Lately, I've been reviewing new releases for Off the Shelves, but one reason that I started writing book reviews was to remind readers to go back and revisit the classics every now and then.
So in honor of Father's Day, I decided to go back through my bookshelves to select the top most admirable father characters from classic fiction (selecting from novels that are 50 years old or more).
However, this turned out to be a much more difficult task than I first thought. While there are certainly plenty of famous fathers in literature, most tend to be either antagonistic toward their children — such as Oedipus' father, who pins his infant son's feet together and throws him out into the wild for the wolves, and in Pedro de Calderon's "Life is a Dream," King Basilio locks his son away in a solitary prison for all 20-some years of his life.
Or they are nearly absent from the story altogether — a murdered father in particular tends to be good motivation for characters like Hamlet, Laertes, Electra and Orestes to confront their respective adversaries.
There are also many father figure-type mentors that help raise and educate our heroes, such as grandfathers or uncles (like the titular heroine in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre), or someone who takes in an orphan protagonist (Fagin in Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist), or a teacher who takes on one exceptionally special student (like Merlin and young Arthur from the Camelot legends).
When it comes to praiseworthy biological fathers in classic narratives, however, they seem to be few and far between.
I was able to recall a few good father figures from literature, and while they are not all perfect, they do embody some good elements of paternity. Here are some fictional fathers worth keeping in mind today:
Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (1960): This was the first father character that came to mind for me, possibly because I finally got around to reading this novel recently.
Atticus is not only doing his best to be a good single-parent dad to his two children Jem and Scout, but he is also the only man in Maycomb willing to defend a black man in court during a time when such an act would taint his reputation.
He's not just setting a good example about equality and acceptance to his family, but to a whole generation of readers as well.
Bob Cratchet in "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens (1843): For as many times as Dickens' tale has been revamped and reinvented in every way imaginable, people rarely give much thought to Scrooge's ill-treated employee, Bob.
This poor man works tirelessly at a job I doubt he enjoys, for the most despised person in town, all so that he can support his wife and many children, including a son with a crippled leg he can not afford to give proper medical attention.
Yet Bob never complains, always keeping a chipper attitude for the sake of his kids and does not even criticize Scrooge so as not to ruin Christmas for everyone. Next time you whine about your boss, remember Bob and just how good you really have it.
Prospero in "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare (1600s): It is tricky at first to view Prospero as likeable. He's motivated primarily by revenge against the people who betrayed him and exiled him to the island, he keeps the spirit Ariel as a slave and he treats the monster Caliban pretty poorly.
He does, however, devotedly love his daughter Miranda, and when she falls in love with handsome Ferdinand, Prospero immediately puts the guy to work in order for him to prove how sincere he is about wooing Miranda.
If you're a dad and you had magical powers, you'd probably do the same to all of your daughter's suitors, wouldn't you?
Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller (1949): Once again, it can be hard to see Willy as an upstanding person, given that he had an affair while he was married and he gives his sons Biff and Happy a hard time. But ultimately, Willy just wants his sons to succeed, and once he understands how his actions led to Biff's failing in school, Willy is even willing to kill himself in order for his family to get the insurance money so Biff can pursue a career in business.
While it's a dark, reckless way to show love, Willy is making the greatest sacrifice he can for his family.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it.