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12 lovable literary dads

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 I’ve met in books. 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 in Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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?

10 thoughts on “12 lovable literary dads

  1. Okay, so I should be in bed by now, but your list has got me thinking and is keeping me up!

    First off, thanks for including Arthur Weasley on this list. I think so many Harry Potter fans – or even people who just have a working knowledge of the series – think of him as this lovely, warm, kind, and surprisingly brave paternal figure, but no one really seems to say it, or at least not enough. He needs to hire Atticus Finch’s PR team! 🙂

    Since you ask at the end, I found myself trying to come up with father figures I’ve admired in things I’ve read, and funny enough, the ones I DO admire (with the exception of fellows like Atticus and Mr. Weasley and Joe up there) tend to be dads who are trying their best but still struggling, or who find redemption and end up being good parents. Or who are nice but are too caught up in their own struggles to really be a help to their kids – sometimes the kids help them, instead. It seems like maybe books tend to portray parents as either 2-D characters, or else as problematic ones as a whole, especially if they’re being portrayed in a realistic way, I feel.

    On the other hand, if this were a blog devoted to TV and/or movies, oh my gosh, your list could be sooo much longer and it would be so much easier to add on other dads! Especially if we’re talking about TV, mainly thanks to one of the classic sitcom formats being about families, and often those families involving nice/kind/funny dads. But, no. I will keep that bubbling list to myself, and only add the quick observation of how Bryan Cranston played one of the most delightful TV dads, Malcolm’s dad Hal in “Malcolm in the Middle”, and one of the most complex, ulitmately not-so-great ones, as Walter White in “Breaking Bad”. Sorry, though, because that has nothing to do with literature.

    The only two literary dads that come to mind in answer to your question are actually quite problematic.

    The first one, because he’s a bear, and is not as developed in the book series he’s featured in as he is in the cartoon I watch with my son (who also has some of the books): Papa Ours (Papa Bear) in “Petit Ours Brun” (“Little Brown Bear”). I’ve actually been meaning to blog about how both Papa AND Maman Ours are, like, my ultimate parenting goals. Papa Ours is a loving, devoted dad who spends time with his son and never just comes home from work and is like, “F@#$ it, I’m going to my man cave!” (bear cave?). Like Maman Ours, even though he can get fed up with his toddler cub’s shenanigans, he never just explodes and gets angry and yells – he always is firm but cool-headed (flash to me struggling to get my tantrum-throwing son into his carriage and trying not to yell TOO LOUD at the park this afternoon). And even though the show seems to portray a pretty traditional, French family (well, except for them being bears), Papa Ours seems like a feminist, making meals when Maman Ours is out doing her thing, or going to the market – basically, he doesn’t follow gender roles all the time. And he definitely finds Maman Ours both worthy of respect and also still attractive and appealing and fun to spend time with. A great dad AND a great husband. But, again, a bear who’s more a cartoon than a book character….

    The other one is also problematic: Mr. Bennet from “Pride and Prejudice”. He is totally not a Papa Ours when it comes to feeling any kind of respect for his wife, and of course he’s not particularly implicated in everything his daughters do, but I just find him so danged charming. I think he and I would have gotten along swimmingly. He reminds me a lot of my late father-in-law, and we were very fond of each other and enjoyed each other’s company. But Mr. Bennet is nowhere near Atticus Finch- or Arthur Weasley- levels of awesome dadness.

    Thank you so much for this post – even though it means I”ll probably be lying in bed trying to think of all the fathers I’ve ever met in books I’ve read, and how they measure up to your great picks!

    1. Oh no! I don’t want to keep you up at night – you need your sleep!
      That said, I thought about Mr. Bennet too. He comes through in the end, despite his limitations. And I kind of like that he has them; they make him more real.
      I go a kick out of what you said about Mr. Weasley needing Atticus’ PR team. 🙂 I believe you’re right, though. Mr. Weasley is undervalued in the way that quiet, steady people can be undervalued. I’ve done so much rereading of the series this year (as you know :), and so his name jumped into my head. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why he doesn’t get as much attention.
      Also, we have Little Brown Bear books here too – are they a different Little Brown Bear? I’m so curious now!
      (One last thing – I hadn’t thought about how Bryan Cranston played dads on both ends of the spectrum!)

