Of course, keeping John in the dark so as to avoid his coming along and probably undermining her is not the only agenda Elly is serving. She also doesn't want the kids to really think of John as being much like them because knowing more about him than she does might force her to confront the terrible idea that it's okay to have a past without her in it. You start doing something like that and next thing you know, Georgia's mother is planning her wedding and Liz is marrying someone she isn't familiar with. It's worth it to keep the kids from seeing John as being more than a reproving moron who says no and utters threats to children he doesn't actually know if it keeps him from actually getting to know his kids and putting paid to her own daffier behaviour.
What we should note is that it also serves his own agenda as keeping him from interacting with the kids when it's not fun keeps him from having to confront a problem that's hampered him all of his life: the fact that he's a terrible judge of character who takes years to see past surface impressions or through psychological defense mechanisms. As by way of example, Elly pegged Doctor Ted as a momma's boy the second she laid eyes on him. Anyone with a functioning brain would. It took John thirty years to come up with this chunk of the blazingly obvious:
His mom had finally passed away. I'd never seen him so humble. There was always a jaunty arrogance about him, but he was depressed, overwhelmed and in need. I had no idea he considered me one of his closest friends. He wanted to talk, so I put down what I was doing and listened. At the age of 54, the loss of his mother has left Dr. Ted McCauley feeling alone - orphaned. He's always had his mom to cook for him, do his laundry - even change his bed! For a man who outwardly acts like a playboy (and was even married for a while) he's just been a boy who lived with his mother.
because of the same factor that makes him think that real court trials should be like what he sees on Law & Order: a lack of patience with actually having to figure things out for himself when making a snap judgment that saves him time is so much easier. This tendency to breeze through life not really knowing who the people around him are costs him too damned much and makes him a worse, stupider person than he should be.
Before we begin, I'd like to point out that I am not letting John off the hook for being a dimwitted, ignorant petty tyrant with entitlement issues when I explain what's going on in his house. After all, his stupid comment along the lines of:
All I can do is withdraw mentally a bit from the whole scene, become an observer, and try not to have any feelings about the situation.
tells us that he actively doesn't want to understand the people around him because it musses up his mind and forces him to deal with a quite appalling contradiction between what he wants to believe and what's actually real. Believing in what's actually real might mean that one of the real things is "The reason Lizzie used to feel alienated as a child is that whenever she felt low, her stupid jackass of a father used to trivialize her feelings because he was using her as an emotional crutch like the stupid motherfrakker he is" and since he doesn't want to know about problems that have the solution of him not acting like an oozing sack of pus, he retreats to his shed so that he doesn't have to be the one absorbing lectures about how he's got it sweet.
It so happens that this serves Elly's purposes to a t. When we have to endure crap from him like this:
Our teenager has been feeling alienated, and I don't think we knew the extent of her angst - we thought she was just grumpy about moving, but we didn't realize how unpleasant it was to stay in the rec room and how she had ended up in the position of babysitting the little ones so often. She and Elly had a good talk before April left for the farm, and over the month that April was gone, Elly realized that she really does need more attention - she's plucky, and we don't always remember that she is still a kid, with feelings that get easily hurt.
the better part of a year after it should have been obvious to anyone with a functioning brain, something else becomes obvious: Elly wants to play good cop, bad cop with her as the good cop. John has no idea what really goes on in his house and still doesn't know quite WHAT April said to set Elly off during the "I've had it with motherhood" incident because Elly doesn't want him to do so. If he knew what his children really say or do, one of the feelings that he might have is that his wife is still the same crazy idiot with resentment issues that he had to back up when he didn't want to. If that means that he comes across as a buffoon thinking that he's got April fooled about a move he'd rather not talk about, he's going to have to face being thought of as a lying sack of bastard who thinks of his children as imbeciles.
Now, to get back to this irritating need John has of doing people favours that they don't want, I should think that most of what propelled his desire to expose Liz and April to feeling bored, confused and unwanted as he bombed through the Prairies visiting old friends and relatives and cleverly avoiding pointless wastes of time that weaker people call "somewhere a thirteen year old kid might actually want to be" is that he thought he was helping her by teaching her the family history. Since he's stupid as crap and refuses to understand how children think because it would probably make him the bad guy most of the time, he sat around wondering WHY she was so ungrateful that she did nothing but complain about feeling like an awkward fool being castigated and called dumb for not identifying with a past before she existed.
What she didn't know is that she had an unspoken ally in Elly. Since Elly is nothing if not self-directed, her own lack of curiosity as to John's family history has a lot in common with Liz's hatred of visiting older relatives and feeling like an outsider because she can't relate to their shared stories. Simply put, Elly doesn't actually want to know about a past that doesn't have her in it. After all, if there is ONE Patsy O'Connor to compare her to, there could be a bunch and one of them might have smelled right and that would make her own life not what anyone needs and that would be awful. The only reason she never said anything to John's face is the same reason she didn't put a stop to this "CHEE!!! I didn't know that I'd raised a PRINCESS!!" bullshit right the Hell off: her need to keep John in the dark as to what's going on until it's too late for his image to be salvaged.
