle for burning his hand when he is removing food from the oven but is met with a shove, which leads to her hitting her head against the kitchen counter. After this happens, Ryle is full of grief and apologizes saying “I didn’t mean to push you, Lily, I’m so sorry”. At the time, Lily acknowledges that these words are a repetition of what her father would say to her mother after an episode of abuse -“I’m sorry, Jenny. It was an accident” – shifting her position from spectator to victim, and forcing her to re-live her mother’s experience in her own marriage. Despite this, she refuses to compare Ryle to her father gaslighting herself to believe that, “He’s not like my father. He can’t be”. It is obvious that Lily wants to believe that her marriage is nothing like her parents, and that she is not becoming like her mother.
Collen Hoover, the author of ‘It Ends With Us‘, used her parent’s marriage as inspiration for Ryle and Lily’s marriage in the book. Her parents’ marriage was an abusive one, with her remembering a memory of her father throwing the television at her mother at the age of 3. Thankfully, her mother divorced her father which put an end to the abuse, but it meant that she had to raise her and her sisters as a single mother at a time when there was little support. Hoover’s mother provided inspiration for the character of Lily, who is supposed to represent resilience and hope, with her choosing to leave Ryle at the end so that her daughter doesn’t have to endure what she went through both as a daughter and a wife. Even if Ryle is capable of being a ‘good dad’ to their daughter, him being a ‘bad husband’ to Lily would destroy the potential of them having a good father-daughter relationship. She knows from experience that you cannot separate the ‘good dad’ from the ‘bad husband’ – they are the same person and define the character of abusers who love and hate selectively. After she divorces Ryle, she makes a promise to her daughter which breaks the curse of intergenerational abuse, “It stops here. With me and you. It ends with us”.