Superfluous 7 Most Awesome Fictional Dads

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. If you are blessed enough to still have your own father around please take some time out of your day to call or visit and tell him you love him. I daddon’t have any children myself (that I know of), but I’d like to think that I would have been a pretty good father just by following the examples of my own Dad and his father, my Papaw Jim. At any rate, I thought today might be a good time to take a look at some fun examples of fatherhood as presented to us thru the prism of literature, movies, & television. So it is with deep admiration & respect to all good fathers out there that I present…..

 

from the home office in Worth County, Iowa, which contains the cities of Manly & Fertile…Worth County, where Manly men meet Fertile women…..

 

The (Supersized) Superfluous 7 Most Awesome Fictional Dads:

 

 

 

7 Sam Baldwin (Sleepless in Seattle) & Danny Tanner (Full House)
sbTwo widower Dads. 1989’s Sleepless in Seattle ranks 45th of my 100 Favorite Movies, and even though it is a rom-com there are no shortage of scenes showing Tom dtHanks’ Sam interacting with his young son. The sting of the death of the wife/mother is addressed and it is touching how father & son are getting thru the loss together. Okay sure…Sam loses points for his kid hopping onto a plane for a cross country trek to The Big Apple by himself, but all is forgiven when he chases after the boy and lovingly embraces him after he finds him at the Empire State Building. Bob Saget’s Danny Tanner may be the most unrealistically sweet father in TV history and he too loses points for needing his brother-in-law Uncle Jessie and best friend Joey to move in and help raise three young girls, but who the heck wouldn’t want such a nice guy for a Dad??

 

 

6 Daniel Hillard (Mrs. Doubtfire) & Mike Brady (The Brady Bunch)
doubtfireA divorcee & and the patriarch of one of entertainment’s first blended families. All that needs to be said about Robin Williams’ eponymous character in 1993’s Mrs. bradyDoubtfire (43rd on my list) is that the dude is willing to dress up like an old woman in order to spend time with his children. That’s devotion. I like the fact that Mrs. Doubtfire addresses divorce realistically. The parents don’t magically get back together, but they do find a way to focus on the children and do what is best for them. One thing that always struck me about The Brady Bunch was how the boys called Carol Brady Mom (she was their stepmother) and the girls called Mr. Brady Dad (he was their stepfather). Blending families is rarely that easy in the real world, but in the 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s the powers-that-be understood that folks watch television to escape from reality…a fact that seems to have been all but forgotten these days. I was dumbfounded when as an adult I learned that Robert Reed was a) gay and b) hated his role as Mr. Brady.

 

5 Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol)
Cratchit is mostly known as grumpy old miser Ebenezer Scrooge’s underpaid & overworked clerk in Dickens’ tale, but he is also shown to be a dedicated husband and father to six children. One cratchitof those children is Tiny Tim who is what we might call a “special needs child” in modern parlance. It is never explicitly stated what Tiny Tim suffers from, although it is likely to have been rickets, kidney disease, or tuberculosis. The problem is that Bob only makes about $2 per week and can barely afford to feed his family let alone pay for the medical care his son needs. Despite these struggles Bob Cratchit keeps a smile on his face and forges ahead, doing what must be done to provide a decent & happy life for his children. He reminds me just a bit of my own father, who had a demanding job that paid the bills but certainly never allowed us to be wealthy, and also had to spend a disproportionate amount of time, energy, & resources on me because of my disability.

 

 

 

4 Clark Griswold (The Vacation Series) & Howard Cunningham…aka “Mr. C.” (Happy Days)
cgYes Clark Griswold is a dufus. And yes he had a weird flirtation with a nameless babe in a convertible. But when you watch the Vacation movies one thing that is very clear mrcis that Clark loves his children and is devoted to his family. That’s nice to see, especially these days. Howard Cunningham forgot that his eldest son Chuck even existed, but otherwise he is the quintessential sitcom Dad. He was always around to give sage advice to Richie & Joanie, put up with Richie’s goofy friends Ralph Malph & Potsie, and even became a father figure to Fonzie. And let’s not overlook the fact that Mr. C was a business owner as well. Role models rock.

