A Few Favorite Fathers in Fiction

Silas MarnerToday is Father’s Day, so, in an effort to write a blog post with the most unoriginal theme ever, I’m going to discuss some of my favorite dads in literature — seven to be exact. I’ll go backward in time, starting with the most recent releases.

Subhash Mitra of Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2013 novel The Lowland marries Gauri, the pregnant wife of his revolutionary brother Udayan after the charismatic-but-irresponsible Udayan is killed. The uncharismatic Subhash becomes a devoted father to Bela even as Gauri turns out to be a distracted mother who eventually abandons the family.

Arthur Weasley of the Harry Potter series is fun, brave, and a bit spacey. That last quality is not surprising given how large the Weasley family is and how much he and other sympathetic characters in J.K. Rowling’s 1997-2007 books have to deal with the havoc-wreaking Lord Voldemort.

A secondary character in Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 post-apocalyptic novel Parable of the Sower is the wise and kind (but prone to wishful thinking) minister/professor father of protagonist Lauren Olamina, who calls him “the best man I know.” Enough said.

There’s of course Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). The widowed dad of Scout and her brother Jem is warm to his children, disciplines them some but not too much, and is of course a highly principled attorney who defends an innocent African-American man. The white Atticus doesn’t comes off as well in the early TKAM draft Go Set a Watchman, but…

Adoptive father Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables (1908) is shy, quiet, and far from confident, but is a gentle, kind farmer who develops a wonderful relationship with the precocious Anne.

Then there’s Silas Marner (pictured at the top of this blog post). He’s a bitter, lonely miser in the first part of George Eliot’s 1861 novel, so I didn’t see his heartwarming adoption of Eppie coming — and how effective (albeit somewhat bumbling) his parenting would be.

Finally, I’ll mention Bob Cratchit of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). Cratchit lives a difficult life as Ebenezer Scrooge’s underpaid/overworked clerk, but has a positive outlook on life and is a devoted dad to his six children — including the physically challenged Tiny Tim.

Your favorite fathers in literature?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — which has a dual election theme — is here.

71 thoughts on “A Few Favorite Fathers in Fiction

    • Thank you, Tanya! Atticus was indeed a memorable character in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of him was exceptional. I’ve read that Peck considered it his favorite film role — and he had many great roles in many great movies.

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  1. What a fun question to base a blog post upon! Did anyone else mention Charles Ingalls from the “Little House” books? He was such a responsible caregiver and always calm and cheerful. I’m sure I could name more positive qualities, but it’s been a long while since I read this series (one of my favorites from childhood)!

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  2. As you mention Dave, Subhash Mitra, what a father figure he was of Bela, with an absentee mother who abandoned her child when 5 , and left her home without any forwarding address in Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2013 novel The Lowland .

    Then there was  Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).my all time favorite book. To me Gregory Peck was Atticul Finch.

    Then the horrible book came out Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee , which twists the character of Atticus Finch .
    Dave you made a good decision not reading.

    Now I have to confess…I ordered John Bolton`s 500 page book at a pre release price. My D I L said to me how could I give money to that horrible man.
    But it is done and now after so many interviews with the mustache, I wish I did not.

    Oh well…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! I’m very happy that you recommended Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Lowland” several years ago. And I totally agree that Gregory Peck was the perfect Atticus Finch.

      As for the Bolton book, I totally get the curiosity, and it’s always satisfying when Trump is deservedly trashed — in this case by someone even further to the right than the Oval Office occupant. Strange times…

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  3. Thinking on the week’s topic, what struck me first was how few books came to mind wherein a male protagonist figured foremost as a father. There are of course quite a few who are fathers, but this portion of their life is most often collateral to the author’s interests.

    Had the narrator of “To Kill A Mockingbird” not been daughter Scout, it’s hard to imagine the book, sure, but it’s also hard to imagine that any other point of view would have focused on Finch the family man, and instead would have concentrated its focus on the court case.

    Then there’s King Lear. Which proves the rule.

    Also, at the heart of each of his two collections of short stories, stands Bruno Schulz’s fantastically addled father. In this character, brittle and compelling demands on others move everything and everyone in the household and in the fabric shop, drawn ceaselessly like iron filings around a magnet gone mad.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! There does seem to be fewer father characters with a strong focus on their fatherhood than one might have expected in novels. There ARE a good number of not-so-nice dads, which was less surprising.

      The father in Bruno Schulz’s “The Street of Crocodiles” is indeed “fantastically addled.” Great description! What a WEIRD guy.

