Father’s Day at the library

Andi Cumbo raises a good topic for discussion for Father’s Day:

Maybe it’s just what I choose to read, but it seems to me that I’ve not read many books with father figures I just adore. Mothers, yes – Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, Lamott’s Operating Instructions, Mrs. Mularkey in Firefly Lane. Not perfect mothers, of course, but mothers I appreciate and respect.

For the life of me, on this Father’s Day, I’m really having trouble pulling up the books where father character’s shine. … Father figures crop up — like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. But good, solid fathers, those are rare I think.

The list of “good, solid fathers” in our stories has to begin, I think, with Atticus Finch.

That’s a good start, but Andi is right — after that it gets tricky.

Shakespeare provides a treasure trove of great characters, but if you’re looking for “good, solid fathers,” the Bard isn’t much help. I grew up on the stories of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Walt Disney, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg and they’re not much help either. Neither is Jane Austen.

There’s Jonathan Kent. And if we’re counting step-fathers, then also probably Jean Valjean. Umm, Charles Ingalls. And Cliff Huxtable, the archetypal sit-com dad.

Carson Drew, maybe (but definitely not Fenton Hardy). Arthur Weasley. George Bailey. Marlin from Finding Nemo.

More recently I suppose we could include Josiah Bartlett and Eric Taylor. Probably also a handful of the good people of Port William, Kentucky. Maybe “the man” from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Do vengeful dads count? Like Liam Neeson in Taken or Denzel in John Q?

What if we consider “the Bible as literature”? That doesn’t do much to add to our list. Joseph (if he doesn’t count as a repeat of Jonathan Kent). Jairus. And … well, let me think. I’m sure there are other “good, solid fathers” in the Bible, but just as with other books, plays and movies, it’s far easier to think of counter-examples than it is of candidates for this list.

We could speculate as to whether this tells us something about fathers or something about storytellers and stories, but let’s try to flesh out this list a bit more first. Who am I forgetting? Who else belongs on the list of “good, solid fathers” in literature?

 

  • Lori

     Andy Taylor got at least one mention. I don’t think Eric Taylor did though and he was a good dad and a good father figure.

  • devoroh

    It is so awesome to see someone bring up Eight Cousins! I read all of that series as a child but have never found anyone else who remembers them.  All of the other uncles in that series were good dads to their children also.

  • walden

    Easy Rawlins would fall into the good father category, I think.
    (Walter Mosely’s sometime detective hero)

  • http://profiles.google.com/anoncollie Anon Collie

    Fiction is easy: Kal Skirata, from Star Wars: Republic Commando series.

    He starts out in the series coming to Kamino, hired by Jango Fett to train Clone Commandos, and the first exposure to Kaminoians, he learns there going to kill off the first six clones ever made because they’re “uncontrollable.”

    The guy punches the Kaminoian president in the gut and then talks one of the six down from shooting the president, promising to protect them. We quickly learn the Kaminoians don’t really think the clone troopers need something as archaic as “love” and he wins the six uncontrollable kids over by just being a good dad.

    We’re talking about a man who adopts as many of the clones as his literal sons under Mandalorian Law because to the rest of the Republic they’re just squishy droids, worthy of no civil rights; he even helps out his own biological kids after they disowned him years before, because it’s the right thing to do.

    Later in the series (spoiler alert) he rips a Jedi apart with a lightsaber after they kill his daughter-in-law for trying to protect clone troopers after Order 66.

    Movies I’m going to go with Mr. Ping from the Kung Fu Panda series. We’re talking about a single guy who runs his own restaurant, happens on a baby panda and only with a moment’s hesitation, takes him in as his own son, despite the fact that Po is eating him out of house and home nearly every day. Hell, even Po’s biological father gets a mention for standing up the villain of 2 with a massive hammer and being severely outnumbered by the villains troopers.

  • Froborr d’Wiggy

    I would say Hohenheim does not qualify as a good father; he vanishes when his kids are in the single digits and doesn’t show up again for a decade. Sure, he has pretty good reasons, but you have to be a father in the first place to be a good father.

