I will admit that there have been very few books that I’ve read where I’ve even noticed the father in the books. My favorite series while I was growing up was The Boxcar Children, and the main characters were orphans and lived with their grandfather. In the other books that I read, most of the characters wrote about their relationship with their mothers. Now that I’m older and a parent (who is married to a man who happens to be an amazing father to my boys), I’ve been more cognizant of the role fathers play in my favorite books. I’ll admit, I had to think hard to think of more than one favorite fictitious father, but these three literary dads are so memorable.
So you already know of my incredible love affair with To Kill a Mockingbird
to see my post on Scout Finch). I actually had the teeniest, tiniest … okay, very obvious crush on Atticus Finch, Scout’s dad. Atticus is so patient and gentle. He is brave and intelligent. He says the wisest things, and I’ve always imagined him to speak in a soft, low voice. See? I thought it was a crush. (Ironically Atticus is almost the same number of years older than his wife as my husband is to me.) As I thought about it, though, I realized I admired Atticus for his fathering skills, and not as a love interest. Above all else, I respect Atticus Finch.
I do not know how to start describing why I think Atticus is such an amazing father. It helps that the novel is written from Scout’s perspective, and Scout obviously loves and respects her father. Atticus is probably best known as the white lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. This obviously shows his bravery, as defending a black man in 1930’s America was not accepted.
I, however, remember Atticus’s patience when dealing with the hot-headed Jem and curious (and also hot-headed) Scout. He uses words to discipline his children, and teach them a better way. When Scout belittles poor Walter Cunningham for pouring syrup all over his food, Atticus tells her, “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.” Atticus is teaching his children how to have empathy! As a parent of a toddler and a newborn, I cannot even imagine how difficult that task will be.
My favorite Atticus quotation is about courage: “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” Everyone needs to hear this. Atticus is a man who exemplifies courage, asks his children to do the same, and walks them through it. He is absolutely my favorite fictitious father.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read Kaui Hart Hemmings’s The Descendants. I picked it up because it was a book about Hawaii, and the movie had just come out. The local people were saying that this was a fairly accurate film based in Hawaii, and George Clooney was starring in the movie, so I thought it was worth a shot.
Matthew King is the main character, and he has been born and raised in Hawaii; he is hapa, which means he is part Caucasian and part Hawaiian. Because of his ancestry, Matt is pretty successful financially: He lives in a nice home, and he has a good business. However, his wife is currently laying in a coma, and she will be taken off life support soon. He needs to help his daughters and himself through this difficult, emotional time. To make things more difficult, his older daughter is a recovering drug addict, and they have recently discovered that their mother had been having an affair.
I think I connected with this book because it was so similar to some events in my own life, and I remember Matthew King, not as a perfect father, but as a father who is trying his best. In a split second, he has become the sole caretaker of two girls who are about to lose their mother forever. The relationship between the girls and their mother hadn’t been perfect either, and Matthew does his best to help prepare their daughters for their mother’s impending death.
There is one moment in the book that made me weep. I cannot remember the specifics, but Matt’s younger daughter had done everything she could to stay away from her mother in the hospital. The time was coming to take her off life support, and Matt was trying to get his daughter to say something to her mother, but she kept refusing. He finally has his daughter hold her mother’s hand, and even though his daughter fights to get away, she eventually calms down, and, realizing that she is losing her mother, she begins weeping. Her father holds her close and lets her grieve. It is a powerful moment, and it captures a moment no parent wants to live through, but Matthew King somehow manages the strength to help his daughter say good-bye to her mother. Matthew has his flaws, and most of the time, I felt he was bewildered with everything happening, but in this moment as a father, he pulls on incredible strength for his daughter.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is such a beautifully written novel. Everything about it, from the plot to the characters to the very way the novel is written (and at points illustrated), is unforgettable. The novel focuses on Liesel, a foster child living in Germany during World War II. Life in Germany at that time is scary, even though Liesel doesn’t quite understand it all yet, and her hunger for words helps her escape many of the dark moments in her life.
Liesel’s foster father Hans Hubermann does his best to help her during this time. He teaches Liesel to read after the other kids tease her at school. When Liesel is plagued with nightmares, Hans sleeps in the chair next to her bed all night until she stops having nightmares.
Like Atticus, Hans demonstrates great bravery by doing the unpopular thing in Nazi Germany, which is keeping a Jewish man, Max, hidden in his basement. Hans’s wife often scolds him for being lazy and playing his accordion all the time, or overly generous for painting people’s houses for nearly nothing, but she, like the reader, will admire the way Hans stands up to everyone else and tries to help the Jewish people who are forced to walk throughout the town. While this action puts him and his family in danger, Hans refuses to assimilate into the Nazi way of thinking/
In the process of helping the Jewish man in his basement, Hans teaches Liesel compassion. She also refuses to ally herself with Nazi Germany, and, even though this puts her in great danger as well, Liesel befriends Max.
Hans Hubermann is a quiet man, but he is a good listener, and he is quick to help others, even complete strangers at the risk of his own life. As the reader, I admire that, but it is evident, through Liesel’s actions, that Liesel also loves and respects Hans as well.