It’s difficult to be a dad in children’s literature. Dads basically have two options. They are either terrible dads, such as Huck Finn’s drunken, abusive father; or they get killed off in the first chapter of the story, as in “James and the Giant Peach” and Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
It seems that in order for children to have a proper adventure they must either be orphans, such as Harry Potter and the Box Car Children; or have physically and/or emotionally absent fathers (“Pippi Longstocking,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Because of Winn Dixie”).
I get it. I think the definition of adventure probably includes the phrase, “Something done by a child without parental supervision.” That’s understandable. How can a kid expect to have an adventure if there’s a parent in the background reminding them to wear sunscreen and bring a rain jacket “just in case?”
In honor of Father’s Day I went searching for a few good dads. They are out there, even if one has to look in the pages of the weekly comics to find them.
The best literary dad of all time is widower Atticus Finch from “To Kill A Mockingbird” who not only argues on the unpopular side of justice as a southern lawyer in the 1930s but who also carefully navigates the raising of his two young children, Jem and Scout.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of the few books I have read more than once. In school I identified with the kids, even though they were significantly younger than me. As I got older I appreciated Atticus’s wisdom, especially this passage, where he makes a keen observation about the ability of children to understand things: “When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don’t make a production out of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ‘em.”
Jem and Scout seem to appreciate their father’s wisdom as well, as evidenced in this passage where Scout explains Atticus’s parenting methods to her Uncle Jack: “You never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it—you just lit right into me. When Jem an’ I fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hears mine too.”
My son cited Mr. Arthur Weasley of the “Harry Potter” series as an example of a good literary dad. The somewhat bedraggled father of seven wizarding children got a gold star rating from my son, who quoted this line from book two, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” when Mr. Weasley is informed by his wife that three of their sons had flown about in a car he had enchanted. “‘Did you really?’ said Mr. Weasley eagerly. ‘Did it go all right? I-I mean,’ he faltered as sparks flew from Mrs. Weasley’s eyes, ‘that was very wrong, boys–very wrong indeed…’”
The idea here, as I understand it, is that good dad behavior entails acknowledging that your sons have done something cool, even while acknowledging that it might have been something foolish.
As far as classic children’s and young adult books go there’s also Bob Crachit of “A Christmas Carol.” It’s obvious he is well loved by his family and that he cherishes them in return—“God bless us everyone.”
Moving beyond the realm of novels, we have the unnamed dad from the beloved comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” Calvin’s dad has a wicked sense of humor (he’s a comic strip dad, after all), but also a lot of heart. When he’s not taking it on the chin in Calvin’s dad ratings polls, he plays in the snow, endures camping trips preceded by long car rides and even helps Calvin get over the death of the baby raccoon Calvin finds in the yard.
When my children were younger I found the perfect dad in the early reader series, Henry and Mudge.
While young Henry mostly has adventures with his “big dog Mudge,” his (again unnamed) dad is often an integral part of the story and possesses some character traits I consider particularly irresistible: He brings his guitar on camping trips and sings Elvis. He mows the lawn. He reads newspapers. He drinks tea. He gets dressed up on Valentine’s Day and takes his wife out dancing. He spends weekends in his basement building cardboard castles with his son.
It’s worth noting that the Henry and Mudge series was written by Cynthia Rylant.
Only a woman could create the perfect man.