 

 

3 Cliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show) & Vito Corleone (The Godfather)
Cliff HuxtableSpeaking of role models, I have commented previously about the interesting way that the Huxtable family was presented on The Cosby Show. No housing projects or blue corleonecollar jobs for this upwardly mobile & well educated black family. Mom was an attorney and Dad was a doctor. As a father Heathcliff was patient & funny, and even when he became exasperated by the trials & tribulations of raising five children he exhibited an enviable level of composure & mercy. Now I know that mob boss Don Corleone seems like an odd choice (especially paired alongside Dr. Huxtable), but though his…imperfections…are far different from those of the aforementioned Clark Griswold I think there is a lot of similarity in the love & devotion they show their family. When eldest son Santino is gunned down and Vito sees the body in the funeral parlor he completely breaks down, distraught over “what they did to my boy”. He is clearly unhappy about Michael becoming involved in “the business” because he had higher hopes for his youngest son. Don Vito opines that “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man”, and I think he’s pretty spot on.

 

 

2 Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)
What can I say about Atticus Finch that hasn’t already been echoed by a plethora of fans of both the Pulitzer Prize winning novel and the Academy Award nominated film?? Atticus is kind,  atticus-and-kidspatient, wise, intelligent, honorable, & decent. He has been hailed as a hero by some…maybe the only time in history that lawyer & hero have intersected. His two children, Scout & Jem, love and respect the man to the moon & back. The entire town of Maycomb, AL admires him. Author Harper Lee based Atticus on her own father, and I have to say that if he was half the man that Atticus is shown to be then Ms. Lee was a lucky girl indeed. Gregory Peck brought Atticus to life in the 1962 movie, and his portrayal is a nearly perfect reflection of the man we see in the book. However I would strongly urge anyone who has seen the film but not read the book to go out right now and buy the book!! As good as the movie is the book is 10x better. And if you have not partaken of either then you need to do so ASAP. The subject matter is far from pleasant, but it is presented in such an accessible way by Harper Lee that anyone who enjoys reading even just a little bit will breeze right through it in a few days. Heck I think I might just have to read the book again myself.

 

 

1 Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)
No one knows exactly what Heaven is like, but I’d like to think that somewhere up there a TV room exists where The Andy Griffith Show plays on an endless…dare I say eternal…loop. Sheriff atTaylor is a widower with one child, 6 year old Opie. Opie’s mother is never named and barely mentioned. We only know that she died when Opie was a baby. The relationship between Andy & Opie is probably one of the purest, most accurate, & honest father/son interactions we have ever seen in television, books, or movies. I say that because Andy isn’t always saccharine sweet with Opie and he doesn’t treat his son like he’s a perfect angel. Opie gets into mischief occasionally, and when that happens his father exhibits slight anger & disappointment. However Andy isn’t mean. He is always fair with Opie and desires for his son to learn from mistakes. There are times when Andy jumps to the wrong conclusion and discovers that though Opie may have technically done the wrong thing he did it for the right reasons. Sure Aunt Bea moves in to do the cooking & cleaning and to manage the household, but Andy never dodges his responsibility to raise his son. He spends time with Opie, whether it is fishing at Myers Lake, chillin’ on the front porch, or just hanging out at the courthouse on a slow day in Mayberry (which is pretty much every day in Mayberry…a huge part of its charm). He disciplines Opie, but he also talks to him, providing valuable lessons about honor, integrity, love, respect, friendship, accountability, & courage. As a matter of fact Sheriff Taylor seemingly teaches those lessons to the entire town of Mayberry. He doesn’t scream, shout, show off, or crave the spotlight…he just leads by example and does what’s right.

