Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Best Dads in Fiction

The Top Ten Dads in fiction

Just in time for Father’s Day! Like my list of the best siblings in fiction, this list is heavily skewed towards genre fiction, because that’s what I tend to read.

Limiting Criteria and notable omissions

No Mentors: Rather, no characters who are only mentors, as a good father will also be a good mentor to his child. There’s clearly a bit of overlap between good parents and mentors, but the distinction I’m making here is that I’m not looking at anyone who was introduced into the character’s life after childhood or whose primary interaction with the character is outside the home. No Giles, no Dumbledore, no Doctors Who.  They’re admirable figures, but they’re outside the scope of this list. (I was thinking of making a distinction between characters who are the biological fathers of their children and those who not, but I came to my senses. Biological paternity isn't an important part of being a father.)

A Dad-Shaped Hole:  One of the smartest choices the Supergirl TV show made was the decision to leave Superman on the fringe. We see him as a silhouette in flashbacks and a distant figure and presence on the other end of a text conversation with Kara. That was the only way way he would have worked. Removing him entirely would beg the question "Where is Superman?" and making him any more prominent than they did would have overshadowed a character that did not yet have her own identity in that sphere. A dad who exists only as an idealized memory for his children doesn't qualify.

That Belongs to Me!: I was looking around on the internets, and most examples of good dads in genre fiction are variations of Liam Neeson's octogenarian serial killer from Taken. "The Papa Wolf: Don't take his stuff, or he'll kill you."

I don't like that, because it reduces the child to level of a prop.
The true measure of worth as a father is not how much more you love your family than everyone else. I want somebody who loves his kids and respects them and prepares them for their adult lives, not the McGuffin at the end of his roaring rampage of revenge.

Ned Stark: This one is practically de rigueur for geek lists, but as I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog, I don’t think he was a good dad. Even my friend Nicole agrees, and she's married to the mirror universe George R. R. Martin (He's skinny, handsome and has neither beard nor hat).

Ned loved his kids, but he didn’t prepare them for life outside Winterfell, where leadership consists of publicly decapitating traumatized refugees who were just trying to escape the paramilitary organization into which they were involuntarily conscripted.

The Ten Best Dads 

(+ One Bonus Dad, because Josh miscounted when he was making the list!)


11) Gomez Addams (The Addams Family) :  He's creepy and he's kooky, yes, he's mysterious and spooky. I would go so far as to say that he's all together ooky. However, the reason I like Gomez is that he's crazy about his family.

You see it more in the TV show than with the movies, which is why I picked John Aston over Raul Julia for the picture, but they both convey what I like about the character, his boundless gonzo enthusiasm and deep, unabashed love for his family.

10.) Arthur Weasely (The Sisterhood of the Pottering Pants): No list would be complete without  kindly, decent Arthur Weasely. (Seriously, he's always on these lists, even the non-fantasy ones.) One of the very few good dads in a very large series, he's often overshadowed by his my extroverted wife, but together they form the foundation on which the entire series is built.

9.) Jean Valjean (Les Misérables): I've always found Javert a more interesting character, but Jean Valjean is unquestionably one of the best dads out there. The reason he's not ranked higher is that his character arc concludes so early in the narrative that he winds up being a a rather flat character. Still, he loves Cosette, and he dedicates his life to her. (And Le Miz is really her story anyway.)

8.) Ben Parker (Spider-Man): He barely meets the criteria of being a character, but I'm going to include him because I think Cliff Robertson's portrayal, as brief as it was, is the glue that holds the Spider-Man movie together. 

7.) Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender): He's the uncle rather than biological father to Prince Zuko. Long before the series began, Iroh's own son died while under his command, and this devastated him. Like Valjean above, Iroh had his epiphany before the main thrust of the story, but his mellow good humor makes him much more fun.

He, as much as anyone knows the kind of monster Zuko's father is. And honestly, there is a lot in the story to suggest that Iroh wasn't a very good father to his own son when he was alive. It was only after his son's death that he became the man that we see in Avatar.

He is everything a father should be to Zuko, patient and kind and understanding. He teaches Zuko by example. He sees the mistakes his nephew is going to make, but respects Zuko's right to make them and he's there to catch Zuko when he falls.

6.) Tatsuo Kusakabe (My Neighbor Totoro):  Or almost any dad from a Miyazaki movie, really. My daughter wanted to add Kiki’s Dad, from Kiki’s Delivery Service. I was like “Yeah, what a great dad!  He let her take the radio.” (That was sarcasm.) But she pointed out that he let her take the radio, and he loved her and supported her and let her go off on her adventure.