So far, we've seen John haunting Canadian Tire like a ghost and bemoaning the cruel fate that landed him with a wife with a baffling desire to get things that make him uncomfortable and anxious when it would be so much simpler for her to give up this odd love for nice clothes and jewelry for something practical like a really nifty set of SAE wrenches because he was raised to have trouble understanding that not everyone's tastes are his own. We've also seen him lash out in a blind rage when his lunk-headed authoritarianism is questioned to the least degree owing to it being instilled in him that the values of the 1930s were eternal and unquestionable. What we don't get to really understand is how it was that someone with a certain proficiency at mindless mechanical labour was so lousy at school.
We do get some clue when he confides that he too had to work like a piston to get passing grades coming up. We get even more of a clue when he smirkingly dismisses Mike's life work as spending his whole life writing essays and when he wonders why they spent so much time deciding whether Howard ERK was guilty. As I've said before, this is a man who likes yes or no answers and doesn't like to spend a lot of time thinking lest he muss up his mind with opinions contrary to his preconceptions. While that is a lot of what's wrong with him, what we do see on the rare occasions when he's lost in thought is a man tripping over his own mental feet. When you ask him a simple question, he's fairly clever. When you ask him to explain why he thinks that way, he trips over himself and gets lousy grades.
It's not bad enough that John is the sort of dope who assumes that he's being this big generous guy when he gives people things they don't want or need only to turn around and mope about the cruelty of, say, Elly not thinking that a set of torque wrenches is a wonderful gift without the annoying tendency to put everything and everyone in a place that they don't really want to go. We're a short while away from his being outraged that Elly is controlling where they dance because she's not supposed to do that. Given his paranoia, he obviously confuses her being a tangle-footed clodhopper who doesn't know what she's doing with her trying to dictate to him or some crap. This leaves us with an annoying problem: a man who claims to see the simple answers to life's problems totally ignoring said easy answers owing to his need to keep the totem pole in its 'correct' order.
Not only does this make him a shitty husband who subjected his wife to years of torment and self-loathing because he wouldn't see that she saw her 'cozy, happy nest' as a gulag, it made him a shitty dad who could never wrap his head around the idea of children not plotting to destroy him. The best example is him going full-bore loonie because he thought (and probably still thinks) that Mike's story about missing an exit because he wasn't paying attention was a self-serving lie meant to defend him against rightful punishment for trying to usher in an era of chaos. The reason for this sort of stupidity has never really been explained because of the need to present him as a baffling freak who just barges in and starts complaining about his car and his home. The most plausible one is that someone (okay, two someones) did to him what he's doing to Mike: filling his head with the idea that he should dominate the proceedings and that wives and children obey daddies because Nature somehow made things that way. While most of us these days behold John and think of him as the sort of nitwit who might actually believe that Life is a Disney nature film that turns an unemployed wild animal into a Goldwater supporter, he's actually akin to Cliff Clavin. Like Cliff, John thinks that he's the wingnut that holds his family together. In reality,...he's just a wingnut.
To continue merrily on with my theory that understanding John makes him a better foi is that the irritating thing about his less appealing acts is that when he does them, he actually seems to believe that he's doing the victim of his aggression a great big favour. The template for this is his steadfast refusal to consider letting Elly work out of the home. While he couldn't help being a lot self-serving, he honestly thought that he was being this great guy protecting his poor wife from the cruel, cruel labour force and providing her a safe, happy alcove that would take no time to clean and so on and so forth. His need to think that he was married to a very different woman and his belief that hormones were what made her see the place as a jail were what kept him from admitting why she wanted to shove his generosity up his ass. To do that would be admitting that no, Elly isn't crazy and wrong to not want a damned socket set for Christmas just because HE thinks it would be a great gift.
This need of his to think that giving someone else a gift he would like is the height of generosity also seems to be why it is that he sent his kids to Exile Farm. While Elly was trying to step on relationships, John seems to have wanted to be a farmhand by proxy by sending his kids to a swell farm filled with sensible people who knew what was up and so on and so forth. Hell, he even made April move to the Tiny Train House because he thought it would be great for her to live in the smaller space he liked because it would save Elly some time cleaning. Hmm. I wonder if John has ever heard of Parkinson's Law. Probably not because if we were to see them right now, he'd be baffled that despite downsizing, Elly still spends most of her time busily cleaning because he doesn't realize that she'd spent most of her day doing chores if they lived in a linen closet.