What is a father? Beyond the biological definition of playing the male role in creating a baby, being a father means many different things. When we think of a father in the traditional sense, it usually means he is the provider, the breadwinner. However, in a more primal sense, he’s the alpha male, the pack leader, and s hunter-gatherer who others depend on to provide food, shelter, and more. Beyond that, he is also often seen as the source of spiritual guidance for the tribe or family group.
The father is often also expected to be a symbol of strength. Physically, intellectually, spiritually, or in some other fashion, I may have overlooked. As such, the father is also often seen as both the creator and the enforcer of the law. He is the two-edged sword of toughness and compassion that, while embodying strength, is also capable of wisdom, his unique brand of love, and tenderness. He is the teacher and sometimes prophet. Going deeper into the Judeo/Christian traditions of a father’s role, he is also the creator, or by extension, the builder and doer of things.
He is the teller of bad jokes, the king of his castle, and the rock of dependability that those around him cling to in troubled times, but mostly he’s the good old dad, and the lives of those around him and the world would be much poorer in his absence.
There’s a lot of examples of fathers in science fiction and fantasy, both good and bad. The following is a list of my favorite science fiction and fantasy dads that best embody the qualities I have discussed here.
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Arthur Weasley is undoubtedly quirky and occasionally seems a little clueless, but he’s a great dad. He’s loyal and supportive of his sizable family, including continuing to try to redeem his estranged son Percy even when he seems completely lost. Without the benefit of wealth, he and Molly still manage to keep their family going strong. His disheveled appearance belies his inner strength. His greatest gift to those around him is the boundless love he feels for them.
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How could Superman’s dad be anything less than super himself? Scientific genius Jor-El knows that he and virtually every other inhabitant of his planet are going to die imminently. When he realizes that any chance of hope has passed, he puts all of his efforts into making sure his son survives the cataclysm. He even manages (depending on which version of the origin story you believe) to provide for his child’s education to some degree, ensuring that Kal-El would have some idea of his history and identity despite Krypton’s destruction.
John Robinson is the embodiment of bravery. As an expedition commander, a pilot, and an astrophysicist who also specializes in applied planetary geology. He wears a lot of hats. If you have to get lost in space, it’s hard to imagine anyone better getting stranded on a mysterious alien planet, which also recommends him as an excellent dad.
Jonathan and Martha instill the sense of justice and fair play that makes their adopted son into a superhero. Consider the kind of villain Clark might have become if they’d been lousy parents. Adapting effortlessly into the new reality of having a super-powered alien for a son, Jonathan did what came naturally; he did what dads do. Jonathan loved and taught him what it means to be a man. Jonathan instilled in Clark his brand of inner strength while being the best friend and mentor he could be to his adopted son. Instead of reacting in fear, Jonathan encourages his son to develop his powers while making sure he’s careful about how he uses them.
Bob Parr doesn’t start the movie as a terrific dad, to be sure, but, like a lot of us dads, he figures it out along the way and finds out his greatest superpower comes from his family and lies in his heart. By the time the movie ends, the Parrs are a happy family that fights crime together.
It has to be pretty tough to be a single parent when you have to run a space station and be the Bajoran Emissary of the Prophets simultaneously, all during an interstellar war. Nonetheless, Sisko does a pretty credible job of raising Jake to be a smart, confident, independent young man. He does end up (literally) vanishing in the end, but the reason for his disappearance is that he’d just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant (including his unborn second child and Jake) from the Pah-wraiths which seems forgivable.
The phrase ‘I would shake heaven and earth’ comes to mind when thinking of Walter Bishop. He crossed over to another universe because the loss of his son was so unbearable. The act caused him damage and left him insane for a while, but he never regretted the sacrifice he made out of his love for his son. He is a tormented soul aware that what he has done may destroy the universe but still considers it worth saving Peter even if the Peter he saves is not his own.
Data is one of the most unusual dads on our list and maybe the best. Since he is not human, does he qualify to be here? I respond with a resounding yes. As any fan knows, Data’s pursuit often demonstrated to be ironic by his choices and behavior, making it clear he was sometimes more human than actual people. But all that aside: Data is a great dad! First, he names her “Lal,” which means “darling” in Hindi. He allows her to choose her race and gender from several thousand examples he prepares for her and supports her final choice to be a human female. He sends her to school to socialize with other children, and when that doesn’t go well, he lets
Her have a job in Ten Forward, where Guinan can keep an eye on her. He provides for her in every way, and every choice he makes on her behalf is designed to optimize her existence as a sentient living being. He makes none of the selfish choices or has any of the shortcomings a human parent might have.
Jean-Luc is the ultimate father figure, and although he’s not his biological father, Jean-Luc sometimes serves as a surrogate father to Wesley Crusher. In fact, he’s the surrogate father of his entire crew. The character is designed to be somewhat of an archetypical figure, and like the ‘great white father,’ Picard sometimes seems more symbolic and perfect than any real father could hope to be. Jean-Luc is nearly perfect in being an all-around person well suited for his station in life; As Captain Picard, he always puts the welfare of his crew and ship ahead of his own. He’s less impulsive than another starship captain I could name and considers his options before making a decision. He is wise, capable, intelligent, robust, and brave, all of the qualities we all believe our fathers possess as children when we still worship them as being without flaws.
Darth is an example of what can happen when someone has not gained the maturity to deal with life responsibly. It’s simply more than he can handle. Darth/Anakin is also an example of what can happen when religious fanaticism overrides common decency and sense. He is an icon of poor decision-making, and when he realizes he screwed up, he whines about it instead of taking responsibility for his mistakes. His fall to the dark side represents his desire to make his mistakes somehow magically disappear—another wrong choice. By the time he realizes he’s a dad, his first instinct is to attempt to exploit it, and if that fails to kill his son. He’s almost beyond redemption; In the end, his only salvation is the love of his son, who unfortunately doesn’t arrive in time to help him maybe not become such a drama queen.
Our current favorite sci-fi dad raises the question of how do you learn to be a father? I suspect, like Mando, a lot of us dads just winged it and hoped for the best, maybe supplemented by a little reading. It’s hard to describe the love a dad feels for his children except to say there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for them. It becomes his sacred duty and privilege to protect their happiness and safety and love them with all of his heart and soul. Dads learn quickly that having a child is like being born anew because it’s possible to see the universe through someone else’s eyes for maybe the first time in his life.
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So there you have it. What science fiction and fantasy dads would you add to the list? I was thinking of adding Jango Fett, who wasn’t a dad since his ‘son’ was a clone of himself, making him more of a narcissist than a father. So to all of you real-world fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day!