To Kill A Mockingbird

It has been said that everyone has a book inside them. I’m not sure who said it, and I don’t know if it is all that true, though I have always felt it to be so for me. Of course we live in a world now where lots of folks want to be famous, and even more want to be rich, and therefore they are always looking for ways to make that happen. I suppose writing a book is just as good of an option as any, and maybe even better than most (for example doing “reality TV” or making a sex tape). However, there are a couple of perils. First of all, our bookstores become polluted with crap that it is difficult to believe was ever published in the first place (much like the plethora of asinine television shows & movies that should have never been greenlighted). Secondly, authors who achieve success right out of the gate are encouraged to write more, oftentimes with specious results. Sometimes it really is better to quit while you are ahead.

 

In the annals of one hit wonders I think most folks would agree that author Harper Lee ranks right up there with Soft Cell, Mark Hamill, John Adams, and Dexys Midnight Runners. I am tempted to say that it is a shame that she only wrote one novel, but when that one novel is the Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill A Mockingbird then there is really nothing left to prove and nowhere to go but downhill.

 

Though they really aren’t all that similar it occurs to me that Mockingbird and the previous novel we examined…Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine…have a few things in common. They both take place in the same general era…Mockingbird in the mid-1930’s in the midst of The Great Depression, Dandelion Wine in 1928 just before the Depression. Both are set in a sleepy small town, the kind that we wax nostalgic about in 21st century America. And both have children as the main protagonists, allowing the story to be told thru the eyes of a child and therefore necessitating an accessible writing style without sacrificing literary elegance. But the comparisons end there.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an unflinching look at racism in the early 20th century, and though it is at times uncomfortable (especially when observed thru the politically correct prism that has almost become the standard in modern times) there is such an easygoing innocence from the point-of-view of the narrator that the rough edges seem much more palatable.

 

The story is about the Finch family in Maycomb, Alabama. There is the narrator…9 year old Jean Louise, nicknamed Scout…her older brother Jem…and their widowed father Atticus, a wise, even-tempered lawyer with a strong sense of morality. Scout & Jem spend their days in school and their evenings & summertime playing and hanging out with a neighbor boy named Dill. Scout, Jem, & Dill become obsessed with a reclusive neighbor named Boo Radley who for many years has been the subject of rumors painting him as some kind of freaky monster and hasn’t been seen by anyone since he was a teenager. Meanwhile, Atticus takes on the case of Tom Robinson, a poor black man accused of raping his white female neighbor Mayella Ewell. Robinson’s trial is a major event in Maycomb, and it exposes the children to the racist outlook of a town that they had heretofore only known to be filled with friendly neighbors & schoolmates. Eventually the two storylines intersect, although if you want to know how you’ll just have to read the book.

 

To Kill A Mockingbird is an important book. I wouldn’t hesitate to place it in the mix with The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the works of Shakespeare & Dickens, and The Holy Bible as one of the most significant things ever written. That will sound like hyperbole only to those who have not had the pleasure of reading it. It embodies a time, a place, and an attitude that we still haven’t completely laid to rest. Yes we have made remarkable strides, but we cannot truthfully say that racism no longer exists. They may be fewer in number, but there are still people with an “us and them” outlook. The difference between now & then is that we are fully aware that it is wrong. To a certain extent the racism in Mockingbird is portrayed in such a matter-of-fact way that we can conclude that many folks back then didn’t realize how wrong they were. It was the way it was. There was a hierarchy and everyone had their place and played their proper role in society. Even the ethical hero of the book Atticus Finch employs a black housekeeper, something that we see today as a racial stereotype. When reading a story like this we are forced to confront our own views and one wonders how various people have been impacted as society has evolved over the past few decades.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic 1962 film based on the book and starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Like most movies based on books there are some minor characters left out and substantial subplots that are shortchanged or eliminated, but overall it is a faithful adaptation and quality production.  As usual in these cases I strongly caution against skipping the book in favor of just watching the movie. The book is an almost breezy read, which is surprising given its gravitas. If you haven’t read it you really should. God knows it’s better than watching The Bachelor or anything starring a Kardashian.