This Father’s Day, we’ll take a loving look at father types and their evolving role in the family structure – from Provider to Nurturer and all types in between.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, and the sons and daughters who celebrate their dads. My Heart Belongs to Daddy is an old song whose lyrics I don’t remember, but the title flies like a banner in my mind.
I want to start with an anecdote about my dad.
He was his dad’s favorite child, the youngest of 11, and he experienced the love of father. He passed that love to me. My mom had a cruel dad, but a good mother, and she experienced the love of mother. She passed that to me.
But I was supposed to be a boy. My dad’s heart was set on it. My name was to be David, which means Beloved. It was no secret, but was often retold as an affectionate anecdote.
As a joke, I signed Father’s Day cards to him, “Love David.” When my son David was born, he was named after me. Me, David.
Despite having initial disappointment, my dad was thrilled to death to have a little girl. Later, when I grew up just enough, he taught me to drink, smoke and swear. He taught me to break away and have some fun. No matter what I did, I was never in trouble with Dad.
And he became an amazing granddad to his beloved David and his brother Jordan. Of course! And he was crazy about my then husband, Larry. Dad playfully called me “My son in law’s wife Susan.”
Dad was a blue collar guy, rough around the edges. On kindergarten pageant days and piano recitals, he opted to sit at the bar at the VFW. I was grumpy about that during my growing up years, but he was very much a dad of the times, the provider, the driver, the holder of the remote control.
Fathers in Literature
Fathers feature prominently throughout literature, TV programs, comics, and movies … they are not all great dads or all awful dads. They describe the multiple types of dads that live in real life. As sons or daughters, we can watch, listen and read to discover that father is a complex role to play and being a son or daughter (someday to become a parent too) requires a complex interaction. We find out about dads who are much different to our own, or to ourselves. We can observe, study and learn.
My favorite father of literature is Silas Marner – protagonist of the novel by George Eliot, real name Mary Ann Evans. Silas is a dingy, depressed old man living alone. He has absolutely nothing except stacks and stacks of gold coins, which he loves to count at the end of each day. He works hard for his money, and the work and money are all he has. He thinks his world is over when his money gets stolen – until a little girl is left abandoned at his door. He is enchanted with her, her gold curls glisten in the moonlight. He adopts her, against the advice and efforts of the townspeople, but he is allowed to keep her. He calls her Eppie, after his mum. Over the course of the novel he becomes the most loving natural dad ever. He is patient and gentle, he refuses to punish her when she is mischievous. His only role model was his own tender heart. And when the girl Eppie’s true father is revealed to be the other richest guy in town, she is offered the opportunity to live with him in his mansion. Instead, Eppie chooses to remain with the poor old man who raised her with such tenderness. “I can’t think o’no happiness without him,” says Eppie.
To Kill a Mockingbird
I’d also like to mention Atticus Finch, the lawyer father of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. He is the absolute epitome for model fatherhood. Atticus Finch has moral fiber, is dignified, brave, loyal and kind – traits that any child would wish to see shine in their dad. A pioneer of civil rights, an exemplary lawyer, good human being and father rolled into one. He is prone to spouting off deep quotable thoughts: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” That really shines brightest.
Atticus listened to his children and cared about their fears and ambitions. Where many parents might say, “Don’t worry about it,” Atticus tried to explain racism and justice to his young caring daughter, Scout. He had the vision to see she was heading into a complicated adult world, and he was willing to prepare her for it instead of secreting her away from it. He recognized her mature outlook, her willingness to stick her neck out for justice, and he was proud of her.
The Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens wrote some memorable dads, but I bet one of everyone’s favorite is Bob Cratchett, father of Tiny Tim, in The Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly boss of Bob, may do everything possible to make their lives miserable, but father Bob makes the very best of almost nothing, and his family loves and appreciates him for it. Bob is the kind of dad who sacrifices for the comfort of his family, and he doesn’t whine about it. But the real surprise comes when Scrooge, after realizing what a jerk he has been – okay, he didn’t realize this himself, the three ghosts told him – but he comes around to become generous and kind, and like a second father to Tiny Tim. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good s man, as the good old city knew.”
We have to include a few iffy characters, if only to show the outcome, because one of the rewards of parenting is seeing how well your children turn out, well, at least in literature! So King Lear has these three daughters (Goneral, Regan, and Cordelia), but he has an ego bigger than fatherhood, so he asks them each to describe their depth of love to him, and the one with the best love narrative wins the fortune. Ironically, the daughter who loves him most is not willing to play such a tasteless game. She says, “I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less.” Her sisters lavish false adoration on the father king, so he divides his fortune between them and cuts honorable Cordelia out of the will.
The greedy sisters and their husbands wreak havoc trying to dominate the fortune, and Cordelia returns from France to try to save her dad from disgrace and defeat. Everyone dies in the end, which is King Lear’s fault, but you have to admit a father’s love, no matter how deeply buried, will not go unwanted.
Mayor of Casterbridge
My next favorite, tragic, depressing duo in literature is Mayor of Casterbridge – Michael Henchard and his daughter, Elizabeth Jane. Hardy’s characters are always acting on impulse – emotion driven characters.
This pathetic man, drunk and surly, sells his wife and daughter to a sailor in a bar one night. The next morning he wakes up alone and says, what have I done? He sobers up and never touches a drink again. But he is too ashamed to look for his wife and daughter. Eighteen years later when the sailor dies, wife and daughter come back looking for Michael. Now a respectable and prosperous mayor of the city of Casterbridge, he just can’t seem to make things right. This daughter isn’t having it … he just messed up too badly. “And all this while the subtle souled girl asking herself why she was born, why sitting in a room, and blinking at the candle; why things around her had taken the shape they wore in preference to every other possible shape.”
So, back to real life. I thought about these things, these lessons from the past, lessons from great thinkers and writers who were working out for themselves, what makes a good father? And while I was sorting ideas into a kind of checklist in my head, I decided to poll some friends and ask their opinions. None of them gave old fashioned responses, like a dad should be a provider, put the bread on the table, discipline when necessary, and leave the rest to mom. One friend, an interactive family man, gave only one answer: to teach his son to go for it. To be aware that actions have consequences, favorable or not, but to be brave and experimental in life. One dad said that it was important to make time for his son every day, even if it meant getting up early, pushing harder through job and house chores.
Another thought: Patience to show the fundamentals of being a good person but allowing them to make their own decisions and seeing if they’re happy with them. The investment of time and patience now will always lead to trust.
And from my sample dads? Let’s see.
- From my dad, my takeaway is share the love. Pay it forward. Love is contagious. Have a sense of humor.
- Silas Marner: selfless love. Recognize your child as the treasure it is. Don’t be cruel.
- To Kill a Mockingbird: be a good model citizen of the world to your child. Recognize the wisdom of your children. Guide them, but let them grow up.
- Christmas Carol: don’t let poverty stand in the way of love. Search your soul for compassion and generosity. Develop a conscience.
- King Lear: you can’t buy love. Don’t let anyone or anything come between you and your children. Contemplate the purpose of life.
- Mayor of Casterbridge and King Lear: sometimes it really can be too late. Do you love your kids? Make sure you do love and do it conscientiously. Do your best, do with love and an eye to the future.
Think of some anecdotes you may like to share in the breakouts about your dad, or yourself as dad. Best wishes for a joyful day!
So be it.