At some point in Breaking Bad, most fans agree that Walter White becomes consumed by ‘Heisenberg,’ Walt’s meth-cooking, drug-dealing alter-ego bent on taking control of his ever-expanding dominion. That said, the core motivator that began this wild ride was Walt’s desire to provide for his family beyond his impending cancer-y demise. Balancing those family responsibilities and keeping his secret were destined to be incompatible goals, and this led to Walt having more than a few terrible parenting checks on his scorecard.
He kept trying though, even as the scales of what was truly important to him continued to shift. This led to some distinct moments of Walt finding that good father he presumably was before “breaking bad” and a whole set of new moments that put the nail in the coffin of his family’s “happily ever after.”
Good Dad: Take Your Shot!
Right at the beginning of Breaking Bad, Walt has a pretty cool moment, if one can excuse some physically unprovoked violence as an example of good parenting. When Walt Jr. is the brunt of some cartoonishly stereotypical school bullying, Walt balls up his new courage and takes them on.
Standing up for your kids is a good thing 90 percent of the time, and here Walt arguably manages to not go too far, but just far enough, for his kid.
Bad Dad: Father Of The Year
When Walt learns of his remission in season 2, he takes it unlike most cancer patients. Instead of glowing in the reprieve, he appears to curse the burden it now puts upon him. When Skyler and the family throw him a party to celebrate, Walt pushes Walt Jr. into taking a few hard liquor shots right in front of Hank.
The audience can read it all over Walt’s face, the surly and miserable state he’s in as he’s doing this, and all because he’s upset that his moral green light to do ‘whatever it takes’ has been taken away by being forced to continue living. Taking it out on his son, masquerading it as benevolent father-son bonding, only makes the entire scene all the more disturbing.
Good Dad: A Grilled Cheese Moment (Or Three)
Walt calling Skyler’s bluff isn’t exactly a good husband moment, but bringing Walt Jr. a moment of grilled, cheesy delight can’t be all bad.
There were a few times like this, where Walt connected with his eldest across a dining table. Walt Jr.’s proclivity for breakfast and food, in general, gives Walt an easy ‘in’ this way, and the patriarch of the family serves it up as often as possible.
Bad Dad: That’s Good, Jesse …
You can only imagine how devastating it was for Walt Jr. when, after a deep and meaningful conversation with Walt Sr., he got called ‘Jesse’. Showing all that love and care for his beaten and barrel-scraping father to not even get the name recognition for the act must’ve been a kick in the teeth.
It also shows Walt’s split focus as a father figure, giving so much of that energy towards Jesse that he has supplanted his namesake when dolling out praise and thanks.
Good Dad: Gray Matters Money
Living his alternate life may have eclipsed his family in terms of importance, but at the moment of literal death, Walt made sure, as much as was possible, that the money he’d worked so hard to accrue would find it’s way to them. Using a mix of guilt, threat, and poetic justice, Walt organized for his former partners in chemistry, Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz, to deliver a hefty sum of cash to Walt Jr. down the line – enough for college, medical bills, and a lot more besides.
It may be blood money, and it may have had to be an indirect transfer because they wouldn’t take the money knowing it came from him, but Walt’s blood would end up with it if he had anything to say in the (Gray) matter.
Bad Dad: Hollynapping
In perhaps the most traumatic moment Walt ever inflicts upon his family, he ends a literal knife fight with his wife and son by kidnapping the one member of his family he can physically abscond with.
There are no good excuses here, as Walt lets his most base instincts turn him into the monster he’s been trying to suppress. Kidnapping a kid is lower than low and it doesn’t take long for Walt to realize that what he just did was wrong. Leading to …
Good Dad: Returning Holly (And That Phone Call)
Once outside of the heat of the moment, Walt manages to make some sort of amends, albeit at the destruction of himself. Seeing himself having kidnapped his child for a life on the run, he organizes for little Holly to be found in a fire-station, alive and well.
He has to burn down his relationship with his family and the law, as well, getting on the phone to Skyler and giving the performance of a lifetime to take everything possible on his own shoulders. He could never make it ‘right,’ but he did the last things he could do make it slightly ‘less wrong’.
Bad Dad: You Never Forget Your First (Million Dollar Drug Deal)
When Skyler was going into labor, Walt was simultaneously making his own delivery – the stash of meth he had to essentially steal from Jesse’s apartment to get to Gus Fring’s arranged drop-off point in time. There are a select few reasons that a man should miss the delivery of one of his children and a fat stack of illicit cash probably isn’t one of them.
Of course, Walt does the mental gymnastics to blame this mostly on Jesse, but he still made the choice and looked at that money like it was the most special thing to happen for him that day.
Good Dad: Jolly Holly
With the one notable exception, as stated above, Walt was always great with Holly. Almost every time that she was in his arms, she seemed calmer, happier, and like there was nowhere else he’d rather be. Walt never had to fake it with her, including the time he walked her around the laundry and got to reveal ‘what Daddy did for her’ with the stacks of cash hidden behind the insulation.
Walt Jr. knew his dad had the knack for making a ‘happy Holly’, asking him how he pulled it off. In Walt’s own ironic words, ‘I’m a calming presence.’
Bad Dad: Walt In Sheeps Clothing
Playing Skyler off as the ‘bad parent’ to gain favor with Walt Jr. ranks up there as one of the most despicable things Walt does to his family in the entire series. The mother to Walt’s kids was just too sharp and resolute to be bypassed and so Walt used his perception as a meek man to outmaneuver her.
Letting Walt Jr. believe everything bad about her, such as the estrangement between them that “must” be her doing, no doubt did lasting damage to their relationship.