Five Fathers: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of fictional dads that doesn’t lead with Atticus Finch, so here he gets a category all of his own. This guy had it all. A lawyer raising two kids, teaching them to be real humans (the audacious character of Scout alone is testament to his fathering abilities) and defending the indefensible from the vilest aspects of human nature, all the while dispensing ageless advice to his children on the front porch of their Alabama home.

In tribute to Father’s Day (and the reality that some will find it a mixed affair), here are a few of the best, the worst and the strangest dads in literature.

 

The Good

  1. Jean Valjean

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

“Because things are not agreeable,” said Jean Valjean, “that is no reason for being unjust towards God.”

At the bequest of a dying Fantine he rescued Cosette from the despicable Thernadiers and despite being a fugitive, remained a steadfast adoptive father and all-round good guy until his death, never once losing faith despite all he endured. That takes some guts.

 

  1. Mr Bennet

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

“Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters.”

Some deride him for his sarcasm and his ambivalence toward his wife, but considering what he had to work with these are shown to be quite endearing qualities. It is his relationship with Elizabeth, the knowing-ness that passes between them, which makes him one of the best fathers in literature.

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  1. The Man/The Father

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

“He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.”

Leads his son through a wilderness of post-apocalyptic destruction and teaches him indispensable survival skills, navigating the ambiguous morality that arises from such desperation. His tenacity alone is enough to garner him father-of-the-year.

 

  1. Arthur Weasley

The Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling

“Ginny!” said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. “Haven’t I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain?”

His light-hearted perspective on life and unflinching defense of his children and the marginalised Muggles makes him almost a lovably clownish Atticus Finch. And without exception his seven children are among the greatest humans (?) on the planet.

 

  1. Thomas Schell

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

“Honey! I got to go! Other people need to use the phone! I’m gonna be fine, you’re gonna be fine! You listen to me! You made my life better and I want you to know that absolutely love you. I’m going to call you back in a few minutes.”

Proof that even in absence a father can be fundamentally influential in his child’s life. Oskar goes in search of a perceived secret message from his father who was killed in 9/11, and finds himself again.

 

The Bad

  1. Pap Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

“I’ll take you down a peg before I get done with you. You’re educated, too, they say—can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t?”

Drunk, abusive and sadistic, he is everything a father shouldn’t be. The only thing we are grateful for is that he produced such a son as Huck and spawned one of the most famously epic tales of childhood adventure known to literature. We are not sorry to learn of his death at the end of the book.

Lolita with Jeremy Irons

  1. Humbert Humbert

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

“You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine.”

Marries Charlotte Haze to get close to her daughter, Lolita, which makes him her stepfather and legal guardian when Charlotte dies, leaving her at his mercy. Enough said.

 

  1. Michael Henchard

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy

“MICHAEL HENCHARD’S WILL
That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.”

An alcoholic who auctions off his wife and child, never bothering to find them until they return eighteen years later while he is in the middle of courting another woman whom he has already disgraced. Lovely.

 

  1. Mr Wormwood

Matilda, Roald Dahl

“A book?! What d’you wanna flaming book for? …we’ve got a lovely telly with a 12-inch screen and now ya wanna book!”

This quote alone places Mr Wormwood into the lowest percentile of humans. A used-car salesman who deceives his customers, alienates his genius daughter and terrorizes her lovely teacher Miss Honey, he is the definition of terrible-dadness.

 

  1. Archibald Craven

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

“My mother died when I was born and it makes him wretched to look at me. He thinks I don’t know, but I’ve heard people talking. He almost hates me.”

Yes, we feel sorry for him because his wife died but, no, that does not give him any right to abandon his sick son in a dingy room, especially when all his son needs is a bit of love and natural beauty in order to make a miraculous recovery.

 

The Ugly

  1. King Lear

King Lear, Shakespeare

“…he that makes his generation messes to gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved, as thou my sometime daughter.”

Definitely not the only terrible father in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, but certainly one of the most memorable. He makes the ugly list because he tests his three daughters to see who loves him most in order to decide who should inherit his estate, all the while completely blind to their true natures. He deserves to succumb to madness, and does so with spectacular pomp.

 

  1. Don Vito Corleone

The Godfather, Mario Puzo

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

You could argue that as a father figure, the Don is actually a great family man. Everything he did was for his ‘family’ after all, including making people offers they couldn’t refuse. Yet his actions lead to the death of two of his sons and the corruption of another. So, yeah, ugly.

 

  1. Jack Torrance

The Shining, Stephen King

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Another alcoholic dad, Jack adds to the mix by trying to kill his family with an axe. You could argue it’s not all his fault. But that doesn’t make him a better dad.

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  1. Heathcliff

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“Linton can play the little tyrant well. He’ll undertake to torture any number of cats, if their teeth be drawn and their claws pared.”

Thus is Heathcliff’s view of his son, another sickly boy confined to a dingy house and his father’s intense disregard. Though it’s hard to really stay angry at Heathcliff because he is so damn brooding and so passionately in love with dead Cathy.

 

  1. Nick Dunne

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”

Though he stays with the crazy wife because of his unborn child, we can all see the direction Nick Dunne is taking by the close of this book, foreshadowed by the misogynistic outbursts of his aging father. You could say it’s all her fault, but then again, is it?

