Fathers play a pivotal role in a child’s life. They are typically considered the providers, the supporters, the fixers, the thinkers, the tinkers, and the doers. They are the ones who plan and prepare the family for both the family vacation and the impending tornado season. They teach sons to shave and girls to drive a car. Not to say mothers don’t do these things, but in fiction, definitely, this role belongs to dads.
As I mentioned in my post last month about mothers in children’s fiction, kids in books need to be left alone to make their own decisions and figure their way through the problems set before them in the plot of the story. To make this happen, the parents are often dead, die during the book, or are forced to separate from their children. That said, when it comes to moms and dads, if there is going to be a father present in a YA or MG book, you are more likely to see a dad (or father figure) than a mother. It seems much more tragic to remove the nurturing female adult than the struggling male one.
When it comes to stories about girls, father figures often seem to be left alone with their hormone-driven daughters and don’t know how to handle them. This leads to frustration and awkwardness, but it also lead to some wonderfully, touching scenes. A lot of times these widowed or divorced dads are trying to make it work out the best way they know how, and that leads to some great storytelling. I think of the fathers from Inkheart, Because of Winn-Dixie, and especially To Kill a Mockingbird as good examples.
When it comes to stories with boy protagonists, the father is often absent but replaced. Harry Potter’s parents are dead, but Dumbledore serves as a father figure (as does Sirius Black). Percy Jackson’s father, Poseidon, stays away and unreachable, but Chiron is readily available to guide the young hero. The father in Helene Dunbar’s These Gentle Wounds is removed from Gordie’s life, but his half-brother’s father, Jim, steps in bravely to take over the role.
Then (something that happens far more with fathers than mothers in fiction) there are always the evil parents. There are a number of stories where the father is revealed to have been harboring deep secrets or leading a double life. I think of the father in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, when the boy finally realizes that his father is in charge of the Nazi death camp as an example. There are stories where the main character discovers his father is really a villain, or vice versa that the villain of the story turns out to be the main character’s father. Malcom Merlin from the TV show Arrow comes to mind, or, of course, Darth Vader from Star Wars is the ultimate example.
June is the month to celebrate fathers, so I’ve invited authors to visit the blog and share scenes from their books that feature fathers (or father figures). Apparently, this idea was a big draw, because I have twelve authors stopping by, double any amount of authors visiting before, and I had to turn a handful of people away. As it is, I’ll have to change the blog every other day this month to keep up. Good thing my latest writing project is finished.
So, drop back by on the even dates of the month and see new posts from all the guests. And share your thoughts about dads in kid books below. I’d love to know about a book you’ve read with a good father scene, whether he be a good guy or bad guy.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.