    That said, though we only get to see a single still shot of each of them, I think Ed and Al are going to make good fathers. And Maes Hughes is an *excellent* father. Odd bit of trivia: I’ve read that in Japan Hughes is seen as a mildly amusing, unremarkable minor character who mostly exists to further Mustang’s development, and the overwhelming love for him from American readers and viewers rather startled the author when she learned of it. I find this difficult to credit, given that just reading his name is enough to get me teary-eyed.

    Nthing Sisko, Stark, Ben Parker, Iroh, Hakoda, Tenzin, and Ping. I agree: Iroh is quite possibly *the* best dad in Western animation. The episode where he visits his son’s grave and sings to him… *sniffle*

  • Lunch Meat

    Both the father and grandfather in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

  • Jim from BC

     Yeah, I guess I knew I was reaching with Hohenheim. Even so the father-son scenes near the end with Ed where he offers to use his last bit of charge to bring Al back always get to me.
    For some reason I feel no discussion of fictional fathers would be complete without a mention of Gendo Ikari, just because he’s such an awesome epitome of a horrible father while being totally psychologically realistic and believable.

  • PJ Evans

    I can’t remember, offhand, if the e-book of “Cryoburn” was included on
    the CD released with the first hardcover printing of “Cryoburn.

    Just checked: it is. (I went out and bought Memory to go with the disk.)

  • Original Lee

     I think Charlie’s dad was probably not a very good one.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    Captain Jack Aubrey and Samuel Mputa (aka Sam Panda)  – from Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. Granted Jack isn’t even aware Sam exists for the first 20 years or so of his life, but as soon as he realises who Sam is, I think’s a very neat father-son relationship.

    Not quite fictional: James Herriot and his daughter. James Herriot was the pen name of Alf Wight, a Glasgow-born Yorkshire vet. His children don’t come into his lightly-fictionalised stories of pre-WWII Yorkshire Dales much, but he says once that his daughter was obviously as interested in his work as his son, but in those days being a vet was heavy, mucky, dangerous work with horses and cows – dogs and cats weren’t much a of business at all then. So, he says, he encouraged his daughter to become a doctor instead. I just love what that says about his attitude to his daughter…

    Ditto for Danny’s father in Roald Dahl’s The Champion of the World. Grandpa Joe and Mr Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, too.

    Bill Laird, the gay dad in The Beauty Queen, by Patricia Nell Warren – a solid citizen, and he and his (very homophobic) daughter do genuinely love each other, despite everything.

    There are several really nice fathers in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home, of which the most fully realised is Stone Telling’s Condor father.

    Bankole, in Parable of the Talents is clearly a really great dad. (Actually, though they have a contentious relationship, the narrator’s father in the prequel Parable of the Sower is a good, solid dad.) By Octavia E. Butler. Oh, also there are several good dads in her Xenogenesis trilogy. Most of them are Oankali, though.

  • Caroll

    Disney animated cannon? How about King Stefan from Sleeping Beauty?

  • http://profiles.google.com/cappadocius Ian Cunningham

    I haven’t had the opportunity to read all 161 comments, but this is the internet, so let’s dive in feet first:

    You cannot have a discussion of good fathers in fiction without mention of Charles Halloway from Something Wicked This Way Comes, who walks that tightrope between his son’s friend and his son’s caregiver with all the worry and love the task requires. He struggles with it, but he lets his son (AND his son’s friend who NEEDS a father) be a boy when Will needs to be, he helps his son be a man when Will needs to be, and he will do anything for his son(s). The world needs more Charles Halloways.

    Another good father is Robert Quimby of Beverly Cleary’s series of Ramona books. He has his share of flaws and he’s not superhumanly great like Cliff Huxtable or Josiah Bartlett, but he loves his daughters with all the love and frustration a father can manage.

  • http://twitter.com/HustonW Will

    Someone mentioned Dr. Cox from Scrubs, and I think JD and Turk were also good dads despite being really goofy.  They make it a point to show that these guys are good fathers no matter how childish they might be in all other aspects of their life.

