Where Have All the Good Dads Gone?

For all of you living in a hole, Sunday is Father’s Day. Along with thoughts of ties and drills, I’m  thinking about books and characters. I can’t help it. Authors do these things. I'm also contemplating fathers in literature. Well, not just any dads, good dads. What I've realized is . . . they’re hard to find. I’m not sure if that’s because we are modeling our stories after society or because we’re writing what is trendy? After all, if the child has to become the hero, her parents must be dead, dying or delinquent. My question is, does it REALLY have to be this way? Can't we have some heroic fathers, too. There must be some fabulous father figures out there?

Maybe you can help me! Do you have a favorite book with a cool dad? If so, I’d like to add him to my list. In the mean time, here are a few that feel destined to be on most people’s list of The Top Ten Dads in Stories. See if you agree.     

 Heroic Dad: The actor who plays Brick on the television show The Middle is named Atticus. My guess is he’s named after Atticus Finch who, in my estimation, has to be THE best dad anyone could have. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout observes her father at home and in the court room and, while he is human and has his faults (maybe?), he is an EPIC dad in every sense of the word. Hats off to Atticus, and to Harper Lee who created such a great character.

2.      Secure Dad Yes, these days fathers seem to come and go, but not Pa Ingalls As described by his daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House series, Pa was the kind of father whom you could count on. He may have been a “country” man, but he was intelligent and brave and humorous. And while he kept his family safe in the wildness, he allowed his Half-Pint, Laura, to explore her world and to use her talents outside of the home.   

      Foster Dad: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is up there as one of my Top Ten All-Time Favorite books, in great part because of its father figure, Hans Hubermann. In the midst of World War II and dire circumstances, Hans takes the moral high road again and again, despite the personal threat to his life by the Nazis. Through his actions, 13-year old Liesel, his foster daughter, learns to stand up for injustice herself. And, like the narrator Death, the reader comes away loving her for it.

      A Modern Day in a Classic World: Mr. Bennett is father to Jane, Lizzy, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. In many ways, he is a classic Victorian father. He doesn’t want to meddle in the everyday decisions of the family. He leaves those things up to his wife. However, when Lizzy is about to make the mistake of her life by marrying a dud like Mr. Collins in order to save her family from financial ruin, Mr. Bennett pulls through. In his words, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.

      Inventor Dad:  In The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo is inspired by his father, even though he is deceased. As with so many stories, there are characters who give the protagonist the will to persevere and they do so from the grave. It is the memory of his father that keeps Hugo tinkering with the automation, and it is the skills that his father gave him that help Hugo succeed. Along the way, Hugo discovers a new father in Georges Méliès, who begins to offer his love to the orphan when he needs it most .

      Caring Dad: Even before our own economic struggles, Ramona Quimby’s father had a few of his own. In Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary, Robert Quimby, aka Bob, has lost his job and Ramona’s mother must go back to work. Certainly Cleary was ahead of her time in many ways with this theme, but Mr. Mom Quimby enjoys spending time with his daughters, even though they always give him a run for his money.
      Well-Meaning Dad, But…: I have to include one father who barely makes the list. Paine Underwood is the father of Noah in Flush by Carl Hiaason. When the story opens, Noah is visiting his dad in jail on, you guessed it, Father’s Day. Paine is as far removed from Atticus Finch as you can get and yet, he is in jail for trying to do the right thing. He wants to stop his former boss, Dusty Muleman, from dumping waste from the Coral Queen’s holding tanks into the water at night. Initially, Noah is anything but pleased with his father’s actions. That’s until he uncovers his father’s true motivations—that he’s trying to save his family and the environment, It’s by following in his father’s footsteps that Noah saves the day.

         Timeless Dad:  Mr. Murry in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, is another father who has disappeared. While his daughter is considered a misfit in many peoples’ eyes, Mr. Murry has faith in Meg, knowing it will be her intelligence that will rescue him from It, a giant disembodied brain, on the planet Camazotz.

      Loveable Dad: Trixie’s dad in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems might be mistaken for a pair of legs and nothing more…and yet, he is a truly loveable father. Most likely, he is the one who has played a role in the loss of Trixie’s beloved bunny, but he is also the dad who will do anything to get that bunny back.

      Movie Dad: Yes, Life is Beautiful is a story as well, but most of remember Guido onscreen. He is the father of Joshua and is portrayed by Roberto Bernini. At first he is a fun, lovable guy who is known for his silly displays and sweet charm. As life grows more horrific for father and son in a Nazi death camp, Guido continues to preserve his  son’s spirit, protecting him by making fun of the evil monsters surrounding them.