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  4. Dave I would like to mention The Cider House Rules by my favorite author John Irving.
    It Was a story of  Homer Wells growing up in an orphanage and Dr. Wilbur Larch .
    The doctor after bitter experience with a prostitude at a very young ago  Wilbur turns his back on sex and love, devoted his life choosing instead to help women with unwanted pregnancies give birth and then keeping the babies in an orphanage.
     The doctor tries to keep emotional distance from the orphans., but when it becomes clear that Homer is going to spend his entire childhood at the orphanage, Wilbur trains the orphan as an obstetrician and then comes to love him like a son.

    It is a complex story, Wilbur’s and Homer’s lives are complicated by Wilbur also secretly being an abortionist. Wilbur came to this work reluctantly, but he is driven by having seen the horrors of back-alley operations.
     Homer, upon learning Wilbur’s secret, considers it morally wrong….and the story continues…

    Dave, the reason this Novel came to my mind is because of the horrors we now see in trump / pence Presidency.

    When will it end ?.

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    • Thank you, bebe! Excellent mention! Dr. Larch is indeed a great father figure in “The Cider House Rules” — my favorite John Irving novel. A quirky, socially conscious book.

      Trump is of course anti-abortion now, but used to be pro-choice.

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  5. The character that immediately comes to mind when I think of fathers in literature is the minister in Joy Williams’ short story “Taking Care.” He is one of the most loving characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction in the most trying circumstances.

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    • Thank you, Liz! Sounds like an absolutely wonderful character going through a lot.

      Reminds me a bit of the father and minister John Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” a novel I didn’t particularly like but Ames was admirable.

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  6. Hope you had a very Happy Father’s Day! You mentioned several great fathers that I agree wholeheartedly with — Mr. Weasley, Atticus Finch, and my favorite of all, Silas Marner. I was charmed by Clanmother’s comments about Carson Drew, who when I was young was my ideal of what a father should be, though no one came close to my own dear dad! I also admired the father in “Inside the O’Briens,” another interesting and heartbreaking novel by Lisa Genova. He is a good and decent cop, a loving husband and father, who unfortunately inherited a horrible genetic disease, Huntingdon’s, which he might have passed on to any of his four children. I love Genova’s writing and learn so much from her.

    Good news for me last week was that my county’s library system is now in the yellow phase and I’ve got my first order from them. I assume most libraries are or will be open for curbside pickup soon. One has to select books from their catalog or on-line and then place them on hold, then when ready, one has to schedule a pickup within 7 days. It worked out well for us, and I’m now getting ready to start another order. Yay! 🙂

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    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Father’s Day went well. 🙂

      Excellent mention of the dad in “Inside the O’Briens”! He was indeed a good person, who goes through a LOT. 😦 I’m also a fan of Lisa Genova, and I’m grateful that you were among the people who recommended her novels to me.

      Great that your local library has entered the online-ordering/curbside-pickup phase! Mine has, too, starting today — though I have the seventh “Outlander” book to finish and the eighth to read before I take advantage.

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      • Oops, I meant “Huntington’s” disease. The first I became aware of this terrible genetic disorder because of a love of not only Woody Guthrie songs, but especially his son Arlo’s music. Arlo never got tested for the gene, but he’s thankfully way past the age when symptoms would appear.

        On a more humorous note, I adored the semi-autographical novels, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on their Toes,” by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and his sister Ernestine, about their childhood growing up in Montclair, NJ (gee, I think I’ve heard of that town before!). The parents were time motion and efficiency experts and the stories were about them and the 12 children they raised. The books were all very funny, and I found them especially appealing because I was the baby of a half-dozen kids, as well as my dad having performed time-motion and efficiency studies during WWII.

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        • Yes, Kat Lit, Woody Guthrie made that disease famous (infamous). First time I heard of Huntington’s, too, was in relation to him and his son Arlo — who, as you say, lucked out and never was stricken.

          Ha — the town of Montclair does sound familiar. 🙂 Great mentions of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on their Toes” in terms of a memorable dad — and of course an even more memorable mom. I can see how you’d relate to the Gilbreths given your own large family and what your father researched!

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  7. Dave, I can only add to these great suggestions’ list: Jean Valjean (Les Misérables) and Daniel Peggoty (David Copperfield), but my all time favorite story about fatherhood is the film (screenplays count, right?), the one that makes me cry every single time is…Field of Dreams…Ray and John Kinsella!

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    • Thank you, Mary Jo! The father in “Field of Dreams” is an excellent mention, and that memorable/emotional film was based on a novel: W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe.” The book and movie (I’ve read/seen both) had some major differences, but I’m pretty sure, from my distant recollection of reading the novel many years ago, that the good dad of the film was also a good dad in the book.

