“Wanna know a secret? Daddy kills people.”
— Dexter Morgan
There is virtually nothing about the conundrum of Dexter Morgan as father figure that is not horrifying, fascinating, and strangely, defiantly, wonderfully correct.
He is the product of the worst kind of child-rearing nightmare: a fatherless boy forced to witness his own mother torn to shreds by a chainsaw in the hands of a drug cartel. A tiny life and a gentle psyche shattered beyond any hope of repair by the trauma of subsequently spending days locked in a shipping container with her quartered corpse in ankle-deep blood.
He is a teenager slowly becoming aware of his true nature: not a boy, not a man, but a monster hidden in human clothing. A creature devoid of emotion and the capacity for empathy. And a dark voice somewhere in the back of his skull, whispering terrible entreaties to inflict pain, suffering and the sweet, final release of death.
He is a son — brought into the welcoming arms of an adoptive family: a sharp-witted sister, a mother we never know, and a father… a true miracle of a father. A policeman named Harry, too-long exposed to the ways of the wrong and the twisted, schooled in the art of the hunt, suddenly cognizant that this bright-eyed young man in his home is capable of unspeakable horrors.
He is a student, learning at the foot of the only man capable of understanding him, defining right and wrong in terms that defy rational definition. Training himself how to cage the savage beast… and how and when to unleash it. One of the most telling moments in the entire series occurs when his father sees what he has wrought – his son in action for the first time, taking pride in his first killing and looking to his father for support, for approval for having done was he was taught to do – only to see Harry recoil in disgust. And so, again, Dexter is alone.
He is a cruel caricature of a human being: a brilliant, tidy, funny little monster dressed as a man, hunting and killing other monsters while mocking those who would hunt him by hiding in plain sight — as an employee of the Miami Police Department, brother to an up-and-coming homicide detective, friendly neighborhood guy down at the donut shop.
He is something worthy of terror. And then… there is a change. He starts dating an emotionally damaged woman as a part of his ongoing efforts to disguise himself as human, and while his connection to her is (at least initially) entirely platonic and fabricated, there is a catch: she is a mother. With two young children.
And as time passes, he is astonished to discover that they begin to see him as a father figure of sorts. And even more astonishingly, he finds himself actually enjoying the role. Caring about the children. Evolving from monster into something more.
He is a protector. When his girlfriend’s ex-husband, an ex-con with a brutal history of abuse and drug addiction, drifts back into his former family’s life – into the life of what Dexter suddenly discovers he considers to be his own family – he takes action by clubbing him with a frying pan, setting him up for a parole-violating drug bust while he’s unconscious, and sending him back to jail. Where he dies. In Dexter’s mind, this is a win-win scenario.
It is not the last time he will act with sudden and ferocious violence to defend his cubs.
He is a surrogate father, and then… his girlfriend becomes pregnant. And Dexter, a stranger among men, host to a Dark Passenger who gives him the strength to cleanse those worthy of cleansing, evolves again. Grows a conscience. Actually experiences fear, in terms of how his legacy will be carried by his child. And finally, in the process of learning to embrace this family, this reality, this human existence as his own, finds the strength to overcome this fear and become something new.
Dexter is the ultimate father. He loves deeply and truly. He provides with care and precision. He protects his own, and brings unspeakable vengeance on those who would threaten them. He is a loving daddy and something far worse than the Boogeyman, all wrapped up together in a single, neatly-ironed shirt.