For Father’s Day: Great Dads in Fiction

When I had this idea for talking about great dads in fiction, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to come up with a number of great dads, or at least pretty good ones!

Many dads and moms in fiction I love are absent, dead or not a factor.  In others, the dad is considerably less than ideal, and that’s kind of the point.  But here’s a fair, by no means exhaustive, list of good and great dads to consider.

I am indebted to my almost-teenaged daughter, who helped me immensely in ideas for great dads in the youth fiction in particular, especially why they are so good, and for helping in describing Emma’s father so well.

1.  Mr. Henry Woodhouse, Emma’s father, in Jane Austen’s Emma.  As those who know me know, I am a huge Austen fan, and I dearly love the novel and the title character.  Emma’s father is overly concerned about safety and health of those he loves, always fussing and forecasting doom.  While he is a bit of a comic character (but really, I ask you, who isn’t in Emma?), he is loving, kind and generous.  The love and respect shown to him by his daughter & future son-in-law by their decision to live at his house after marriage rather than have him separated even by a mile from his younger daughter, speaks volumes.

My husband has never read Emma, but enjoyed watching with my daughters this winter the excellent most recent adaptation that aired on PBS, and they took to calling him “Mr. Woodhouse” as he is a teensy bit of a worrier.  He could be heard to say on a number of occasions since then, “Are you not taking a scarf? You might get chilled.” and “No cake, especially for the children. There must not be cake.”

2.  Lavrans Bjorgulfsson, father of Kristin in Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset.  Lavrans is by no means perfect, but so real, like many fathers.  I find him honorable, steadfast, so realistic in many ways, from his work among his farmer tenants to his sacrificial work on behalf of his family, to his fierce loyalty to and protection of Kristin’s honor, both when she does and does not deserve it.

3.  Father Francis Chisolm in A.J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom.  This fantastic novel follows the life of Father Francis’s entire life, though it primarily takes place and his missionary work in China.  The 1944 movie starred Gregory Peck, and while it is wonderful, it is a bit more pat and wrapped up nicely than the novel.  If you’ve seen the movie, give the book a try, and vice versa.
Why is Father Francis Chisolm such a great father/Father?  First, how he lives the Gospel through his life more than his words.  Second, Father Chisolm has a passionate, Catholic ecuminism that spans cultures and promotes the deepest kind of friendship.  Finaly, he is brave and good, and only wants the best for his spiritual children, both temporal and spiritual goods, and seeks to provide them.

4.  Caddie Woodlawn’s father in Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.  This is a children’s book, but would be enjoyed by anyone.  He is noble, calm-headed, kind, but firm with his children.  I don’t want to give anything away from the novel (because if you haven’t read it, please do! It’s a treat!), but his American spirit of hard work and equality brings tears to my eyes whenever I read this children’s novel.

5.  Pa in The Little House books.  Pa’s total love of his family, his dear affection for his brood, is so charming and winning.  Most of us who grew up reading the books and watching the television show immediately think, “Where’s my little half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up?”

6.  Robert Ray, the father of Betsy Ray, the central characters in the Besty-Tacy series of books, that fabulous semi-autobiographical collection of stories by Maud Hart Lovelace.  There are ten altogether in the series, set in early 20th century Minnesota; the firs four are best for younger kids, and the rest good for older kids and adults.  Mr. Ray is a benevolent, hardworking patriarch to three daughters, and lends a loving, mischievous paternal presence in these books full of fun and love.  In Betsy & Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, Mr. Ray successfully referees a “terrible” quarrel between Betsy, Tacy & Tib, and older sisters Julia and Katie.

Any great dads in fiction that you care to share?

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