Sym's dad, Larry Wates, died some time before the events in The White Darkness. Though we only see glimpses of his demise, it's clear it was not a good death. "Mum and I got quite tolerant of Dad and his fists toward the end" (11.39), says Sym, who recalls "Dad drinking his way through the Christmas wine, the chocolate liqueurs, the cider vinegar. Trying to drown the rats he said were nesting in his skull" (10.39). Yikes. In the months leading up to his death, Larry was violent, confused, and scared. And so was Sym—well, confused and scared, at least.
Larry Wates's absence shapes Sym as much or more than characters present in the book. In many ways, the book is about Sym trying to work through her feelings about his death. Much of what she thinks she knows about him has been filtered through Victor, who tells Sym that her father never liked her. (How rude.) Sym believes Victor, in part because it helps her distance herself from her difficult feelings. Eventually, though, she realizes her father loved her after all; in fact, he died trying to protect her.
With Sym, we slowly piece together Larry's mysterious past. Like Uncle Victor, he was at one point a believer in Symmes's Hole, but after a trip to Iceland, Larry decided he needed to refocus his energy on his work and his family. Furious, Victor murdered him slowly (and painfully) with poisonous teabags.