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Dads in Literature: The Best and Worst for This Father’s Day

by Paul Combs about a month ago in parents

Some You Should Emulate, Others Not So Much

Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

There is no shortage of dads in literary works, unlike the surprising shortage of moms which I discussed in my literary moms post on Mother’s Day. As in life, some of these fathers are amazing and some should be incarcerated. For this Father’s Day weekend, let’s look at some of the best and the worst of them, starting with the worst (have to end on a positive note, after all).

The Bad

Jack Torrance (The Shining). Not being a homicidal lunatic who tries to murder your family is one of the first things covered in the “don’t” section of Fatherhood 101. Jack clearly missed that chapter because he is a lunatic, and trying to kill his son Danny is not what a dad should be doing. Do not use Jack as your fathering template.

King Lear (King Lear). He may be one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, but Lear also missed the “fathers should not be insane” memo. Not pitting your kids against each other to see who loves you the most so they can inherit your kingdom is another nice trait to have. Lear fails miserable here and has come down through history as a poster boy of bad fathering.

Vernon Dursley (The Harry Potter series). For me, J. K. Rowling’s most horrifying character this side of Delores Umbridge stands even above Lear as a horrible father. Vernon Dursley is the worst of both worlds, dad-wise. He’s overindulgent to the extreme with Dudley, spoiling him to such a degree that there is almost no way he can turn out to be a functioning adult. To the other extreme, he is harsh in excess to Harry, who was entrusted to him to care for when his parents died. If you want to learn how to be a great father, read about Vernon and do the exact opposite of everything he does.

The Good

Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird). Atticus would most likely be Father of the Year in any literary competition; he is, simply put, the epitome of what a father should be. The example he sets is especially impressive given the fact that he’s a single dad teaching his two children how to navigate the world by doing the right thing when it’s not popular. He’s a great man all the way around, but he’s really a great dad. Just ask Scout.

Arthur Weasley (the Harry Potter series). J. K. Rowling gave us one of the worst literary fathers in Vernon Dursley; she also gave us one of the absolute best in Arthur Weasley. Arthur is the dad we all wanted: he’s always there, always supportive, and always willing to get into trouble right alongside his kids. He manages to somehow navigate that near-impossible line between disciplinarian and playmate. And even with all the kids he already has, he goes out of his way to be a father to Harry as well. A great dad indeed.

Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol). You probably forgot dear old Bob since it’s June and not December, but it doesn’t get a lot better, dad-wise, than him. Even in the bleakest of circumstances he exhibits generosity and gratitude to his family. His love for Tiny Tim even changes mean old Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe he’s a little too sentimental sometimes, but better that than the opposite end of the spectrum.

Senor Sempere (The Shadow of the Wind). My next favorite literary dad comes from one of my favorite books of all time. We never learn his first name; we only ever know him as Senor Sempere. He’s another single dad who, in addition to teaching his son how to walk through the world as man, gives him one of the best gifts of all: a love of books. He got this from his own father, Senor Sempere Sr., whom we meet in the prequel, The Angel’s Game. As a side note, the eulogy that is given for Senor Sempere Sr. is one I hope they give at my funeral.

Mr. Bennett (Pride and Prejudice). I have two daughters, and the idea of raising five as Mr. Bennett does in Jane Austen’s novel just blows my mind. Yet he pulls it off, and not in some cookie-cutter, one size fits all way. For the daughters that simply crave marriage he finds ways to arrange marriages. For Elizabeth, whose desire is for independence, he encourages her free spirit, her intelligence, and her desire to make her own way in the world. He doesn’t do things in a conventional way, which is quite unusual even for a fictional character in that time period. He is a fine example to dads everywhere.

Vito Corleone (The Godfather). The final dad on this list will surprise many of you, at least in part because you forgot The Godfather was a novel before it was one of the greatest films ever made. But if you want a man who cares about his family above all things, you want Vito Corleone. Yes, he was a “criminal,” but was there ever a literary dad who did more to make sure that his family was cared for or went to such extremes to ensure their safety than Don Vito? They ate together, celebrated holidays together, and he kept them separated from the world he inhabited as much as possible. He tried to nurture his sons’ individual gifts, even if it didn’t work out as he wanted in the end. The lesson here is that not all good fathers are saints.

That’s six good literary dads versus three bad ones, which is a pretty good ratio. If you’re looking for a gift for your dad this Father’s Day, a copy of The Shadow of the Wind makes a fine present. If you’re a dad yourself, read the books on this list as an entertaining guide on what (and what not) to do with your own kids.

Happy Father’s Day!

First published on Medium.com.

Paul Combs
Paul Combs
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Paul Combs

I’m a writer, podcaster, and bookseller whose ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take a while.

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