Rex Walls was the unconventional father of the protagonist (Jeannette Walls) and her three siblings. Despite the times when he was clearly a loving father (especially when they had steady income) like how he always called his kids nicknames of endearment such as Mountain Goat, he still had his extremely inadequate moments. He could be very MIA at times, for instance his youngest daughter noticed his steady absence a lot in her youngest years. “”Where’s Dad?’ Maureen asked all the time. She was a year and a half old. and these were almost her first words” (Walls 67).
While there is a lot to be said about Rose Mary’s parenting skills, it is pretty safe to say that no one can compare to Rex’s inability to parent successfully. Some of his decisions cannot even be brushed off as simple ignorance or obliviousness as to what children need. He should be more selfless and giving to those kids of his who have no way of taking care of themselves. Instead of satiating the kids’ anything but obscure or illogical need for food, he made a habit of buying prostitutes in front of his son and (as his wife described it) “doing research on the liver’s capacity to absorb alcohol” (Walls 76).
He also feeds on the kids’ codependence, despite the fact that he is always trying to teach them how to be self- sufficient and independent. In reality, he seems to feed off of their need for him and take advantage of it. He likes to feel needed, so even if he isn’t the one bringing home the check every week, he demands to be in charge of the finances. After plenty of days with his kids crying from hunger, the family, rightfully, begins to lose hope in him- something that he just can’t handle. He puts even more unnecessary pressure on Jeannette in saying, “I swear, honey, there are times when I think you’re the only one around who still has faith in me. I don’t know what I’d ever do if you ever lost it” (Walls 78).
It’s abundantly apparent that he has failed miserably as a parent because of his continuous neglect, but it seems like he still tries to bestow knowledge on them in his thoroughly psychotic, illogical, perverse, and inverted ways. For instance, most parents like to teach their offspring to swim via swimming classes or in some sort of controlled environment, like a pool. Since Rex was anti- anything mainstream, his version of teaching his daughter, the protagonist, Jeannette, to swim by throwing her into “The Hot Pot” (a hot spring famous in the town for being so deep that it had no bottom, having sulfur that burns your eyes, water that is too dark to see through, and the misfortune of drowning both drunks and teenagers). He let her drown a few times until she “learned” to swim- or really just survive. It was the wrong way to tackle the obstacle, since all it did was reinforce her fears in water and swimming, and give her yet another reason not to trust him. Instead of providing positive incentive to acquire the new skill, he forced the “sink or swim” mind-set on her, so she will more than likely never swim recreationally again. In his way, he was also imparting life- lessons, though, so his insensitivity and lack of grace is somewhat forgivable. He said that “You can’t cling to the side your whole life, that’s one lesson every parent needs to teach a child. ‘If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim’” (Walls 66).