Daddy Issues: Fathers in Fiction

Happy Father’s Day!  Here’s a picture from my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, of me and my awesome Dad (and also my awesome aunt, his sister!)


A herd of Hurds. Copyright Christopher Glenn.

We’re a good lookin’ family, ain’t we?  I know so many amazing dads and father figures, I wish you all a wonderful day, and thanks for being you.

So what is it about books that makes us rag so hard on dads?  Here’s my take on the three biggest tropes for pops, and a little bit about how I intend to portray Summer and Lia’s dad, who you’ll totally meet and love (I hope!) in book three.

The Dad Joke

The trope: This is a favorite among younger reader books, but continues up through YA.  This is the dad who is so uncool, he wears clothes un-ironically, perhaps even with a shirt tucked into belted jeans. They set fire to the kitchen trying to microwave popcorn because their wives do that, darn it!  They end up having existential crises over their child’s math homework.  They don’t notice anything going on in their family.  Eight year olds rightfully roll their eyes at them.

The reason: Kids know it all, after all.  They’re the ones that have it all figured out. This to me feels like the writer’s equivalent to the phrase “I was a kid once, too.”  Like, they know that 10-18 year olds think their parents don’t “get it” and have forgotten that what they don’t get has nothing to do with microwaving food, and everything to do with social pressures that teens face.  So, they exaggerate fatherly incompetence well past curfew-negotiation to include difficulty with Scotch tape.  I guess they also think it’s more interesting/easier to believe that a dad wouldn’t know the things that their kids do, rather than knowing or guessing what their kids are doing, and allowing it to happen anyways.  If I’ve learned anything from children’s tv, it’s that if a kid is gonna build a rocket or equally dangerous machine, there is literally no way to stop it from happening.

The Dead(beat) Dad

The trope: Holy Dead Parents, Batman!  Why are there so many absent fathers!  Like, no superheroes have dads that see them graduate college.  It often feels that there are no heriones who know even who their fathers are.  Need a convenient dramatic moment? Have a showdown with the dad who doesn’t even send birthday cards and now pops up, lookin’ for money.  The bastard kids are sick of the bastards.

The reason: I poke fun, but I think a lot of people do feel a little let down in their own experiences.  Divorce is so common, and society has done such a great job reminding us that only moms actually have to be parents while dads get to opt in, that I think there’s some resentment, or at least an assumed well of it to tap. Aw. *Hugs dad for being there*.

The Tough Love Tyrant

The trope: I’ll just say it.  There are a lot of stories of abuse in books.  Dads who tell sick kids to “walk it off” or who try to make them ready for the real world through brute force.  Dads who don’t want to have anything to do with kids that don’t conform to their exacting, cruel expectations.

The reason: Like I said before, I think a lot of writers are workin’ through some stuff.  There are a lot of ways to leave scars, and not all of them draw blood, even if it feels like it.  I won’t belittle that. We should all have our outlets, no matter what they are, so long as they don’t hurt others.  But sometimes I get the feeling this isn’t the writer seeking justice for their own lives.  I think people sometimes think that humans need some sort of great big catalyst for being a certain way.  And while it’s true that abuse does have long-lasting and far reaching consequences, goodness is it not the only way for someone to grow up with triggers or a little larceny in them.  Like, it really takes no effort to realize your feet have wandered off the beaten path a little, and now you’re lost.


Another Suggestion

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m hoping to cut dads some slack.  So many are wonderful, loving, strong men and I’d like to see them in our fiction.  I’d like to honor father-child relationships that are robust and healthy, even if life took an unexpected turn.  It doesn’t take much to change a future, but it takes a lot to undo the past, and the past Summer remembers of her father is a good one, featuring a man she loves dearly, as I think you will, too!

Here’s to dads, father figures and role models around the world.  I hope it’s lovely!



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