While I was researching novels for a library display celebrating literary fathers, I noticed many blogs have dedicated space to fathers who were not so deserving of their children’s affection.
A father may be biologically linked to his offspring but growing up with an absentee father, I have always been of the mind that a man has to earn the name Dad by actually showing up in their day to day lives, knowing their favorite foods, helping them with their homework, or other such knowledge of the minutiae of their kids’ lives. I wanted to make a more precise list to celebrate these fathers who have earned the Dad title.
1. This is my personal favorite and an incredibly biased pick as he hails from my personal favorite novel of all time…Mr. March from Little Women! Mr. March was absent for a good portion of the novel, but for a very good reason. He was a chaplain during the Civil War, serving his countrymen and the Union at the expense of being separated from his obviously well-loved daughters and wife. Again, here is where my own bias becomes obvious as I am currently dealing with a similar type of separation from my own husband and the father of my daughter, who is deployed overseas. Dealing with this deployment I have fostered a deeper appreciation of Mr. March and his service, as my husband struggles greatly with being away from our daughter despite the convenience of modern technology and the amazing USO United Through Reading program! Military Dads FTW! Mr. March comes home and falls back into the role of March patriarch fairly easily compared to the struggles I have been warned of during the reintegration period following a military deployment. He demonstrates a quiet strength of character and ease of affection with his children that is enviable to the best parent.
2. My personal second favorite literary Dad probably shows my age a bit, but he was a well-loved figure both on the page and on TV, Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie both from the book series and the television series of the same title that ran for nearly a decade from the mid 70’s to mid 80’s (I caught the syndicated reruns as a child). Pa Ingalls on the small screen treated us to many heartwarming and amusing afternoons as he dealt with the headstrong antics of the titular character of his daughter, Laura Ingalls played by the near legendary Melissa Gilbert. In the book, Pa Ingalls was the adventurous provider of the Ingalls family, moving his family around frequently as they explored the West.
(Michael Langdon as Pa Ingalls and Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary Ingalls from the TV series Little House on the Prairie)
3. Further removed from the main character of the book he is featured in, Arthur Weasley, better known as Mr. Weasley to the main character of the Harry Potter series, was an exemplary father. The patriarch (though by no means the head of the household, that honor is without question held by Molly Weasley) Mr. Weasley was the calm balance to his wife’s sometimes overbearing mother hen personality and sometimes equal instigator in the hi-jinks of his many children (see: his reaction to George, Fred, and Ron’s grand theft auto misadventure in rescuing Harry from his room at No. 4 Privet Drive in Harry Potter #2: Chamber of Secrets). Mr. Weasley quickly becomes prominent in Harry’s life as a father figure and gleefully picks his mind frequently as to the function of many Muggle inventions. When Mr. Weasley is grievously injured in Harry Potter #5: Order of the Phoenix his importance to his family and Harry is cemented in the series. Mr. Weasley continues his role as Harry’s surrogate father through the rest of the series, especially after the death of Sirius Black, whom Harry learns is his godfather.
4. Larger than life characters always draw me in and I feel like THE larger than life father figure, though granted slightly absentee, is Edward Bloom from Big Fish. This character resonates with me not only because I love this fable/fairy tale storytelling style but because my grandfather who was much more prominent in my life than my biological father, told many tall tales himself and Edward Bloom in many ways reminds me of my grandfather and his penchant for storytelling though the stories were obviously fabricated or at least embellished. I think this idea of the tall tales telling patriarch resonates with many people and his stories have earned him a spot on my list of fathers who earn the title Dad, if nothing else because he wanted to amuse and impress his son.
5. The long-suffering father archetype (which I think we can lump Mr. Weasley into as well) is no doubt headed by a one, Mr. Bennett, the father of five daughters with very little inheritance in a time when those things determined marriage prospects, and thus his daughters’ livelihood (ability to survive or at least thrive) after his death and a wife prone to hysterics and “nerves.” Besides his exposure to excessive estrogen, Mr. Bennett has to endure his cousin, an entitled Mr. Collins who stands to inherit Mr. Bennett’s estate instead of his exhausting but well-loved daughters. Mr. Bennett primarily makes this list because of one scene. Though Mr. Collins stands to inherit everything substantial, Elizabeth, Mr. Bennett’s favorite daughter, refuses to marry him. Confronted by Mrs. Bennett in a nervous fit, Mr. Bennett supports Elizabeth’s decision. I think this may be a little controversial among those who would examine the problem in context of the time period, it does make common sense for the time for the cousins to marry to protect Mr. Bennett’s daughters’ interests. But this is fiction, we know a happy ending is coming, and Mr. Bennett agreeing with Elizabeth over his wife and even the social norms of his day facilitates that happy ending. Total Dad move and I approve.
6. This number is dedicated to a Dad duo in the most unconventional sense. From The Jungle Book two figures stand out as father type figures to the orphaned Mowgli, Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear. Bagheera is the overly cautious fathering figure, while Baloo is the carefree Papa type. Both are important to Mowgli’s development through the story and both demonstrate an emotional interest in Mowgli’s upbringing and welfare. I don’t think these characters get their due as Dads as they are beasts rather than humans parenting a human child. The wolf pack who takes Mowgli in as a baby are also due a lot of credit in parenting Mowgli, though they are not quite as endearing to the reader as Baloo and Bagheera.
7. Anyone who grew up in a low income household probably has some memory of a parent working at a job they hated to make ends meet. Such is the suffering of Bob Cratchit from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Bob Cratchit works for the surly, mistletoe-hating Ebenezer Scrooge who severely underpays him and obviously is very reluctant to let him take Christmas Day off for a holiday. Later in the story we learn that Bob Cratchit has a very ill son referred to heartrendingly as Tiny Tim along with five or so other children whom he supports on his meager wage. Despite his frustrating employment, Bob Cratchit retains his holiday spirit and kindles that same spirit even in the soul of his sickly child whose future is potentially bleak. Cratchit’s story of familial sacrifice is one which contributes to Scrooge’s change of heart and which solidifies his role as a #1 Dad in any century.
8. Finally, the list is apparently not complete without mentioning the seemingly most popular literary Dad of all time (at least according to literally every single list I looked at while researching this topic), Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is an attorney in pre-Civil Rights Act of 1964 South, a widower, and the solo parent of Jem and the novel’s narrator, Scout. The novel deals with serious issues about race but also depicts a caring father attempting to fill the role of both father and mother to his young children. This is a role many parents relate to and many children deal with. Growing up with a single mother and absentee father, my mother often tried to fill both the role of mother and father, an incredibly difficult and sometimes contradictory intention. While he isn’t my favorite literary Dad of all time, Atticus Finch lands the final spot on my list of father’s who have earned the name Dad through his tireless work in defending Tom Robinson, committed to his moral imperative to uphold justice though justice is not served in the conventional way, and solo parenting his two children.
(Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the 1962 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird with Mary Badham and Phillip Alford)
What literary fathers would you add to this list? Remove? My picks are largely not modern, there are many fathers in recent novels that no doubt have earned their #1 Dad mugs as well. Drop their names and the book titles in the comments!
Happy Father’s Day to all Dads, real and fictional!