13 Best & Worst Dads In Literature

by E. Ce Miller

With Father’s Day just around the corner, (Sunday, June 19 — buy your presents, people!) this is the time of year for celebrating the fathers, father-figures, and all around great men in your life — hopefully with something more exciting than a festively-patterned necktie and a tin of gourmet peanut blends (which is the extent of my notoriously pathetic level of Father’s Day gift creativity — dads are so hard to buy for!) But in addition to working on your gift-buying skills, now is also a great time to remember some of the more famous fathers in literature. Sure, it’s usually the Mommy Dearests of books that garner the most attention, but there are tons of memorable dads in fiction too — wonderful fathers, pretty terrible fathers, and all those dads who fall somewhere in between — all in books worthy of adding to your TBR pile this Father’s Day.

Being a dad isn’t always easy (at least, based on what I gather from being a sometimes-high-maintenance daughter) but some of the dads on this list make fatherhood look great. Others, not so much — I’m talking to you, Humbert Humbert. From the good, to the bad, to the sort-of-in-between, here are 13 of the most memorable fathers from books.

1. Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

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All Go Set A Watchman drama aside, the Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird is hands down one of the greatest father figures to ever grace the pages of fiction. Raising two children as a single father — the unforgettable six-year-old Scout, and her older brother Jem — in a landscape of poverty and racism, he still manages to instill acceptance, gratitude, and open-mindedness in his children, as well as to teach them the importance of standing up for those who need it. You go, Pops.

2. Mr. Bennet, Pride & Prejudice

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Five unmarried daughters all living at home is a lot for any dad to handle — but when the daughters get up to as much drama as the Bennet girls (and their extraordinarily high-strung mother) being their advocate and confidante becomes a full-time job. Luckily for the Bennet sisters, Mr. Bennet is up to the task. A father ahead of his time, he celebrates the intelligent, independent spirit of this second-eldest daughter Lizzy, and is in absolutely no rush to have her leave the house in pursuit of an unfulfilling marriage. Love him. Both book and movie version.

3. Arthur Weasley, Harry Potter Series

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Father of six sons: Bill, Charlie, Percy, twins Fred and George, and Ron, and one daughter: Ginny, Arthur Weasley manages to rack up the largest number of progeny on this list. Whether he’s tinkering with Muggle artifacts, helping his trick-playing boys evade the watchful eye of their mother, Molly, or standing up for his kids, Mr. Weasley always gives his family — and readers — a reason to smile.

4. Humbert Humbert, Lolita

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Our first not-so-lovable father to make the list, Humbert Humbert is seriously just the worst — but if you’ve read Lolita, you don’t need me to tell you that. When he falls in love with Delores “Lolita” Haze, the 12-year-old daughter of his landlady, Charlotte, he marries Charlotte in order to become closer to Delores. Then, controlling all of Lolita’s freedom and money in the wake of her mother’s death, he blames her for seducing him. If there were a prize for the worst father in literature, it would probably belong to Humbert.

5. Will Freeman, About A Boy

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Technically this 36-year-old bachelor isn’t a father — but Will Freeman makes this list for his absurdly hilarious plan to meet women by joining a support group for single parents, and inventing an entirely fictional two-year-old son he calls Ned. But when his plan works, and he begins to bond with single mother Fiona Brewer, Fiona’s son Marcus becomes a larger part of Will’s life — something between surrogate son and little brother — than Will ever expected. About A Boy will remind you there are countless ways to become a father, both in literature and in life.

6. Sirius Black, Harry Potter Series

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Another famous literary father who is technically not a biological dad, Sirius Black is the only father figure whom Harry Potter ever really knows (other than Dumbledore, perhaps, but that’s a whole other story.) Although Sirius isn’t always the greatest role model, or the most reliable of father figures, he does connect Harry to the father he never knew, and he does everything in his (albeit limited) power to help make Harry’s life better.

7. Jack Torrance, The Shining

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All work and no play definitely made Jack Torrance a bad father. A recovering alcoholic, Jack ships his family off to a remote, deserted hotel, where he takes a job maintaining the facility during the winter months when it is closed. Not the greatest environment for someone recovering from substance abuse, it turns out, and as Jack’s inner turmoil begins to manifest itself in haunted happenings around the hotel, he ultimately plots and attempts to kill his young son, Danny. Yeesh.

8. King Lear, King Lear

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Not creating violent animosity between your children is kind of Parenting 101. Unfortunately, King Lear may have missed that day in Dad School, because when he ages beyond his ability to rule he plans to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, giving the daughter who loves him the most the largest portion. What ensues is insincere flattery and deceitful plotting between the two eldest siblings, while the youngest — and only daughter who sincerely loves and respects her father — is banished from the kingdom for her outspokenness. Unfortunately, by the time King Lear realizes his mistake, it is too late to fix it.

9. Police Chief Bishop, Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist

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Although Police Chief Bishop is in the middle of the biggest political protest in American history, and one of the biggest organizational disasters of his career, he spends the majority of this novel reflecting on his relationship with his step-son Victor, who ran away from home as a teen and always seemed to be filled with ideals the Chief couldn’t help him fully-articulate. As Chief Bishop’s plans to keep the 1990 WTO protesters safe and out of the way completely implode, he begins to realize his relationship with his son may have taken the same path. No spoiler alert here, but you’ll definitely want to read this novel all the way to the end.

10. Daedalus, The Fall of Icarus

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The Athenian designer of the infamous labyrinth of the Minotaur, Daedalus is one of Greek mythology’s most famous fathers — if only for his role in the tragic end of his son Icarus’s life. After both father and son become imprisoned in the same labyrinth Daedalus himself built, the craftsman begins devising a plan to escape. Building wings of branches and wax, Daedalus and Icarus fly to freedom, but despite warning his child not to fly to close to the sun — and despite his attempts to catch him as he falls to his death — this father couldn’t save his son. Tragic.

11. Glen Waddell, Bastard Out of Carolina

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Glen Waddell is maybe the only father on this list who is a worse parent than the more-recognized Humbert Humbert — and he's maybe the worst dad in fictional father history. When Glen marries Anney Boatwright, becoming the stepfather of her daughter Bone, he almost immediately begins his reign of abuse and torture against the child — both physical and psychological. To top it all off, every time he beats and rapes Bone, he blames his actions on not getting enough love from his own father. Way to perpetual the cycle of violence there, Glen. Pretty evil.

12. Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol

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It’s weird to think about a Christmas story in mid-June, but as far as literary fathers go, Bob Cratchit is seriously one of the best. The Cratchits are the epitome of a “what we didn’t have in money we made up for in love” kind of family, with father and husband Bob leading the way. Shivering through his thankless job for Ebenezer Scrooge, his grateful attitude and gentle spirit enable him to still manage to save Christmas for his family — and help warm over the cold heart of Scrooge too. What more could you ask for?

13. Thomas Schell, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Readers meet Thomas Schell for only a brief moment in this novel that takes place on the morning of September 11, 2001, when he calls his house from the toppling World Trade Center towers and his son Oskar doesn’t answer the phone. Everything else we learn about Thomas comes from Oskar, who spends the rest of the book chasing his beloved father’s memory all over New York City. Although Oskar was young when he lost his father, it’s clear from this novel that the short time they spent together positively informed Oskar’s personality and self-image forever. Sad and sweet.

Images: Universal Pictures