Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird

Let’s start at the top with the archetype for father figures. When shushing a screaming baby, waiting out a toddler tantrum or reasoning with a surly teenager, parents might find succour in wondering ‘what would Atticus do?’ (Warning: this thought may have the opposite effect.) Patient, gentle and always ready with wise advice, Atticus Finch parents by example with his quiet resistance to injustice, as well as with firm but fair discipline. He’s a hero to his children and to generations of readers the world over. It’s all downhill from here. 

Paul Dombey from Dombey and Son

Natural fathers are usually minor players or entirely absent in Dickens’s novels, so Dombey and Son is unusual in that it centres on a man’s relationship with his two children. Mr Dombey is rigid, cold and perpetually dignified, but he cares deeply about his small, sickly son Paul as the future representative of the family firm. His neglect of his sweet-natured daughter Florence masks a darker resentment of her natural ability to inspire love in those around her – look out for several spine-chilling moments when this shadowy envy seems to turn Dombey to stone.

Ed Boone from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

It’s part of the genius of Mark Haddon’s best-known novel that despite the filter of Christopher Boone’s emotionless narrative voice, we can still experience the full force of the frustration, anxiety, shock or pain of the people around him.  As we read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time we witness Christopher’s father struggle for self-control, his missteps and disastrous choices, and supply all the compassion and understanding those moments demand, making for an incredibly rewarding and memorable reading experience.  

Bruce Bechdale from Fun Home

Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s award-winning, internationally bestselling and acclaimed graphic memoir. Alison’s volatile, distant father Bruce haunts the frames of this ‘tragicomic’, and Bruce’s secret homosexuality haunts him, almost like an extra murky presence in the obsessively preserved Victorian gothic mansion that was the family home. Bechdel is alive to every irony in her story, as well as every opportunity for powerfully frank insight and dark humour.

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s father from A Death In The Family

The children of less-than-adequate fathers can take cold comfort from the examples of Alison Bechdel and Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose terrible patriarchs inspired their ground-breaking, controversial and internationally acclaimed works of literature. After Karl Ove’s destructive, alcoholic father was found dead, it fell to his two sons to clear his seaside home, and the process is described towards the end of this first volume of autofiction in visceral Knausgaardian detail, cathartically evoking the layers of love, regret and pain buried in any family history.

Tom Carew from Dadland

Keggie Carew’s dad was a courageous war hero dubbed ‘the Mad Irishman’ by the press, a charming, mischievous parent who supplied notes to get her out of lessons: ‘I’m sorry Keggie was not at school yesterday, she had a bad hangover.’ A perfect father, you might think. Keggie certainly idolised him, but even as she thrillingly retells his military escapades, she unsparingly reveals the strain of that hero-worship as she watches her father succumb to old age, dementia and his all-too human faults.  

Mr Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

Those of you tempted to feel sorry for witty Mr Bennet, shackled for life to a ‘very silly woman’, should reflect that perhaps Mr Bennet isn’t so free from silliness himself. He tries to ignore his houseful of daughters, fails to plan sensibly for their future and even sends the dizziest of them to that den of iniquity, Brighton. But he is wise to the true value of his most brilliant daughter, Lizzie, and for his love and loyalty to her, we forgive him the rest. 

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