      1. I love how you put it about Mr. Weasley.

        And as for Little Brown Bear, I’m not sure if they’re the same because when I was a little girl, I had a book called “Little Brown Bear” with these lovely, prickly-looking illustrations, and that’s not the same bear. My cousin, though, did a YouTube search so that my son could watch his favorite show when he was in the States, and she tried to translate the title in English since she didn’t know how to spell it in French, and the result did come up as the English version of the cartoon.

        Here’s a link, so you can see what the book illustrations look like/what an episode is like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOgHCHkfYKA

        The books are very short and usually almost too short and abrupt – often they just describe a moment in the day (bath time, etc.) or a common event in a young kids’ life, and just…end. I think they’re for toddlers to relate to or else maybe very young readers. But the cartoon is just brilliant, very clever and full of wisdom and the voices are great. I’ve seen an episode or two in English and didn’t like it as much, even though it followed the same script.

        I’m glad you also appreciated my Bryan Cranston comment – it felt a bit out of place on a book blog, but then again, “Breaking Bad” is so brilliant, it’s novel-eque, isn’t it?

        I hope you and your family had a nice time celebrating Fathers Day!

        1. Thank you, Alysa! Not sure if you celebrate it in Paris, but if so, I hope you enjoyed it. 🙂
          I think you’re right that it’s a different Little Brown Bear. The illustrations look different from the Little Brown Bear I’m thinking of. It’s interesting how the language can make such a huge difference in how a story resonates or doesn’t. We’ve had this experience with cartoons from English to Greek and from Greek to English.
          Also, I feel like I have to admit that I’ve never watched Breaking Bad! The only TV I’ve watched in recent years, other than sports and HGTV, is The Americans, which I LOVE. My hub has told me about Breaking Bad, though, which is how I recognized the reference. He is a big fan and described it as you did here!

  2. Okay, so I totally thought more about this last night and this morning, and I think I have two more good literary dads/father figures:

    Jean Valjean from “Les Miserables”

    and

    Rhett Butler from “Gone With the Wind” – he turns out to be a surprisingly doting dad, and I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read the book, so let’s say the way he reacts to bad news about a loved one, is heartbreaking.

    Thanks again for such a thought-provoking post!

    1. Thank you for coming back with more, Alysa! I haven’t read either of these but now you’re making me want to read “Les Miserables”…

      1. My pleasure! Like I said, I couldn’t stop thinking about this post!

        “Les Miserables” is a good read but definitely a challenge – Hugo liked him some digressions, so you’ll just randomly have to slog through, like 100 pages about the lives of a particular sect of nuns (this has only passing importance in the book), or a very detailed, vivid description of a battleground after a battle – interesting, but very long. Still, it’s worth it – what a great story, and at least the digressions are interesting overall. And, you being a Dickens fan, I bet you’d enjoy the way Hugo describes his characters and gives them such distinctive personalities. I would recommend an annotated version, though – the one I read wasn’t, that I can recall, so it wasn’t until years later that I learned cool things like that there actually WAS a huge, decaying sculpture of an elephant at the spot where the July Column now stands. That would have been cool to know, instead of it just making me scratch my head and wonder, “What’s with the elephant?”

        Also, “Gone With the Wind” makes for an awesome read, too. You can just devour it. The subject matter can be difficult, due to issues like slavery, but at least many of the slaves are actually vivid, 3-dimensional characters with an importance to the other characters/plot, and who are genuinely loved and respected (yes, this is complicated) by their “families”. And of course, Mitchell was just portraying the time period, not advocating for slavery to continue. It’s a great read, somewhere between literary epic and sloshy soap opera, hence its readability. Then again, when “Les Miserables” was first published, it was considered “popular literature,” as well, so maybe people described it the same way I’m describing “Gone With the Wind”. Still, give me Scarlett over Cosette any day! …Except for the slave-owner thing.

        1. Ah, interesting about Les Miserables – I feel this way about Moby Dick in terms of the digressions. I find myself trying to fit them in somehow, though it doesn’t always work. 🙂 I have three long books I want to get through at some point – Don Quixote, War and Peace, and Les Miserables. We’ll see if it happens!

          With Gone with the Wind, I’ve heard such different reactions to it. I will have to read it myself to have an opinion but have to admit it’s not one of my priorities when there’s so much Dickens, Thackeray, and Stevenson for me to read. 🙂

  3. Ahhh, I’m glad to see a character from The Goldfinch here. I’m reading it now, I’m terrified of big books, but I am liking it. Looks like I’ll continue to like it.

    1. Hi Andi! When I read The Goldfinch, it was the first big book I’d read it years – I was scared too! But I ended up being totally pulled in by it. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

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