(Where are the) Great Fathers in Literature

Gregory Peck and Mary Badham as Atticus and Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

For Father’s Day, I want to write about great fathers in literature.

The first one who comes to mind is Atticus Finch, from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Great dad. He is honest, ethical, compassionate, and he teaches his children these qualities by example, by his actions and decisions, rather than by rote.

After Atticus Finch, there’s … ummm.  There’s, uh…  Hmm.

Okay, let’s talk about bad dads. There are plenty of those.

  • Bull Meecham from “The Great Santini” by Pat Conroy, is a tyrannical and dangerous father, whose abuse severely damages his family and nearly destroys them all.
  • In Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the King’s pompous ego and his favoritism of Cordelia over her sisters, leads to her murder and his.
  • Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, misleads his sons on lessons of life and love.  He is so deluded about his own success and his life, that his death is not a tragedy so much as it is an epic failure.
  • Disney Dads, like those of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine, are either absent or too hapless to do anything for their daughters.

All right, this isn’t the optimistic sunshiny Father’s Day tribute I had envisioned, and I’m finding it a little depressing that fathers are not very well represented in books.  So, I’m going to wrap this up and go make myself a Father’s Day margarita in honor and in memory of a true classic, Manny Tejeda, my Dad, who was not absent, hapless, deluded, egotistical, or tyrannical.

He taught me by example; he was honest, ethical, kind, generous, and funny-funny-funny.  He was tough, too.  Some of his expectations were more than I could achieve, or so I thought back then, but everything … all of it, was wrapped in knowing, absolutely, that he loved me.  Like all good classics, his influence lives on.

Happy Father’s Day!

Can you help a daughter out?  I’d love to list more good literary fathers, but I can’t think of any and would love some input.  He doesn’t have to be from the classics or popular fiction.  I’ll take anything at this point.  Dads deserve it!


8 thoughts on “(Where are the) Great Fathers in Literature

  1. When I read your article, I started to think of “Fathers” in fiction and movies.
    The Father in Baby by Patricia MacLachlan is one I would list.
    I agree with Claire’s suggestion from “life is Beautiful.”

    1. I agree with Claire, too, Guido was amazing. One of my favorite film characters, in general. I haven’t heard of “Baby” by Patricia LacLachlan. I’ll have to check it out!

  2. Interesting question. Hmmm… and are there good mothers in literature? Beyond Guido my mind draws a blank. This will obsess me all night now. Peace…

  3. Yes, it’s been obsessing me since trying to come up with a list. Comments are suspiciously quiet, so I guess there aren’t too many examples of good dads in books, which begs the question … do good dads make bad literature?

  4. some of John Irving’s novels have good dads- am thinking of “World According to Garp”- his are flawed men but basically decent.
    otherwise….hmm….will have to think on it…there is probably a good long essay waiting to be written on this topic because it seems we are all stumped!

  5. Dr. Anderson is the vision and inspiration for Robert Falconer (The Musician’s Quest). Reuben Land’s father from Peace Like a River gives life to his son and rescues his other.

  6. Interestingly enough, I’ve been doing a project that prompted me to ponder who the best fathers in literature have been. The list is pathetically short. Interestingly enough, three of the characters were played by Gregory Peck in film, and naturally, Atticus was first on my list.

    Also beautiful examples of fatherhood (in my opinion), though the last two were not biological fathers, they still are wonderful examples of what it means to be a father:

    Penny Baxter – The Yearling
    Philip Schuyler Green – Gentleman’s Agreement
    Charles Ingalls – Little House on the Prairie (etc.)
    Jean Valjean – Les Miserables
    Matthew Cuthbert – Anne of Green Gables

    Honorable mention (though their faults and foibles may disqualify them from being the ultimate in terms of fatherhood, still, they are fathers who really loved their children and were decent men):

    Mr. Bennet – Pride and Prejudice
    Mr. March – Little Women

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