Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers in Fiction

When it comes to Father’s Day, a common “Dad icon” the media looks for are the dads we see on television. Mike Brady, Ward Cleaver, Al Bundy, Archie Bunker, Steven Keaton, Cliff Huxtable, Sheriff Andy Taylor, Howard Cunningham, Jason Seaver, Charles Ingalls, Homer Simpson and Danny Tanner. But what about the dads we read about in novels? There may not be a lot we remember, but there are many fathers in fiction I think are worth mentioning.

One father in fiction that stands out is Atticus Finch, the widowed father of two children in To Kill a Mockingbird. I love this novel and I can still remember how Scout’s father often patiently and lovingly talked to his children about the things they were going through and especially the things going on in their lives. The children tried to understand the reasoning behind the hatred spewed at a black man put on trial, and I thought Lee’s portrayal of Atticus during his role as a lawyer and as a loving father were straight on.

Another father in fiction I liked reading about was Denny Swift in Garth Stein’s unforgettable novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Denny is an up-and-coming race car driver, and after his wife dies, his in-laws fight him for custody of his little girl. I had to admire the mature and intelligent way Denny handles this situation, even going so far as to encourage his daughter to stay with his in-laws so there won’t be any conflicts while custody rights are being handled in court. I was impressed with how he handles himself even after his in-laws set him up for a sex crime, all in their attempt to make him look like an unfit father in court.

In The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, Padraic “Paddy” Cleary is the firm, loving and hostile father all wrapped into one. The one thing I remember from this novel (and the made-for-TV movie) is the hostility between him and his adopted son, Frank. (Frank doesn’t know Padraic is not his real father until later in the story.) Despite his flaws, Padraic works hard to support his family and keep his family together during hard times.

It’s not just dads who became fathers the usual way I enjoyed reading about in fiction, though. There are the men who became dads after marrying a woman who already has either a child or children. Take, for example, Bernard Fine, in Danielle Steel’s novel, Fine Things. Bernard is enchanted by a little girl and falls in love with the child’s mother, Liz, who is recently divorced. The two marry and welcome another child into their small family, but tragedy strikes when Liz is diagnosed with cancer and later dies, leaving Bernard to care for the two children himself. Even though Bernard does seek out another wife, he is still a devoted father to the children, even taking the time to talk with his daughter who is angry that her mother is being “replaced.”

These are just some of the dads who come to mind when I think about fathers in fiction. There are also the dads in books I have had the privilege of reviewing: Howard Walters, the comically paranoid former NASA-man in Leanna Ellis’ Once in a Blue Moon; Joe Tucker i
n Carla Stewart’s novel, Chasing Lilacs, who calls his daughter, Sammie, “Sis” and struggles to keep the status quo in his home despite Sammie’s mother suffering from aLink severe case of depression; and Michael Seymour, the wise and gentle father in Lisa Samson’s novel, Resurrection in May, who acquiesces to his college-age daughter’s insistence on staying at Claudius’ farm after surviving a horrible ordeal in Rwanda (can’t say I don’t blame him, given his wife’s failing health and his need to care for her more than his daughter).

I especially think about fathers in fiction on this Father’s Day because, at this point, I am editing the last part of my novel, Shadow of Samhain. I think of how two fathers are portrayed in this story: Pearsons Ratham, the father of my main character, Malissa, and Dean Charleston, Malissa’s husband. I modeled Pearsons after my own father and Dean after my own husband. (They are NOT exact replicas, however. These characters just have bits and pieces of these two men in my life. I thought that, given this novel is based on actual events in my own life, it was appropriate to do so.) I am especially thoughtful about this given the part I am at now, where I had to go online and ask a bunch of dads, “What would you do if your daughter was missing and you suspected a psychic had kidnapped her?” Quite a few dads replied on how they would react and what kind of actions they would take. This contributed to how I ended up writing that scene (thanks, dads!) but I had to really wonder over how these dads sounded VERY protective of their daughters and some of them even said they’d get medieval with the psychic if they suspected the woman had harmed their child. I know we parents must set good examples for our children and try to live a life free of violence, but I could really see how, when it came to protecting one of their own, these dads were ready to roll up their sleeves and physically fight for their families.

Thanks, real-life dads, for stepping up and doing what dads are supposed to do for their homes and families. Thanks, TV dads, for making us viewers take a moment to thank the good Lord we don’t have a goofy dad like that or appreciate how our own dads were patient, whimsical and understanding like that. And thanks, fictional dads, for helping us readers analyze how your portrayal in fiction shapes our views and expectations of fatherhood, and how some fathers out there can reflect on just the kind of dad they, too, want to be.

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