      And Jean Valjean and Daniel Peggy are great additions to this topic, too!

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  8. I think that from a mythological point of view, the son is always competing with the father. Father-daughter relationships are warmer, for example, Oedipus and Antigone, Lear and Cordelia, Prospero and Miranda, etc. So probably fathers and daughters in novels by women would be a place to look. More generally, I think novels often deal with conflicts of generations.

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    • Thank you! Interesting. There is definitely some truth to your analysis, and I see that all seven novels I mentioned include nice father-daughter relationships. Some written by women, some by men.

      And, yes, generational conflict is a big element of many novels. Off the top of my head, “The Brothers Karamazov,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “East of Eden,” “The Poisonwood Bible,” “White Teeth” (Zadie Smith), “Middlesex” (Jeffrey Eugenides), “The Blue Castle” (L.M. Montgomery), etc.

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    • In modern parlance a daddy’s girl above all else, Electra in Greek mythology would predate Hamlet in her upset over her father’s murder and her mother’s new object of affection, though she, unlike Orestes her brother, went unhaunted after her mother’s violent end. Hamlet, of course, was haunted before acting and dead after Mom died and Uncle Daddy got the sword by the wrong end.

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  9. Now I can finally get a moment to properly come back and read your post. I always liked Cratchit as a father. Always so stalwart despite the hand he’d been dealt and he was wonderful with Tiny Tim. The weight of the world must have rested on his shoulders but he just got with it. Interestingly as I rake through book upon book, a lot didn’t have a father in it for some reason. Or they did but the part wasn’t huge.

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    • Thank you, Shehanne! Yes, Bob Cratchit was quite a parent as he and his family dealt with a tough life.

      And interesting that you had some difficulty finding many great/devoted fathers in literature. I also had that trouble — while thinking of many not-so-good dads as well as plenty of great/devoted mothers. 🙂

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      • Ditto. I could think of a lot who were just sat there, like a dressed window, absent, or really abusive like Gourlay in the House with the Green Shutters, blustering like Gerald O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, but take everything from him and he collapses. I briefly thought of Dr Iannis in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and yes there’a lot of interplay there but a lot too where he seems more interested in his history of the island. Having thought again I might cite Valjean in Les Miserables although he is not Cosette’s father. While the cloistered way he brings her up is wrong and not especially fatherly–you can see why he does that and that he does everything to give her a life. But it is a difficult one and Cratchit is just the family man pure and simple, gets up, gets on with it whatever.

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        • Well put! Bob Cratchit is indeed one of seemingly just a few “no-brainers” as a good dad in fiction. As you say, many fathers are just sort of there, or have some major negatives.

          Jean Valjean is an excellent mention.

          I liked “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” a lot!

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            • I also wish those two characters had gotten together again much sooner in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” even as I was mostly satisfied overall with that compelling novel.

              And I agree that Bob C. was an example of an unsung hero!

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              • Yeah. Food on the table, roof over the head, always there when needed. I really liked Mandolin. Firstly the small island setting, having visited a number of off the beaten track ones. Then there was the capturing of just how people live in these wee timeless places, even today, right down to how little they have. There’s a passage somewhere about how they chased the Nazis out with their little bits of bric a brac and bare hands, that just struck such a chord, then there’s the big history of occupation on these islands and the battles that were fought for them one by one, the prolific Italian influence on many of them today. Lastly I loved the prose. But oh dear me… I thought, ‘are we having a joke?’ over the ending. It just took a spade to the passion and flattened it. Maybe it was even \a JCB. As you say, they should have got back together much quicker.

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                • Wonderful description of that novel and what it evoked! “It just took a spade to the passion and flattened it” — a great line amid great lines!

                  Sometimes authors go for downbeat or relatively downbeat endings because I guess they feel they’re being more realistic. But I don’t think the occasional somewhat upbeat ending necessarily devalues a great novel. For instance, it wouldn’t have hurt Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” if a certain couple had gotten together at the end. Heck, even the mostly depressing “Crime and Punishment” — one of my three favorite novels ever — had some hope and redemption at the end.

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                  • Very true. BTW you are being too kind, I just cannae shut it where books are concerned and I’ve probably talked in cliches my whole life. Crime and Punishment did have hope because Raskolnikov did having been through the fire.so the rest was prob cinders and ashes where he was concerned. But there’s so much in that book beyond all that. Russian literature was always in a diff universe that way, I can understand why it is in your top three. I’ve not read that Wharton book. I have read Ethan Frome and the House of Mirth, which of course was anything but. I have to say Wharton had no concept of the premise of happy every after, even if that after was just the next day.

