If you ask anyone who was the best dad in the history of
literature, there's a better-than-average chance that they'll say Atticus
Finch. Even people who haven't read Harper Lee's 1960 classic "To Kill a
Mockingbird" know that "Atticus Finch" is the answer to that question, in the
same way even people who hate movies know to say "Casablanca" when asked "what's
the best movie of all time?" It's just become cultural shorthand. Atticus Finch
is the best book dad ever.
Or, at least, he was. Earlier this summer when "Go Set a Watchman," Lee's controversial
"sequel" to "Mockingbird," was released and it was
revealed that Atticus had become a bit of a racist in his old-age, a whole generation of readers collectively lost their minds. How could Atticus—their Atticus,
the Atticus they named their sons and dogs after—be less than perfect? If we
don't have Atticus to hold up as a paragon of fatherhood, who do we have left? While,
personally, I don't think "Watchman" takes anything significant away from "Mockingbird,"
I do appreciate the opportunity to ask, "If we put Atticus Finch to the side
for a change, who are the OTHER literary dads that deserve our admiration? Who
are the next-best fictional fathers at your local library?"
So, with all due deference to Scout's father, here are my picks
for nine other candidates for the "Best Dads in Literature" award. (Feel free
to name your children after any or all of these.)
This Park Slope dad (let's call him "Mo") from the popular
picture book is a modern everyman—he's every-dad. After taking his infant
daughter to the laundromat (and inadvertently leaving behind her cherished stuffed
animal), he hurriedly retraces his steps to save the day. He multi-tasks, he's
an involved dad, and he bends over backwards to make his kid happy. What more
could a kid need?
If you ever have to fight an evil illustrated man, this is the dad you want by your side.
Talk about an epic dad. Even though a demonic carnival
offers him his heart's desire—the chance to be young again—he refuses to give
in and uses the temptation to teach young Will and Jim something truly profound
about the wisdom that comes with growing older. If you ever have to fight an
evil illustrated man, this is the dad you want by your side.
Mr. Quimby is the dad who just won't quit. Even though life
keeps throwing him curveballs—he has to leave college, loses several jobs,
never gets to fully pursue his artistic ambitions—he never lets it get him
down. He remains delightfully cheerful and present, passing down his vast
imagination to his daughters, and he makes pretty decent pancakes too.
There's something heroic about a father with seven kids of
his own, who sees a young boy from a miserable home and says, "We have plenty of
room at the table, please join us." And, even though the Weasleys don't actually
have much room to spare, Arthur Weasley always makes poor Harry Potter feel
like he's part of the family, standing by Harry's side even when the costs are
high and showing that there's a lot more to being a dad than simple biology.
On the surface, Mr. Bennet is not exactly an ideal father.
He's terrible with money, he's cynical and lazy, and he clearly plays favorites
with his children. He's kind of a failure. However, with all that said, his
relationship with Elizabeth is fairly remarkable, standing as a glorious
example of what happens when a parent just CLICKS with one of his children. Mr.
Bennet and Elizabeth GET each other, and despite all their other failings, that
bond is something worth celebrating.
Sam Vimes from the "Discworld" series by Terry Pratchett
The way he embraces his dual role as a hard-nosed detective and an empathetic, concerned father is a testament to working dads everywhere.
Pratchett's "Discworld" novels (41 in total) are a UK
staple, and Commander Sam Vines, one of Discworld's most frequently recurring
characters, might be the author's greatest creation. He began as the prototypical
policeman but quickly became the series' moral compass. In later novels, like "Thud!"
and "Snuff," Vimes becomes a father, and the way he embraces his dual role as a hard-nosed
detective and an empathetic, concerned father is a testament to working dads
Marko from "Saga" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
"Saga" is a brilliant comic book about two young
lovers from opposite sides of an intergalactic war, who get married, have a
child and, as a result, get branded as enemies by almost everyone involved in
the conflict. Marko, the Romeo in this forbidden love story, is funny,
reckless and can make some terrible, terrible decisions, but, more than
anything else, he is passionate about the ones he loves. He adores his daughter
and will take on the entire universe to keep her safe. (And he has awesome
There are a few memorable father figures in Hosseini's wildly
popular novel—Baba, older Amir—but it's hard to not feel overwhelming affection
for Rahim Khan, the fatherly mentor who has such a profound impact on Amir's life.
Khan sees Amir more clearly than anyone else and, out of genuine paternal
interest, acts as the boy's lifetime moral guide, gently guiding and prodding
him toward his best self.
Should we call this dad "Cormac"? Or maybe he's just "Insert
Your Name Here" because McCarthy's beautifully horrific novel creates a
scenario that any dad can imagine himself in during their darkest daydreams or
worst nightmares. What would you do if you were charged with leading your child
through the apocalypse? How would you prepare your child to survive this
hellscape without you? The unnamed father from "The Road" faces every dad's
deepest fears; yet he keeps moving forward while keeping his son safe. If ever faced
with the absolute worst, this is the dad we all hope we can be.