Throughout the memoir, Dad reveals himself to be both a creative eccentric and a manipulative abuser. Dad has such a vivid presence in part because of the heroic persona he cultivates. Dad makes himself the center of every bedtime story, presenting himself as a storybook hero to his children instead of allowing them to admire fictional characters. His anger at Mom’s disruption of these stories, then, reveals his deep reliance on his children’s worship. Unfortunately, his desire for admiration also manifests as a need for control, leading to the physical and emotional abuse he inflicts on Mom, particularly when he drinks. As Dad’s alcoholism worsens, the Walls family loses not only his income but his optimism. Throughout Jeannette’s childhood, Dad created hope for the family by promising to build them the titular Glass Castle. By their first winter in Welch, Dad allows the foundation his children dig for the castle to fill with garbage, showing an unwillingness to even pretend to work toward a better life for his family.
While Dad appears to truly love Jeannette, he lacks the emotional tools to provide for her or support her as a parent. We can attribute some of Dad’s shortcomings to the abuse he suffered as a child in Welch. Jeannette deduces that Erma likely molested Dad as a child, leading to his anger at Brian for suffering the same fate. Erma’s disinterest in her grandchildren and anger toward the world suggest that Dad may have had a loveless childhood as the unjust target of Erma’s rage. This revelation could explain his adulthood need for admiration and refusal to take responsibility. Therefore, Dad grew up with no role models for how to be a loving parent or how to show love in a healthy way. Toward the end of his life, Dad attempts reconciliation with Jeannette. He contributes to her college tuition, saving her from dropping out of school and providing for her like a parent. He also shows interest in her journalism career and tries to help with stories, partially recreating their bond. Though he never reaches hero-level status again in Jeannette’s eyes, before his death Jeannette decides that he loved her in his own way.