1)Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
I like Atticus Finch a great deal, because he has so many admirable qualities: a calm, unflappable man of great courage and integrity, totally unfazed by the shenanigans of his young son and daughter, Atticus not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. (We’ll dismiss the awful Go Set a Watchman sequel/prior draft of TKAM, which I like to think Harper Lee in her right mind would never have let seen the light of day, because it does not portray Atticus in anywhere nearly as positive a light.)
2)Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
I also like Mr. Bennet, although he doesn’t at first appear as strong a father character as Atticus Finch. Of course, Mr. B does have a twittery wife and five daughters to contend with in a very different time and place than Atticus, and he mostly retreats to his study in the face of this “monstrous regiment of women,” as John Knox phrased it (although he was speaking without any humour or affection).I particularly like Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of Mr. B in the 2005 film version, even though that film took some significant liberties with Austen’s story. Sutherland brings a shy, reserved, retiring quality to Mr. Bennet that I found quite delightful.
3)Arthur Weasley, the Harry Potter series
Like Mr. Bennet, Arthur Weasley isn’t a particularly forceful father --- the Weasley family seems more a matriarchy run by Arthur’s fairly formidable wife --- but he appears quite okay with that. He possesses a lovely child-like curiosity (particularly about Muggles) and sense of humour, and he’s certainly there for his kids (and Harry, who isn’t even his own child) when raving lunatics like Death Eaters come cruising along.
4)Willie Loman, Death of a Salesman
You’ve got to feel sorry for Willie in this classic Arthur Miller play. He bought into the American Dream hook, line and sinker, only to eventually discover it wasn’t performing as advertised, and by that point he was unable to repudiate it because he’d sunk all his credibility into it. By the time the play takes place, Willie is a broken man, desperately trying to understand where it all went wrong while trying not to admit to himself or his family --- his amazingly dysfunctional family --- that anything has gone wrong. And as the title suggests, the story does not have a happy finale.
5)Lear, King Lear
As I tell my students, Shakespearean tragedies never end well for their titular characters, and this is no exception. Unlike Willie Loman, I find it hard to feel sympathy for King Lear, though, because while he wants to leave his kingdom to the child who loves him most --- which is fine, I guess --- he’s spectacularly inept at the process, doing such a terrible job that it eventually costs him his sanity and life. Yuck. Not cool, daddio.
6)John Proctor, The Crucible
Another Miller play, but unlike Willie Loman, I admire John Proctor. He’s a deeply flawed man (like all of us), but has the courage and integrity to admit it --- even though his actions and admission cost him his life by play’s end. Daniel Day-Lewis did an absolutely superb job of playing Proctor in the 1996 film version --- his heart-rending cry of “Because it is my name!” when asked why he cannot perjure himself and admit to a crime he did not commit is a mesmerizing moment where you cannot help but hear a man’s deepest anguish.
7)Harry Wormwood, Matilda
Let’s be clear: Harry Wormwood is a terrible dad. Despicable. Emotionally abusive and a crook. The best thing about him in this great tale from Roald Dahl is the way his daughter, Matilda, sees right though him and doesn’t let him get away with it. Again, as far as the filmic version goes, Danny DeVito was superbly, comically villainous as Harry in the 1996 film.
And finally, what would a post of mine be without a mandatory LOTR reference?
8)Elrond, The Lord of the Rings
I like the book Elrond better than the filmic one. Hugo Weaving’s movie Elrond seems really grumpy. All the time. Granted, he doesn’t want his stunningly beautiful daughter shacking up with a mortal who’s anything less than head honcho of both major Middle Earth empires, but the book Elrond is, well, far more dignified... less cranky... and less manipulative. I totally understand that daddies are protective of their little girls, but movie Elrond goes a little too far, I think.
So there we have it. There are, actually, scads more literary dads out there one could mention... but that’ll be enough to be going on with for one day.