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  10. Dave – excellent choices for Father’s Day! Arthur Weasley was a wonderful character ( I loved the magic of the Weasley home). Atticus Finch will always, in my mind, be sitting in a chair on a porch waiting to dispense wisdom and courage. Matthew Cuthbert is a Canadian icon – and my favourite. What I find extraordinary was the men chosen for these roles in films added to their legends. I’m going to go back a long ways in my reading history to choose Nancy Drew’s father, Carson Drew. Nancy was three when her mother died. Hannah Gruen came to work as a housekeeper and look out for Nancy. Carson believed in his daughter’s ability to solve mysteries and often helped with her “sleuthing” exploits. In fact, he gave her most of her cases. Carson is an attorney who is often kidnapped by enemies. And of course, Nancy always comes to his rescue. The first Nancy Drew came out in 1930, so the level of freedom given Nancy was quite unusual. Throughout the many mysteries, readers always knew that Nancy’s father was proud of her accomplishments, trusted her judgment, a remained a loyal supporter through “thick and thin.”

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    • Thank you, Clanmother!

      Loved your lines about Arthur Weasley, Atticus Finch, and Matthew Cuthbert. 🙂 And, yes, the actors who played them — Mark Williams (Weasley), Gregory Peck (Atticus), and Richard Farnsworth (my favorite interpreter of Matthew Cuthbert) — really did justice to the characters and brought them to vivid screen life.

      GREAT mention/description of Nancy Drew’s father! I hope if I had ever read those mysteries I would have thought of him. 🙂 Sounds like a terrific, supportive, adventurous dad!

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      • As I look back, Nancy’s dad was a foreshadowing of how family structures would change as the decades rolled on. I am going to go back to revisit Nancy Drew again, do a mini-research on the people who created the books, and the reasons why Nancy continues to thrive. Some say that she has become a cultural icon. While one of my nieces believes that she is too perfect, my generation embraced her. I have read that Nancy was a formative influence on women such as Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Laura Bush. Will keep in touch on the research….

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      • Interesting! I will look that up! I don’t recall Ned doing any saving but it has been so long ago! I remember thinking that Nancy was the brilliant one. Looking back, Nancy’s father was portrayed with a liberal slant that foreshadowed a more modern perspective. Anyway, at 9 years old, I remember wondering what I would do if I ever ran out of Nancy Drew stories! They are still being written!

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        • I remember how disillusioned I was a couple of years later to learn that Caroline Keene was actually a writing sweatshop of sorts. I envisioned a long trestle table with writers hunched over typewriters shoulder to shoulder pounding out the books.

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          • That IS disillusioning, Liz. 😦 A vivid image you evoked in the second line of your comment!

            I guess there’s of course money to be made for publishers of popular series when they churn out tons of books by different writers under one name. In “grown-up fiction,” as you probably know, James Patterson runs a writing factory of sorts — as did the great author Colette’s first husband Henry Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”).

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          • This is an interesting conversation, Liz! Oh, so much to discuss. Check out Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson (July 10, 1905 – May 28, 2002). She was an American journalist and author of children’s books, writing the earliest Nancy Drew mysteries and created the detective’s adventurous personality.Benson wrote under the Stratemeyer Syndicate pen name, Carolyn Keene, from 1929 to 1947 and contributed to 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew mysteries, which were bestsellers. These were the books that I read. I must check into what’s happening lately. But the question that I would LOVE to discuss with you is what you call sweatshop writing, which is alive and well – and generating huge $$$. Will be in contact! I do love our conversations. Thanks Dave for being a gracious host.

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  11. If you think of the Bible as literature (I think of it as that and so much more), one of the arresting images is Jesus’ use of the term “Abba” for God. Some have said it’s like calling God “Daddy,” though the theologian who first proposed that said later he was wrong. The term, he then suggested, was much deeper than “Daddy.” Calling God “father,” of course, has led to much patriarchal oppression. I once preached a Mother’s Day sermon making that point by noting and affirming the various feminine images of God in scripture. Afterward, a man who was attracted to the notion that any change was a bad idea said to me this: “Tammeus: There are much bigger fish to fry than what you gave us today.” He was only 10 percent right then and, I think, only 5 percent right today.

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    • Thank you, Bill! Fans of the pop group ABBA might have something to say about what Jesus called God, but I’ll refrain. 🙂 Seriously, very interesting — and at times droll — take on the theme of memorable fathers in literature. And, yes, too much focus on male images of God rather than female images of God(dess).

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