Disclaimer: I don't own Zuko or anyone else from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Fathers and Sons
As I write this I am beginning to embark upon the most frightening period of my life. Now, more than ever, I feel the gaping hole where my childhood should be and I am honestly scared. Now, more than ever, I am terrified of turning into my father.
The relationship between father and son has always been a mystery to me, although I know everything that it should not be. My wife has told me time and time again that this alone should influence my behaviour and prevent my biggest fear from coming to fruition.
And so I write this letter to you, my father. I know I will never send it because you will never understand my words; what would be the point? But perhaps in addressing everything that was wrong with us I may assuage my own doubts.
'Azula was born lucky. You were lucky to be born.' That was what you told me. You always favoured her: the prodigy, the naturally gifted, and the complete reflection of yourself. Whereas I, I was different. From birth I had to struggle and fight the fates for the slightest of things. A father's love was one of those. It shouldn't have been. Yet no matter what I did you maintained I was lucky, lucky but not gifted.
What kind of a father would willingly sacrifice his own son for power? I'll admit I may not have been what you expected or yearned for in a son. I was no ideal heir and certainly did not seem to be exhibiting any signs of becoming the typical fearless leader the Fire Nation prided itself on but I was trying. All I ever wanted was to please you, father, and yet still you saw me as expendable.
I wish I knew more about the circumstances. I wish I could take myself out of the panicked child's brain I am so familiar with. When I was younger I used to pretend that you would never have gone through with it (Azula always lies. Azula always lies.) Sometimes I'd pretend that you orchestrated the whole sordid affair that terrible night to save me. Sometimes I could even see it as an awful dilemma brought on by poor regretted decisions and made for the good of the country. Those times are over now; I am no idiot, father. I know that these wishes are just the musings of a lonely boy, desperate to see good in his father.
But still, were you in on mother's alleged plot? Were you really intending to kill me? Did mother really kill grandfather? These are all questions I long to have answers to but I know I shall never ask; some things are best left alone, that is one of the few lessons you managed to teach me.
The other sunk in slightly deeper. I learnt first-hand from you that life is hard. It wants to make you suffer. Well, it never seemed to want you to suffer, just me. I thought fighting through everything you could throw at me would let me earn your love. Somehow I figured it was my fault. It was because I was a bad son, a bad heir. It was because Azula was more talented; she didn't have to go through this. It was a test to prove I was worthy and honourable.
I tell you now, father, that is one mistake I will never make. A young boy should never ever have to worry about such complex and downright harsh issues as honour and worth. A young boy should learn honour by watching his father's actions and feel worth every day. I never did. Not for one moment.
I suppose I was lucky that you were never the man I looked up to and aspired to be. My young mind knew that your elder brother was perhaps the one person you feared and to me fear and respect were synonymous; they had to be. He taught me the true meaning of honour after you taught me the true meaning of pain.
In many ways it could be said that I have had the ideal parenting team. After all, between the three of you you got me where I needed to be. You made me who I am and that is what being a parent is all about. But you weren't there for me. You were hateful and uncaring. Mother left. Uncle was ten years too late.
And sometimes I cannot help but feel sorry for you, despite everything. You put me through hell. You drove my mother away. You crushed my uncle's spirits and turned my sister to insanity. And for the rest of time you will rot in that cell for it.
But, father, what examples did you have to learn from? What pain and suffering taught you how to be a better father than the one you had? Grandfather was not a pleasant man, though he wasn't a monster like you. That must have been difficult too.
Yet when I find myself slipping into pity I think of two things. Firstly, I worry for we are not so different. You were also the least favourite. You also inherited the throne from your father. Then I stop worrying because I know that if I pity you, if I empathise with you for just one second then I will never be like you. Empathy is not an emotion you possess. Nor are despair, agony or happiness.
I suppose I ought to thank you, this has helped me, after all.
Thanks to you, father, I broke the mould. Thanks to you I am happily married and seated on the throne. Thanks to you the world is at peace. And thanks to you I am going to be a great father when the next moon rolls around.
Because you taught me everything I know. You taught it by counter-example.
Because, thanks to you, I know what not to be.