Looking for the Great Dads in Literature – The Sunday Salon

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.

My dad. He shaved his head and beard last week to support me. (Photo by David Stemple)

For the life of me, on this Father’s Day, I’m really having trouble pulling up the books where father character’s shine. James Baldwin does discuss his father in “Notes from a Native Son,” but his dad isn’t really present in that essay. Father figures crop up – like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. But good, solid fathers those are rare I think.

I could philosophize about why that might be – disregard for the father, the epidemic of absent fathers in our culture, etc – but I don’t really want to do that because, as I said before, it could simply be my choice of reading that gives me this impression.

I can say this, though – I’d really like to read a great dad in a book. Given that I have the world’s greatest father, this feat will require superb writing ability and, dare I say it, familiarity with a great dad. But I know many of those – my friends and my friends’ husbands, men I go to church with, and men I’ve just men on life’s path, men who have biological children, men who have adopted children, men who don’t have any children at all. So writers, you have models – I can’t wait to see the fathers you write.

In the meantime, can you recommend some great books that include great fathers? I know they must be out there, right?

  • Jen

    Hands down, Mr. Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Imperfect, tolerant, kind, generous, supportive. When he made mistakes, owned up to them (per the young idiot daughter who runs off and marries the scoundrel). When he insists that Elizabeth either make her mother happy or her father happy, it is clear he is putting his daughter’s happiness above all. I love Mr. Bennett.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Great one, Jen. I love Mr. Bennett because he screws up but only because he loves so hard.

  • http://blog.writeathome.com Brian

    Heck yes! I am a dad myself and have great literary dads I aspire to emulate. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

    1. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
    2. Jeremiah Land, Peace Like a River
    3. Thomas Schell, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
    4. Caspar Ten Boom, The Hiding Place
    5. Geppetto, Pinnochio
    6. Pa Ingals, Little House Series

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      What a great list, Brian. I haven’t yet read Peace Like a River or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close . . . but I will now.

  • http://blog.writeathome.com Brian

    Two more!

    7. Mr. Pegotty, David Copperfield (technically, an uncle/adoptive father, but awesome)
    8. Mr. March, Little Women

  • http://blog.writeathome.com Brian

    Let’s round out my top ten:

    9. Matthew Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables
    10. Jean Valjean, Les Miserables

    This was fun, thanks!

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Oh, Valjean!! YES!. Love all 10.

  • http://wanderinginthestacks.blogspot.com MJ

    Oooh, great food for thought.

    The first to come to mind was Hans Hubberman in The Book Thief. Certainly not perfect, but a basically good guy.

    I recently read “Miral” by Rula Jebreal. The father in that book was good guy – maybe not the most developed character ever, maybe not the best book ever, but a loving, tolerant father.

    “City of Thieves” by David Benioff may qualify. The book itself is framed by a grandson who wants to honor his grandfather, and so tells his story. Of course, the “grandfather” is a teenager for much of the book, but you can see how he grew up to be the man that inspired his grandson.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Good ones all around. I hadn’t thought of The Book Thief in this light, but yep, he’s perfect. I’ll have to get hold of the Jebreal and Benioff. Thanks for those recs.

  • Robert

    What about Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”? Sure he’s a mob boss and kind of a bad guy but everything he does shows that he cares first and foremost for his family. The whole thing is essentially Michael Corleone’s coming-of-age story and finding his place in the family business which he is only able to do because of the guidance of the example set by his father.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      Definitely an interesting choice, Robert. I love it.

  • http://www.waterdogjournal.com Ken G

    As a good dad, I think, we are boring and don’t make for good literature. We love our kids, treat them with the respect they deserve, let them live their lives, spend as much time as we possibly can with them doing horribly boring things and pick them up when they fall down.

    No beatings, verbal abuse, molestation, alcoholism, drug addiction and on and on. What’s there to write about?

    We’re strong, kind, caring… but dull. I like it that way and my two daughters seem to appreciate it. I imagine a story about me some day might take up a page or two and that’s with struggling to add an interesting anecdote or two.

    • http://www.andilit.com Andi

      I think you may be on to something there, Ken, although I must say it’s sad that we don’t find a way to capture the depth and complexity of solid, fatherly love. That’s sort of a tragedy, I think.

  • CoolHandlNC

    In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg is very much her father’s daughter. The whole book is her quest to find him and bring him home. The series are children’s books and are about the children, so the father is not a central character, but neither is he unimportant, invisible, or goofy. Rather, he is a source of strength and wisdom. Part of the initial dynamic between Meg and Calvin is that she has lost the father she loves, while he is looking for a father who will love him. Despite his background as a neglected child, Calvin becomes a good father himself, no doubt on the model of his father-in-law, and a role distinctly related to being a good husband.
    I would definitely put L’Engle’s Kairos/Chronos books in the ‘plus’ column for solid fathers. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but these books might have had an influence on my view of the role of father and husband. In these books, the husband and wife are equals. She is enhanced, not diminished, and he is not threatened. The father encourages his daughter to recognize her intelligence, strength, value and, in the deepest sense, beauty.

  • Shannon M. Howell

    It takes a looooong time to get there, but there’s a good (so far, the series isn’t done yet) father-figure in a grandfather (close enough?) in the Dresden Files series.