Keeping Up With The Penguins

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The Best Fathers in Literature

Literature is littered with examples of poor parenting, particularly when it comes to fathers. All too often, fathers are dead (as was the case with the Reverend in Jane Eyre), or otherwise absent (like Chaplain March in Little Women). Sometimes they’re completely ineffectual (like Emma’s Mr Woodhouse), and other times they outright suck at the fatherhood gig (see Pap Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), to the point of being dangerous and extremely damaging (who could forget Lolita’s Humbert Humbert?). It all makes for pretty depressing reading, but you know what? Father’s Day is coming up, and it’s time that we spread a little joy to counteract all this misery. Let’s take a look at some of the often-overlooked best fathers in literature.

The Best Fathers In Literature - Black Text Above Image of Man Holding Child on Jetty - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens)

My love for Dickens knows no bounds, but even I can acknowledge that he didn’t write a whole lot of present, supportive father figures. That makes A Christmas Carol’s Bob Cratchit all the more special! Bob is hardly flawless – he’s a little earnest, and a bit of a martyr – but dammit, he saves Christmas! And he provides the perfect counterpoint to Ebenezer Scrooge’s misanthropy. Bob Cratchit will make you believe in fatherly love again, so pick this one up when you’re losing faith.

Hans Hubermann (The Book Thief – Markus Zusak)

Family isn’t always about blood. Hans Hubermann is a forster father to Liesel in The Book Thief, her biological parents having been persecuted for being communists in Nazi Germany. While it would have been easy for a lesser man to simply ignore Liesel (given everything else he had going on), or punish her for stealing books, Hans instead teaches her to read at night by candlelight, and role models the kind of empathy and compassion that saves lives in such dire circumstances. Make no mistake, he can dole out the tough love when it’s needed (Liesel makes the potentially deadly mistake of saying she hates Hitler in public, and Hans smacks her down), but it always comes from a place of genuine fatherly love. If only all fictional displaced children had a man like Hans to care for them… You can read my full review here.


Thomas Schell (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer)

Thomas actually dies before the story of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close even begins, a victim of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. And yet, the reader is immediately and abundantly aware of his love for his son. The story is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Oskar, as he chases clues to his father’s secret all over New York City. Their father-son bond is well and truly alive, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close serves as a great reminder that good parenting transcends mortality.

Mr Bennet (Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen)

It would seem that there’s a certain controversy involved in calling Mr Bennet one of the best fathers in literature. He is, after all, a bit weak-willed and bewildered (especially when it comes to financial planning). But in fairness, five daughters (especially ones that live for the drama, like the Bennet girls) and a high-strung wife is a lot to cope with, and one can hardly blame the man for backing down from a fight now and then.

What is not up for debate is his love and support for all of the girls, especially the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, his darling Lizzy. He refuses to entertain the notion of a marriage to a man he sees as undeserving of her (even though it would have been a financially savvy match), but he backs Lizzy 100% when she tells him she loves Mr Darcy. “I could not have parted with you, my LIzzy,” he says, “to anyone less worthy”. Recognising the intelligence and agency of his daughters made him a man ahead of his time, and – in my opinion – well-worthy of inclusion in this list of the best fathers in literature.




Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee)

And, finally, we come to Atticus – arguably the best father in literature, the numero uno, the grand poobah of fatherhood… (as long as you don’t count the ugliness that came to light with the release of Go Set A Watchman). In truth, any list of the best fathers in literature is woefully incomplete without mention of To Kill A Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. He is a widower, raising two children alone against a backdrop of Southern poverty and racism. And yet, he upholds the values of acceptance, gratitude, empathy, and respect like no other literary icon has before or since. His influence is so great that it inspired the foundation of The Atticus Finch Society, a real-life organisation founded to serve the very population that the fictional Atticus sought to defend. Plus, if his bravery and moral fortitude in the face of an unfair world weren’t enough, the man is endlessly quotable:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

And you can read my complete love letter to Atticus Finch here (yes, believe it or not, I’ve got more to say).


And there we have it: a collection of the best fathers in literature you can read to celebrate this Father’s Day. Have you got a favourite that I’ve missed? Make sure you let me know in the comments below (or give them a shout-out over at KUWTP on Facebook!).

 

8 Comments

  1. This is a fascinating list. I am. Going to have to re-evaluate. Mr. Bennet. The thing about fathers and n literature is that dysfunctional characters are usually more interesting then stable ones.

    I would add a little science fiction to your list and include Duke Leto Atreides I to your list.,

    • ShereeKUWTP

      August 18, 2018 at 7:36 AM

      I’m with you, Brian – almost all of my favourite characters and families are “unlikeable”, but all the “good” and “relatable” ones usually bore me to tears. And Leto is a great edition! I’ve not read Dune yet (ducks for cover), but I need to get on that, I feel like I see it everywhere 😐 thank you!!
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  2. I love your list! Bob Cratchit and Hans Hubermann are such great fatherly role models in terribly hard conditions. (We have Markus Zusak visiting our library later this year. I can’t wait). Mr Bennett and Atticus both add a good bit of salt to the list too, in their own unique ways. And I love some of Mr B’s quotes as much as Atticus’ 🙂 I’ve never read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but might have to change that, since Thomas sounds awesome.

    I can think of an extra pair I’d add. First would be Charles Ingalls, who I’ve been re-visiting this year with my Little House reads. He made some bad decisions, but his daughter remembers him for his love, loyalty, fun and support. And also good old Arthur Weasley, from a way different series but for the same reasons.
    It’s a great brainstorm in the lead-up to Father’s Day.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      August 21, 2018 at 12:25 PM

      Oh my goodness, I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT ARTHUR WEASLEY!!! He was an amazing father, thank you for that addition 😀 And how exciting to see/meet Markus Zusak in the flesh – I’d imagine he’s going to have a signing queue a mile long, the buzz about his new book is huge. You lucky duck! 😉 (And you should definitely give Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close a go, I think you’d really enjoy it!)

  3. refreshing to see Father’s being considered as important for a change. Something I’d often thought.

    I’ve actually bought Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, egad you must be having some kind of effect on me…

    • ShereeKUWTP

      August 23, 2018 at 12:59 PM

      Hahahaha I knew it! I’m worming my way in 😛 Let me know what you think of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – it wasn’t at all what I was expecting when I first picked it up!

  4. Ooh, I love this list, but I have to take issue with Mr. Bennet. He’s a good father TO LIZZY, but he’s pretty crappy to his other daughters. He doesn’t protect Lydia at all, even when his other daughters are begging him to, and he’s really dismissive of the three youngest girls.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      August 23, 2018 at 1:00 PM

      Damn, Jenny, that’s actually a REALLY good point, I hadn’t thought about it that way at all… hmm… <3

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