We’re talking about fathers and father figures this week, in honor of Father’s Day. I’m one of the people for whom this is an awkward topic. My Dad died a little over twenty years ago, and although I’m not actively sad anymore, he’s not here to send gifts and cards to. Or to call or visit, or any of those things. When I say I’m not sad, don’t get me wrong – I adored him and was a daddy’s girl through and through. It’s just that the grief has mellowed with time and tears. I considered writing about him today but I ran into my usual problem of not knowing what to say. There’s no possible hope that I could bring him alive for you, even on the page. I used to try, but gave it up after these words came out of my pen:
“I tried to write a poem for you, but you were too big to fit on the page.” Now that I think about it, this is likely just as well as he didn’t much care for poetry.
So I thought maybe I’d talk to you about some of my favorite fictional dads and father figures instead.
Let’s start with Atticus Finch, in To Kill A Mockingbird. Here is a man who loved his kids, accepted and cherished them for their unique selves, protected them, stood up for principle, and did pretty much everything you can think of right. So he’s pretty much the guy other Dads should seek to emulate.
And then there’s Hamlet’s father, who is maybe not quite so perfect, even though his son adores him. We don’t really get to know a whole lot about him, since he’s already dead when he rolls on scene, but Hamlet tells us:
“See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man.”
Now there’s a glowing tribute, although there’s certainly nothing in there about throwing baseballs or learning to ride bikes or any of that sort of thing. And Hamlet’s father as a ghost is sort of selfish and leads his son down the road to destruction. So I guess we’ll have to take Hamlet’s word for it that he was a good guy while living.
One of my favorite father figures in all of literature is Matthew Culbert in Anne of Green Gables. I mean, when Marilla insists on dressing Anne in all of the ugly clothes and shy, awkward Matthew takes himself to town and forces himself to speak to a woman in order to get her a pretty dress with puffed sleeves – how can you not love a man like that? The moment where he dies, of course, is so horribly terribly sad it brings tears to my eyes just writing about it now.
And speaking of sadness – how about Dumbledore as a father figure for Harry Potter? Yeah, I’m not even going to talk about that one. Let’s see, now. Something in a happier vein. I know! Bob Cratchit. Bob Cratchit who endures Scrooge day in and day out, trying to warm his freezing hands with a candle, so that he can continue to care for his family. His gentleness with Tiny Tim has become iconic.
And then there’s the Grandfather in Heidi. I love that story. I loved reading the transformation from gruff old codger to father figure not only for Heidi, but also for Peter and Clara.
Another great father in a book is Rob, Ken’s father in My Friend Flicka and Thunderhead. Now here’s the thing about Rob – he isn’t a particularly wise man. He isn’t gentle or understanding. In fact, he’s hard-headed and strong-willed and prone to being angry and maybe even obnoxious. He doesn’t understand his dreamy, sensitive son at all. But, he loves him and does the best he can, according to what he knows and believes, to help him.
Now that I’ve started thinking about father figures in books I can’t stop. They keep coming at me, thick and fast, these wonderful characters who have moved off the page and into my heart and memory. Funny, that’s where my father lives now, too, and maybe that’s why I’m not so sad anymore when I think of him. Because in that way – the same way all of these characters live and breathe for me – so does he.