  • Liralen

    My favorite fictonal father is the character played by George Segal in the movie “Carbon Copy”, a comedy about a man who loses his position in wealthy American society when he acknowledges the half-black son he never knew he had, played by a then unknown actor, Denzel Washington, who decides to visit his father after his mother’s death.  Although very flawed, George Segal’s character gains redemption as he tries to do right by his son, despite his own racism.
     
    I liked the comments here that realize that the lack of good fictional fathers is not because good fathers are rare, but rather, good fathers are capable of raising children whose lives are so drama free that their stories might be uninteresting.

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    I’m reminded of Mr Treet in Léon Garfield’s Devil-in-the-Fog. He’s flawed, and a the end George has to have it explained to him that the hero figure of his father that he’d built up isn’t actually true, but Mr Treet is a good father nonetheless. It’s a beautifully written historical YA novel.

    TRiG.

  • http://www.facebook.com/j.alex.harman John Alexander Harman

    I recently started watching the first season of Falling Skies; I think Tom Mason is about as good a father as any man could possibly be in the horrible situation in which he and his sons find themselves.

  • Joshua


    By Octavia E. Butler. Oh, also there are several good dads in her Xenogenesis trilogy. Most of them are Oankali, though.

    Really? Who?

    None of the father characters really stood out for me as fathers, or interesting characters, although it’s years since I read them. The Oankali-Human relationship strikes me as a metaphor for the European slave trader-African slave relationship, with African slavery in America being a theme that pervades just about all of her writing and all.

    So I doubt you’d be referring to the behaviour of any Oankali towards any human, even if they are polite. But I’m not quite sure to whom you are referring.

  • Joshua


    Raymond—universally beloved! 

    My hatred for Everybody loves Raymond burns with the fire of a thousand suns. I shall meet you at dawn. Choose your weapon etc etc.

    The worst part about him is that he continues to associate with his hideous mother. That’s a pretty unforgivable character flaw. If his wife is as sensible as she looks, why did she marry him?

  • Froborr

    Video game example: From Xenosaga, Jan Sauer/Ziggy. In his first life he’s an excellent dad to his stepson, and in his second he becomes a surrogate father to both Junior (even though Junior only *looks* like a kid, he never had a real dad, so…) and Momo.

  • Evan Hunt

    I’ve just remembered one: Chrestomanci.

  • Lori

     

    If his wife is as sensible as she looks, why did she marry him? 

    His wife is not sensible, she’s an idiot. The entire mess was her fault.
    They showed in a flashback that it was her idea to buy the house right
    across the street from his parents and brother. Raymond told her that it
    was a terrible idea, but she loved the house and insisted on having it.
    She then spent the next umpteen years being pissy because living across
    the street from the in-laws was as bad as Ray said it would be.

  • Joshua

    Right then. Never saw that episode. Good to know.

  • Lori

    Never saw that episode.  

    I wish I could say the same. Insomnia is a total PITA and I’ve seen more late night reruns of shows I can’t stand than I care to remember. Raymond was still annoying as hell, but yes indeed, the whole mess was Debra’s fault. The two of them deserved each other and his obnoxious family.

  • etv13

    Hapax, I think Gen’s father is a fine father to the adult Gen, but given what we know about Gen’s childhood, not so much then.  He wants to shoehorn Gen into a military career Gen isn’t suited for — is supremely unsuited for — and lets his own differences with Gen expose Gen to the lifethreatening hostility of his cousins, who all admire the Minister of War so much.

  • Mathbard

    Frank Randall, James Frasier, Roger Mackenzie, and Lord John Grey from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are all good fathers.

  • Spedwell

    Frank Gilbreth, in Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen.

  • phranckeaufile

    Ellie’s father in Contact.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Dick Van Dyke’s father in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    The father in Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy series.

    Harry Potter’s actual father (he was kind of a jerk to Snape, but he died trying to save his son from Voldemort).

    How did we miss the father and grandfather in The Waltons?

    Gary Cooper in The Friendly Persuasion.


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