Okay, you’re all starving for Grif content, apparently, so here we go.
The first info we get about the Grif family comes, naturally, with Kai’s introduction:
“Well, you always looked after me when Mom ran away to join the circus.”
Boom. Here came the circus backstory, and the hint that Grif’s childhood wasn’t exactly functional.
In s13 we got Doc’s severe burn:
“And I’m Dexter Grif! Reporting for duty. Oh, wait, never mind! I forgot that I’m a worthless sack of human excrement, that wouldn’t be caught dead following orders, because I’m too busy wishing my parents loved me as much as my sister, hahaha! Maybe if I had a stable father figure growing up I wouldn’t be so opposed to order, but I guess that’s just what happens when your mother turns tricks behind the elephant cages at the circus, hahahaha! Here Dex, have some more cotton candy!”
Adding on the circus backstory, we were now given new info: Kaikaina was the favored child, and Grif, despite his usual apathetic demeanor, was deeply affected by this.
For a long time, that was the info we had. There was Schrödinger’s draft (that season 17 then canceled completely, holy shit) which could easily be added to the canon angst of Grif’s childhood.
Now comes the more exciting parts.
At the beginning of season 16, Kai says this to Grif:
“You should really stick with what you’re good at, big bro: not calling Mom, and sucking the cheese out of mozzarella sticks.”
And I remember doing a doubletake at the mention of their mom. A part of me just always figured that she disappeared with the circus, but this suggested she stayed in touch – not only that, but she remained close with Kai.
Grif’s distance to their mom is once again noted. Kai’s comment, however, can be read in different manners. Either Kai is talking about the present – meaning she still has contact with their mom, while Grif continues to ignore her. Or it could be a throwback to when Grif moved to go to college and then failed to reach out to their mom. Once again, this highlights a relationship between Kai and their mom with Grif out of the picture.
Skipping ahead to s17, we get the not-a-draft reveal, but also some more details about the Grif family situation:
Grif: “All my memories were in there! Fuck, Kai! Where’s mom living?!”
Kai: “The trailer park…?”
So this suggests that despite the circus thing, their mom remained in their lives, perhaps even returning to stay with Kai until the fire. Whereas before it’d been popular to believe she just left and Grif took over to watch over Kai, it seems that this was only a temporary period.
Kai, despite mentioning how important Grif was to her in their mom’s absence, never seems to harvest that many negative emotions towards their mom. She stayed with her, kept in contact. It was Grif who pulled away, and this could be read (which leads to the forever unanswered question – just how much depth are we supposed to look for in a comedy show about colorful space marines?) as Grif refusing to forgive her for this abandonment.
This all leads to Grif admitting that he left his family on purpose.
“No. No, I needed more structure than a bearded mom and… school can give me. So I enlisted. I… I ran away.”
He mentions their mom as a direct reason to join the army. The resentment Grif has for their mom is nothing new, and I know I’m just repeating stuff you already know, but it’s that “not calling Mom” comment that keeps haunting me.
Mama Grif might still be out there. Kai might be in contact with her. But it’s been Grif’s direct decision to not stay in contact with her – by not calling her, by practically fleeing Earth to get away.
Despite Kai and Grif’s closeness, they do not agree on this. It’s not a cause of an argument, it’s not something they directly talk about, but everything suggests that Kai still has a relationship with a parent that Grif gave up on. Kai might not be aware of Grif’s resentment, he might not have brought it up. It’s a sore spot, even more sore now when it’s been revealed that Grif’s feelings towards their mom led to him not just leaving her, but Kai as well. That was a consequence of the distance Grif needed to put between himself and their mom.
Coming back to Doc’s comment, I hardly think Grif wants to blame Kai for staying in contact with their mom, because Grif could never have the relationship she had with their mom. Kai was the favorite child. Grif was not. Grif was left with a responsibility he did not deserve nor want because their mom failed to be a responsible parent. Grif was hurt, and as a result, he left and eventually turned towards apathy to get comfortable in his new role. Kai cannot let go of their mom because she was loved, and she might not understand why Grif pulled away if she isn’t aware of Grif’s jealousy towards her role, and if she wasn’t old enough to properly understand the consequences of their mom’s neglect.
It’s quite ironic, looking at s15, that Grif once again leaves a family because he did not feel appreciated.
And despite all this, one of Grif’s most well-known traits is not apathy – it’s loyalty.