In his lifetime, Harry Potter goes from the "Boy Who Lived" to the "Teen Who Killed Voldemort" to, in The Cursed Child, the "Adult Man Who Listens to a Psychic Half-Horse in the Woods Instead of His Own Son."
It's hard to top killing the most evil wizard on the planet—but man, how the mighty have fallen.
Harry Potter and his middle child, Albus Severus Potter, have issues. It's hard to tell what these issues are. They have issues because they can't articulate their issues…which only leads to more issues.
Before you know it, their relationship is a metaphorical episode of Hoarders…except with wobbling stacks of father-son tension instead of newspapers.
This exchange is what topples their teetering tower of issues:
HARRY (finally losing his temper): You know what? I'm done with being made responsible for your unhappiness. At least you've got a dad. Because I didn't, okay?
ALBUS: And you think that was unlucky? I don't.
HARRY: You wish me dead?
ALBUS: No! I just wish you weren't my dad.
HARRY (seeing red): Well, there are times I wish you weren't my son.
There's a silence. ALBUS nods. Pause. HARRY realizes what he's said.
HARRY: No, I didn't mean that.
ALBUS: Yes. You did. (1.7.30 – 1.7.46)
Ooof. But you know what they say: the truth hurts.
And this might be the first time Harry has spoken to the truth to Albus. He does wish Albus was more like his other son, James, or like Harry himself, or the way Harry imagines his own father was. Albus' reaction shows that he accepts the truth, as painful as it is.
But Harry turns around and basically slaps Albus with a lie when he says, "I didn't mean that." In that moment, he rebuilds the tower of issues, cementing them together with a healthy paste of denial.
Albus knows he can't break through his father's wall, so he takes another tactic: going back in time so that his dad won't have to build a wall.
Does Egypt have a Hogwarts Extension on da Nile? Because Harry should have spent a term abroad there.
Real-world explorers spent centuries searching for the source of the Nile. You could spend that long searching for the source of Harry's denial…but we think a lot of it is rooted in guilt.
Amos Diggory brings up his son Cedric's death to Harry, saying,
AMOS DIGGORY: How many people have died for the Boy Who Lived? I'm asking you to save one of them. (1.6.21)
Eighteen years later, Harry still grapples with this guilt of being born to a fate out of his control. And, probably as a result, he wants to deny all the bad things that have happened in his life. He tells Albus how wonderful Hogwarts is…while omitting all the times he almost got himself killed.
And he almost got killed a lot.
By ignoring the negative aspects of his past, Harry perpetuates his own image of a flawless, popular icon. And that makes it even harder for Albus to live up to his impossible standards. Plus, it's just rude that Harry can't sympathize with Albus.
After all, Albus didn't ask for his fate: having Harry Potter as a father.
It's a hard fate, especially since Harry doubles down on his bad parenting decisions for the majority of the play. He uses the Marauder's Map to turn his son's life into a monitored police state. He forbids Albus from associating with literally his only friend. It isn't until the end that Harry Potter finally admits he's been wrong.
At Cedric's grave, Harry tells Albus,
HARRY: I'm going to try with everything I've got—to be a good dad for you. (4.15.25)
But he's telling him this while standing by Cedric Diggory's grave. Harry is saying he'll move forward, but when he says this, he still has both feet in the past. Do you believe he'll take the steps to be a better dad? Or would it take an act of pure magic to make that happen?