 

Elise Janes

 

The Rejectee’s Guide to Recovery

Despite the tact with which a rejecter will attempt to frame their delicate response, we all know it comes down to one simple fact: they don’t like your work. Maybe you’re not what they’re looking for right now, or the timing is wrong, or you’re simply not up to scratch, but the underlying point is that if they loved it, they’d take it, and they haven’t, so they don’t.

Rejection sucks because no matter what anyone says, it is personal.

So why not accept it? Take a moment for some well-deserved self-pity and emotional wallowing with the aid of a few practical tools. I give you the best five things to read, watch and listen to in the post-rejection wasteland:

Read

  1. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The thinly veiled autobiography of writerly disillusionment offers a number of good tips for the emotionally wasted: drink absinthe in Paris, fish in the Pyrenees, drink wine in Pamplona, argue with friends, watch a bloody spectacle, run with the bulls. It’s also a nice melancholy reflection on desiring something eternally out of reach.

  • ALSO: Anything by Hemingway or Fitzgerald will have a close effect.
  1. The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto “Che” Guevara

A startlingly beautiful memoir of the fateful nine months a 23-year-old Guevara spent travelling South America. Between the gorgeous landscape and fascinating anecdotes, get worked up about social injustice and indigenous poverty. Let loose your vicarious desire to join a revolution and make this damn unfair world a better place.

  • ALSO: On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Less Than Zero and other romans à clef will serve a similar purpose.
  1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Not only is Heathcliff the best literary creation ever, you can also shelve your murderous impulses and let him take your vengeful fantasies to the extreme. Themes of obsession, possession, revenge and passionate, destructive love will make you feel righteously justified, and the gothic atmosphere will add depth to your moodiness.

  • ALSO: Jane Eyre and Rebecca for hauntings of the past; The Count of Monte Cristo for elaborately plotted revenge.
  1. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Read, with growing unease, the story of Balram Halwai’s gradual corruption as he sheds his family background to transcend poverty in a heavily caste-riven society. The message is clear and discomforting, confirming your suspicions that the only way to get ahead is to cut a few corners/throats.

  • ALSO: For atmosphere: English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. For classic rags-to-riches: Vanity Fair and Great Expectations.
  1. Carrie – Stephen King

Whether or not you’re a fan of the King, sometimes a good horror story is just necessary. He can also weave a damn good yarn and surprisingly three-dimensional characters into the gore and strangeness. A bullied adolescent girl getting hers back is satisfying on so many levels, no matter who you are.

  • ALSO: Other violent revenge tales such as True Grit, Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and of course Hamlet.

Watch

  1. Empire Records (1995)

Many 90s movies showcased the quirkiness of youth and the value (or futility) of standing up to The Man. None with such colourful aplomb as Empire Records. The characters are zany, the music fantastic, the dialogue hilarious, and the embrace-your-inner-crazy-and-refuse-to-sell-out message is charmingly encouraging. It gets better with each watch.

  1. The Big Sleep (1946)

Raymond Chandler wrote crime novels that didn’t always make sense but we forgave him because he created Philip Marlowe and invented noir. Read the book as well but the 1946 movie, with Humphrey Bogart, is a standalone classic. Be encouraged by frequent double-crossings, the latent atmosphere of disillusionment and the general shittiness of people.

  1. Django Unchained (2012)

Eccentric characters, tangled plot, memorable dialogue, and unnecessary amounts of blood. Must be Tarantino. His deft mood-changes from slapstick comedy to nail-biting rage somehow pinpoint both the endearing and horrific qualities of human nature with great authenticity. No one does revenge quite like him.

  1. On the Waterfront (1954)

Corruption narratives are so cathartic when you’ve been screwed over. Nominated for 12 Oscars, the cast and crew read like a who’s who of golden-era greats. Your fists will clench at the fate of Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy, particularly the moment he delivers that line: I coulda been a contender! And you will think: me too, buddy. Me too.

  1. Magnolia (1999) & Crash (2004)

Both movies feature brilliantly interwoven storylines with star-spangled ensemble casts delivering pivotal performances. Dark themes abound but situations manage to resolve with surprising optimism, and without too much Hollywood contrivance. Magnolia is the less crowd-pleasing of the two, and it also has Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Listen

  1. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

In this seminal album the band manage to sum up all the melancholic love, confusion and frustrated desire of every generation alive. It goes without saying that “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall” should be the first on your playlist.

  1. The Darkness – Permission to Land

The best album for air-guitaring and hair-swinging to come out of the noughties. Catchy falsetto lyrics give everyone permission to sing out of tune at the top of their lungs. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” is one of the most satisfying experiences in the universe.

  1. Ben Folds – Whatever and Ever Amen

The epitome of Ben Fold’s early work: revel in his angsty, anti-adolescent rage and insecurity with “One Angry Dwarf”, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” and the superbly appropriate “Song for the Dumped”.

  1. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

Leaving Men at Work far behind, his solo acoustic stuff is where Hay’s talent really shines. We have Zach Braff to thank for bringing him back into the light on Scrubs. Do not miss “Beautiful World”, an acoustic cover of “Overkill”, or “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin”.

  1. Rock of Ages Soundtrack – Various

Yeah it’s a compilation but there’s something about cheesy 80s rock that just feels so good when you’re pissed off. This collection features the full range from “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.

So after enjoying the vicarious fulfillment of your emotional frustrations, take a moment to reflect. All of this incredible art came from people who felt just as shitty as you at some point in their lives. And if they can make the proverbial lemonade out of rejection’s lemons, then why can’t you?

Elise Janes

Share with us! Suggest your own artistic rejection-remedy in the comments below.