Mister Kusakabe is just a good guy. Trying to give his young daughters as normal a life as possible while their mother is in the hospital, working to provide for them, listening to the. I don't think he really believes in the Totoros, but he acts as if he does, and that's such a nice thing to do.

5.) Charles Halloway (Something Wicked This Way Comes): This isn't something kids get about adults until they get older, but we have our doubts and fears too. 
The Witch, if she were alive, would have known that sound, and died again

Charles Halloway is an old man, and he worries that he's too old to be a proper father to his son.

“Dad," said Will, his voice very faint. "Are you a good person?"

"To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man's a hero to himself. I've lived with me a lifetime, Will. I know everything worth knowing about myself-"

"And, adding it all up...?"

"The sum? As they come and go, and I mostly sit very still and tight, yes, I'm all right.”

Spoiler, he turns out to be a pretty good dad after all.

4.) Keith Mars (Veronica Mars) 
I love Keith. He was always my favorite character on the show.

Lily once said that I only like people who make mistakes, and that's as true as anything anyone's ever said about me. Veronica is haunted by the ghost of the girl she used to be. Veronica loses as much as she wins, but she always comes back for more. Veronica is a competent investigator, with the skill set one would reasonably expect to find in the daughter of a sheriff turned PI. She's sensible, she's methodical, and she knows the tricks of the trade, but she's not brilliant. 

And everything she is, Keith helped her become.

3.) Pa Kent (Superman) (panel from All Star Superman)

Click to embiggen

Young Justice was a TV show from 2011 that suffered from the same problem afflicting a lot of DC Universe properties. The creators loved Batman and hated Superman. In Young Justice, which was  otherwise a decent show, Batman was this cool father figure to the team of young heroes, and Superman was a prickly, standoffish jerk who couldn't stand to be around his own clone.

There have been and will continue to be many different interpretations of the characters, but some things about them are constant. A Batman who is kinder than Superman is just as wrong as a Batman who is stronger than Superman.  He's up to what, five Robins now? "Come here, little boy. I have some elf boots.  Those don’t fit? Don’t worry. I have several pairs. Don't mind the blood."

Superman would have been a great dad, just like Johnathan Kent. When he was pitching All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison said "'Superman' is an act. 'Clark Kent' in Metropolis is also an act. There are actually two Kents, at least – one is a disguise, a bumbling, awkward mask for Superman. The other is the confident, strong, good-hearted Clark Kent who was raised by his surrogate Ma and Pa in Kansas and knows how to drive a tractor. I think he's the most 'real' of all."

That's who Johnathan Kent was and who Clark Kent aspires to be.

2.) Tenzin (The Legend of Korra): I love Tenzin. On one level he's a hilariously grumpy sitcom dad,
Pema: Dear, the best thing you can do right now is to give Korra some space.
Tenzin: You must promise me that your teenage years won't be like this!
Jinora: I will make no such promises.

but he's also an incomparable badass. He fares much better than Korra against the Equalists, for instance. (You'd think someone who solved her problems with her fists for her entire life would be better at using them.)

He's fundamentally decent person. You often hear variations on the phrase "He would do anything for his kids" as a compliment, but I it struck me as I was reviewing episodes for this post that Tenzin wouldn't. There are lines he will not cross. He will not commit abhorrent acts in their name. When his home and temple are invaded and supervillains take his family and his students hostage, Tenzin's kids are right there getting the hostages to safety. He taught them to stand up for themselves and for other people, by setting that example.

1.) Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird):

The Free Space on the Good Dad Bingo Board and for good reason. Even after Go Set a Watchmen, he remains the ideal to which dads expire. Atticus is a widower doing his best to raise his children in 1930s Alabama.

My grandfather served as a marine in WWII, leaving high school early in order to serve.  He supported his family for half a century. As an old friend of his said at his funeral, "He always had a smile for everyone and he never talked too loud." There is a scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird" where Atticus shoots a rabid dog. He doesn't go bragging about it afterwards. He doesn't exchange high fives with his friends. He did it because he was the best equipped to do it, and he went on with his life afterwards. I loved my grandpa. He was a good man. He always made me think of Atticus.

Atticus did his best. He was warm and kind and good.

"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it", is some darn good advice.

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