Is Lucius Malfoy an Emotionally Abusive Father?
Throughout all my readings of the Harry Potter series, I always believed that Draco Malfoy becomes a Death Eater because he wants to follow in the footsteps of his supportive and loving parents, both of whom are followers of Lord Voldemort. Only recently did I consider another explanation: that Lucius Malfoy is actually an emotionally abusive father, which manipulates Draco toward the Dark Arts.
Most of what we learn about Lucius and Draco’s father-son relationship comes from Draco, who is always boasting about how his wonderful father is always involved in Draco’s life. The one scene we see between Lucius and Draco, when Harry is watching them in Borgin and Burkes, however, reveals a much different story. Throughout their entire interaction, Lucius does nothing but bully Draco and order him around. The first thing we hear Lucius say is, “Touch nothing, Draco” (CoS 15). He then tells Draco he’s going to buy him a racing broom, even though it’s clear that Draco would prefer to get a different present. Lucius is clearly determined to get Draco on the Quidditch team whether he wants to be or not, and is even prepared to buy his way on. When Draco complains about Harry getting a broom as a first year (which is, let’s admit, a blatant act of favoritism), Lucius refuses to hear about Draco’s legitimate resentment. He then tells Draco that if he doesn’t get better grades, he will be good for nothing but being a plunderer or a thief and says, “I would have thought you’d be ashamed that a girl of no wizard family beat you in every exam” (CoS 52). Throughout this scene, we see Lucius only criticize Draco, minimize his suffering, and ignore what he actually wants.
The fact that Draco talks so much about his father reeks of overcompensation. Draco is determined that everyone think his father loves him, and seems to be trying to convince himself. He is constantly searching for attention from his father by trying to get him involved in school life. However, Lucius only gets involved when it suits his own personal agenda. When Draco gets attacked by Buckbeak, Lucius jumps to the rescue, but it seems like he is mainly creating drama in order to spite Hagrid, whom he clearly has a personal grudge against. On the other hand, when Moody turns Draco into a ferret, arguably a much more serious teaching malpractice, Lucius does nothing, because he’s scared of crossing Moody. Draco has to learn quickly that his father will only be on his side when his own values and goals mesh with Lucius’s. He knows that Muggle-born and half-breed hatred will get his father’s attention, while other situations will not.
It’s clear that Draco’s mother, Narcissa, loves him unconditionally, however, and shows it. Draco says, “Father actually considered sending me to Durmstrang […] But Mother didn’t like the idea of me going to school so far away” (GoF 165). Narcissa repeatedly risks her life to help her son, going against Lord Voldemort’s orders to recruit Snape’s help and even lying to Voldemort about Harry being dead. Draco, however, responds to his mother’s love by being rebellious. Especially in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we see him trying to distance himself as much as possible from his mother and her assistance, which ends up pushing him further into the Dark Arts. He instead tries to gain approval from the people who don’t give it easily, like his father. Once his father is put into Azkaban, Draco no longer has anyone to use as a model for what to do and what not to do. As a response, he turns to Voldemort as another person whose validation is hard to attain. This unhealthy desire for validation from the very people who are causing the feelings of pain and worthlessness is one of the hallmarks of an abusive and manipulative relationship.
I believe, however, that Lucius Malfoy does love Draco. We see this clearly in the moment during the Battle of Hogwarts when Lucius is trying to convince Voldemort to let him go back to the castle, which Voldemort correctly realizes is a desire to try to find Draco. By this point, however, it is too late. The reason that Draco is in the castle is because Lucius has set him on this path. Instead of leaving and going to safety, Draco feels the need to stay behind and try to thwart Harry in order to impress his father and Voldemort. I hope that in that moment Lucius realizes the mistakes he made in raising his son – and resolves to care for him more in the future.