First, We Kill Off the Parents, Starting With Dad

June 30th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  5 Comments

Anakin Skywalker, bad dad turned good.

Anakin Skywalker, bad dad turned good.

Over at the BBC, Andrew Martin, presenter of the documentary “Disappearing Dad,” looks at the world of fiction and realizes that, when it comes to fathers, there are really only two kinds: bad and dead.

In fact, I have a perfectly good relationship with my dad; it’s just that if a father does play his paternal role correctly, there can be no story. He would, by means of his restraining hand, his wise counsel or financial support, step in to prevent any misadventures occurring. Much better to kill him off in chapter three, as Robert Louis Stevenson does with Jim Hawkins’s father in Treasure Island.

Dad is usually dead in any decent children’s story, whether it be Harry Potter or The Tale of Peter Rabbit, whose father was not only killed but also eaten by Mr McGregor.

He then goes on to trace the current state of fictional fatherhood—i.e., father no longer knows best, probably because he’s dead—to the “youthquake of the 1960s, the rise of feminism, and the culture of ‘cool.'” I don’t know if I entirely buy that, but the whole thing did make me wonder: Is there any good fiction out there—novels or movies—with good fathers?

I’m not talking about the many, many fictions, from Star Wars to Little Children, in which a bad dad turns good in the end. Those follow a pretty typical narrative arc.

What I’m looking for—purely out of curiosity—is a story in which there’s real drama that involves, but doesn’t corrupt, ridicule or treat with kid gloves, a decent father. Anyone got recommendations? Maybe Wall Street? Or is it just better to do away with parents completely?


  1. Chris (@tessasdad) says:

    June 30th, 2010at 1:35 pm(#)

    This is a good question. Nothing pops into my head immediately. Hope others will comment with ideas.

  2. Jeff @ says:

    June 30th, 2010at 2:42 pm(#)

    I just asked around the office to some very well read people and all are stumped. Even a quick Amazon search didn’t give any ideas. Looking forward to seeing what others come up with.

  3. Didactic Pirate says:

    June 30th, 2010at 5:52 pm(#)

    This goes all the way back to fairy tales, of course, where the father either dies, or is taken in by the wiles of an evil future stepmother who will go on to lock his daughter in a tower, or give a crapload of extra chores to do.

    I can think of one children’s story where the dad is not only present, but completely awesome: “Danny, Champion of the World,” by Roald Dahl. It’s more contemporary (written in 1975), and not as famous as Dahl’s other books. But in it, the kid protagonist’s inventor father is a warm, constant presence in the book. There is no mother in the story. Definitely worth checking out, maybe a great book to read with your kids…

  4. beta dad says:

    July 1st, 2010at 1:01 am(#)

    Um…”To Kill a Mockingbird”?

  5. Dan says:

    July 1st, 2010at 8:43 am(#)

    As Didactic pirate says, the classic is Danny the Champion of the World – which is a love story about father and son.

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