One of the many gifts my father has given me is my love for books and reading. So it seems fitting, this father’s day, to highlight some of the loveable dads, and dad figures, I’ve met in books. In many cases, I admire them because the qualities I love in my own dad (and there are many because he’s an excellent father and human) echo in them.
Some I’ve met this year. Some have been in my heart for many years. Each has inspired me in his own way.
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Atticus tops my list of favorite literary dads. And favorite literary characters, now I think about it. He exemplifies the American ideal, so beautiful and so difficult to achieve, of equal treatment for all. Through his actions and choices, he shows his children (and readers) what empathy for all human beings, regardless of whether we agree with, like, or identify with them, looks like. “
Mr. Cartwright in Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Colbert’s young-adult novel is about Theo, a 17-year ballet dancer who is hiding a dangerous secret about her past that could impact her future. This gripping story has quite a few shocking reveals you might not see coming owing to its unreliable narrator. Mr. Cartwright is Theo’s loving and supportive dad, who stands by his daughter’s side during her darkest moments.
Mr. Weasley in Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
One of my favorite things about Mr. Weasley is his large embrace. The father of a substantial brood and modest means, he repeatedly welcomes Harry and numerous others who troop through his home. And he rejects the privileged position he could claim owing to his “pure blood” status in favor of acceptance and understanding.
The preacher in Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The preacher is what the novel’s narrator, 10-year old Opal, calls her father, a compassionate listener. I love the blessing he offers over an evening meal with a large group of diverse friends: “We appreciate the complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other, and we appreciate the task you put down before us, of loving each other the best we can, even as you love us.”
Daddy Gunnar is Woodson’s maternal grandfather with whom she lives for portions of her childhood. Through her sensory word paintings, Daddy Gunnar emerges as stalwart figure of her youth, a man’s whose depth of love is matched by his steady dedication to his family: “Y’all know how much I love you?/Infinity and back again, I say/the way I’ve said it a million times./And then, Daddy says to me, Go on and add a little bit more to that.”
Ba in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Ba is the father of Minli, the novel’s protagonist who sets off on a mission to improve her family’s fortunes. Kind and gentle, he inspires his daughter’s journey through the legends and myths he shares with her to lighten her burdens with laughter, wonder, and light.
Captain Snegiryov in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Possibly the most heartrending paternal moment in the sum total of world literature involves Captain Snegiryov, Ilyusha’s father, in Book Ten. In a way, it’s so devastating that it comes full circle to being hopeful because you figure, if human beings are capable of such profound love, then how bad can we be?
Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov in Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
Another of my favorite literary dads, Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov is the landowning father of Arkady, one of the two figurative “sons” of the title. It refers to Russia’s old and emerging ways of life, both of which are rendered fully, allowing readers to experience two ways of life as they come to heads. We see the human frailties and flaws of all characters, including the kind, devoted Nikolai.
Mr. Win in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
In this lyrical novel, Julia wakes up one morning to discover that her father, a successful New York City layer, has vanished. Following his trail, Julia tracks him to Burma, where a man approaches her with the promise to tell her his story. The portrait that emerges bears little resemblance to the man Julia knew. In the process, this poignant novel invites readers to think about the full lives our fathers lived before we came into and reshaped their lives.
Joe in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
In one of my favorite scenes in literature, hardworking blacksmith Joe Gargery ladles spoonful after spoonful of gravy onto young Pip’s plate as his abusive sister berates him (along with their Christmas dinner guests). The moment serves as a metaphor for the emotional nourishment Joe provides and his unconditional love for Pip, whose value he eventually learns the hard way.
Hobie in The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
When Theo Decker arrives on his doorstep emotionally exhausted and alone, Hobie opens his home without question and becomes one of the few constants on which the orphaned teen can rely. Hobie listens without judgment, provides guidance when possible, and acknowledges his own limitations.
Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Another favorite of mine from The Brothers Karamazov is Father Zosima, a spiritual rather than literal father. He provides one of the best articulations of the challenge (and importance) of loving in Chapter 5 of Part 1. Zosima dispenses these words of advice to a woman who is lamenting her lack of faith. As they are fitting words to end with, here they are:
“Never be frightened at your own faintheartedness in attaining love, and meanwhile do not even be very frightened by your own bad acts. I am sorry that I cannot say anything more comforting, for active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. […] Whereas active love is labor and perseverance.”
Great fathers and father-figures in literature: Who are your picks?