Seven of Literature's Ultimate Dads

From heroic lawyers fighting injustice to mutant inseminators with offspring spanning centuries, here are some of the dadliest dads around.
June 18, 2017, 7:11pm
Still from 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Courtesy of Universal Pictures

This Father's Day, after you're done scrambling to get a tie with golf balls on it or a new wallet as a present, why not sit back and read about some of literature's most heroic, horrible, and/or hilarious dads to make you more grateful for your own paterfamilias? If you're looking for suggestions, here are eight books with some of the daddest dads around.

Still from 'The Road.' Courtesy of Dimension Films

Doro from Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Scholars may disagree on who is the ultimate dad in literature, but Doro, from Butler's absolutely phenomenal Wild Seed is certainly a contender. A mutant born in ancient Egypt, he discovers he has the ability to jump his consciousness from body to body while never dying. With nothing else to do over the centuries, Doro becomes obsessed with finding other humans with mutated powers and breeding them into a race of superbeings. Naturally, he partakes in plenty of the breeding himself in his various host bodies, producing children over countless centuries as a dad of many different races, nationalities, and eras. They may not make mugs for it, but Doro wins the title of World's #1 Dad.

The Man from The Road by Cormac McCarthy

All that a parent wants is for their children to grow up and be healthy, happy, and not eaten by some crazed, roaming cannibal. That's a bit hard to do when the world has been ravaged by an unexplained apocalypse and what remains of humanity has descended into madness and murder. In McCarthy's so-grim-the-reaper-was-scared-of-reading-it vision of the future, no hope remains except perhaps the love of a father devoted to keeping his son alive. With the way the world is heading, McCarthy's father might just be the model we need.

Still from 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Still from 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those rare books that everyone is forced to read in school and yet everyone still loves. That's in large part thanks to one of America's most noble fictional dads, Atticus Finch. The widower Finch teaches the book's narrator, Scout, lessons about courage, morality, and standing up for what you believe in while he fights prejudice in segregated Alabama as a lawyer. Although Lee's posthumously published novel Go Set a Watchman complicates Finch's heroism with a significantly darker characterization—he's basically a racist—the murky circumstances surrounding its publication have allowed the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird to remain the canonical model dad that most readers remember.

Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

They say a dad is only as good as his jokes, and Mr. Bennet has all of Austen's characteristic caustic wit… especially when it comes to his wife: "I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last 20 years at least." Zing! He might not be the best husband, but Mr. Bennet is a pretty darn good dad, doting on his five daughters and always finding the right thing to say to our heroine Lizzy.

The Dead Father from The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme

If you can measure a father by the shadow they cast after they are gone, then the Dead Father from postmodern master Donald Barthelme has to rank near the top. The father looms so large that he literally is a gigantic corpse that has to be dragged across the countryside. Barthelme's novel looks at fatherhood from many different angles in his characteristic fragmented style and darkly humorous prose.

José Arcadio Buendía from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Most dads are lucky to father a kid or two, but José Arcadio Buendía sires an entire town. The patriarch of the Buendía family, José Arcadio flees the ghost of a man he killed in a duel and then founds the city of Macondo after a dream. An archetype of García Márquez's magical realism, José Arcadio Buendía is an eccentric dreamer and scientist who pursues the unknown. He's also featured in the one of the most famous opening lines in all of literature: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

King Lear from King Lear by William Shakespeare

We have to face it: Some dads just suck at being dads. Parents are supposed to love their kids equally and make sure they get along, but King Lear decides, instead, to divide his kingdom up and give the largest share to whichever of his three daughters—Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia—can prove their love the most. If that's not enough, Lear disinherits the one daughter who actually loves him for refusing to play along. The brown-nosing contest brings tragedy to everyone involved. Way to go, Dad.

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