his first act as a father was to apologize for not being there sooner.
Let me preface this by saying there’s not a single aspect of Neal and Henry’s relationship that I don’t love with every fiber of my being. It’s one of the most important relationships of the show for me, right next to Emma’s relationship with Henry. But I want to talk about this moment, their first real interaction– because much like the conversation Emma and Henry had in the pilot at his castle, this is the cornerstone the rest of their interactions built from. This is the first moment they get to connect.
At this point, presumably (because we didn’t see this happen and yes i’m still fucking mad about it), Neal doesn’t know Henry wasn’t raised by Emma. He doesn’t know that there was a point in time when Henry thought his birthparents didn’t want him. All the parallels that can easily drawn between Henry’s life and Baelfire’s from what we’d already seen in Desperate Souls and The Return– these aren’t things Neal knows. Neal doesn’t know yet to look at his son and feel fucking haunted by the past repeating itself. Neal just knows he’s looking at his son, his son who just expressed a desire to meet him. And I think that fuels everything for Neal for the literal rest of his life, honestly.
Neal’s first act as a father is to let his son know he wants to be there. He apologizes to Henry for not being in his life sooner– and Henry’s reply, of course, is that it’s okay, he didn’t know. And he didn’t. Neal’s not guilty of the same thing every parental figure he himself has ever had is guilty of– Neal’s never chosen something over his son. Neal has never abandoned his son. Neal didn’t know but fuck ok this is what gets me– to Neal, I don’t think it matters. I don’t think that the fact that he has a legitimate reason for not being in Henry’s life– not knowing he existed until five minutes ago– excuses Henry's experiences of growing up without him, to Neal. It might mean he’s not to blame for the fact that he wasn’t there, that it wasn’t by choice, but it doesn’t erase whatever Henry might be feeling about it, and it doesn’t erase that he missed over a decade of this kid’s life he would have wanted to be a part of.
So he apologizes to Henry, because no matter what Henry thought or experienced, he wasn’t there, and he’s truly sorry he wasn’t. This isn’t a “i’ve got to be better than my dad.” This is the beginning of a “i can’t let him grow up like i did,” but it’s not fully there yet, not like it will be when he knows how very close to his own experiences Henry’s life has been. This is I’m sorry that I don’t know you. I want to know you.
And he can’t know yet just exactly how much that means to Henry–Henry, who, I think, very much started this show with the hope that he can be loved and, by the point we’re at now, has gotten to the point where he knows he is loved by his moms, his grandparents, his dad, so many people. But he knows what it’s like to wonder if your parents care that you grew up and they weren’t there, he knows what it’s like to feel unwanted. And he’s not for a second going to let his kid think that he anything less than 100% wants to know him.
So basically A fucking + dad-ing idk it is late and i have been writing this for a long ass time i’ve lost the plot tl;dr neal fucking loves his kid that is all.
Neal Cassidy Is So Important: Nealfire Appreciation Week
August 10th - August 16th
8/10: why neal is important to the plot 8/11: a character neal is important to 8/12: an important thing that neal did for others 8/13: why neal is an important father 8/14: why neal is an important love interest 8/15: an important thing you learned from neal 8/16: why neal is important to you
For each day you can choose to make a graphic/gifset/video, write meta, or whatever else works for you! Feel free to use any of the reasons on this blog for inspiration, or whatever else you’d like!
But sure to tag each of your posts with
“But listen, I don’t own Emma, and she doesn’t owe me anything.” –Michael Raymond-James on Neal’s relationship with Emma in season 3.
What I love about this that it sets up Neal’s mindset and approach going forward with Emma– it clearly defines where he’s acknowledged where he’s messed up in that past, what he needs to do differently this time, and, most importantly imo, that this doesn’t entitle him to anything.
Neal is told by Emma in SSttR how much it hurt that he didn’t look for her. He tells Mulan that this is the greatest regret of his life, and that it happened because he was too scared of rejection. So going forward, he resolves to get back to her, to let her know that he loves her. to get to neverland and save their son and get his family out and support them the way he hasn’t gotten to do before. this is the moment that leads to “i’m going to get my family and go home” and “i’ll never stop fighting for you” and asking her to talk once they’re all safely home.
But it's also the moment we see him acknowledge that recognizing his mistakes and acting accordingly doesn’t entitle him to anything. “I need you, I love you” doesn’t mean we’re going to be together and live happily ever after. Neal knows he’s going to try to do right by her this time, but that it doesn’t mean she’s ready to try again– it doesn’t mean she ever will be.
And to me, that’s a massive point in Neal’s development as a character and in terms of Emma romantically. The idea that she’d never forgive him is one of his biggest fears. And the thing that fear does to him is fucked up, and it wasn’t fair to Emma, and he’s not going to let it dictate his actions. He’s not going into this expecting it to work out– he knows that he has to step up and be there, in whatever capacity she and their son need, because they all deserve better this time. Emma deserves to know that she is loved, and she deserves the right to say that’s not enough, and the right thing for Neal to do is to give her both those things.
What’s so important to me about how he’s portrayed as Emma’s “love interest” is this: He acknowledges his mistakes. He listens to what hurt her. He acts differently not to be something she wants or to entitle him to her love, but because he knows he fucked up and he knows he loves her and he can do better by that love. He knows that her loving him doesn’t mean shit until she says it does/if she ever says it does. It’s respectful and layered and character growth and portrayed in a deeply human way and idk where I’m going with this sentence, but I love it.
Neal Cassidy Is So Important: Nealfire Appreciation Week
8/10: why neal is important to the plot
“After he left, I dedicated myself to finding him. I went down many, many paths, until I found a curse that could take me to the land where he’d escaped.”
“You’re my happy ending. This is.”
Neal is literally the beginning and the ending of the show. Rumple is the architect that caused all of the events of the series to unfold. He created the curse to find his son, and he defines the ending of his story, his redemption, as atoning for his many mistakes and being worthy of his son’s forgiveness.
There are so many things I could say about this, but I want to keep it (mostly) positive. Suffice it to say that killing Neal completely undermines the integrity of the premise of the entire series.
I’m trying to make the post about why Neal is important to me for the last day (yes, I’m more important than all those fictional characters in the previous days, deal with it ;-) hesaiditsallinmyhead might say modest is also not my middle name). I realize Neal’s has more good qualities than bad. I guess it’s good that Tumblr only allows for maximum 10 GIFs. (I guess also need ninja-GIF-making-skill which I’m not good at.)
Hey everyone! Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who participated in Neal Appreciation Week– you all made some really lovely things, and it’s so nice seeing such love for this character! We’ve set up a queue for your posts, so if you haven’t seen yours reblogged yet, it will be over the next couple of weeks!
And just a reminder, because I know a few people have asked me about posting late– you can absolutely still participate even though the week is technically over! Just be sure to tag your posts with #nealfireappreciation so we can see them!