With the American celebration of Father’s Day a few days away, we look to the paternal figures of genre fiction and media.
It’s hard to think of a favorite paternal figure in science fiction (my genre of choice) because there are so few of them. Few main characters are parents, and most of their parents are out of the picture. One exception that comes to mind is Praxidike Meng from James S. A. Corey’s Caliban’s War. Prax is a botanist whose 4-year-old daughter has a disorder requiring her to have regular medicine to stay alive. When she’s kidnapped, her father is desperate. He’s a socially-awkward scientist; this is no Liam Neeson shooting everyone in France to bring his daughter home alive. He has no experience chasing down kidnappers. Even so, he’s single-minded in his determination to see her rescued and goes way out of his comfort zone to make it happen, going up against an alien protomolecule and some of the most powerful and evil people in the solar system. This is a man whose character is basically defined by his devotion as a father.
The first answer that came to mind was a bad example of fatherhood: Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Then I got to thinking. Who is the genuine father figure in the original Star Wars movies? Owen Lars.
Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru raised Luke. They loved him. They provided a nurturing, though strict, environment for an ignorant young Jedi. Uncle Owen was gruff and very much a stereotype of a farmer (albeit of moisture) and his time on screen was all too brief, but his impact was enormous. Luke turned out the way he did because of Owen and Beru. The more I think on it, the more it bothers me that I never realized it before… and that I haven’t seen any other commentary on the subject, either.
Thanks for saving the galaxy with your love, Uncle Owen!
Choi Won from The Fugitive of Joseon immediately jumped to mind. He’s a royal physician who has no interest in politics, and so pretends to be incompetent. He keeps his post because it might give him access to the books and knowledge he needs to cure Rang, his chronically ill daughter.
When he’s wrongly accused of murder, he ends up fleeing the police while trying to keep little Rang alive — and find the real culprit to clear his name. There’s oodles of action and political intrigue here, but the heart and soul of this show is the unfailing love this father has for his daughter and his quest to save her. It rocked.
The first answer to spring to mind was Gandalf, but he’s more curmudgeonly uncle than father. My next answer was the gestalt of Thufir Hawat, Duncan Idaho, and Gurney Halleck, who are collectively a better father figure for me than Duke Atreides as I read Dune. But I think it’s probably cheating to pick three guys, and in any case these guys are more sensei than father.
So then my brain goes to Graff from Ender’s Game, who is a delinquent, negligent, standoffish father, but ultimately a successful one inasmuch as he turns his most gifted child into a relentless killing machine. At this point maybe you’re thinking these choices say something about my own childhood. Maybe you’re right. I’m not a psychologist.
But you know what? I think my final answer is Stick, from Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics. Scott Glenn and the screenwriters for the Netflix series did a great job with the most recent incarnation of the character. He’s a Nietzschean father, caring but without any sympathy, protective without ever nurturing. The world is horrible, he knows it, and he forges his “son” into a living weapon because that’s the only way to survive.
Apparently “father” means “sensei” to me, at least in the domain of sci-fi and fantasy. Like I said, I don’t know what that means about me. It’s probably best that I don’t have kids.
J. Kathleen Cheney
Nicholas Valiarde doesn’t start out as a father. In his first appearance in The Death of the Necromancer (by Martha Wells), he’s a single man in his prime, a master of crime bent on saving the parts of the world that he thinks are worthwhile. He’s not a nice man, but a very interesting one.
But in the Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy, we get to see him as our heroine’s father. He’s not the cuddly sort of father most people want. He’s still not a nice man. He’s charismatic and ruthless and will do whatever is needed to see his daughter safe…without ever taking away her agency. He might question her judgment, but he doesn’t interfere. I can’t say more than that without giving away too much, but I adored him in the trilogy, and someday want to read more of what he did after the war. (I know, I can’t have everything!)
Michael R. Underwood
My favorite father figure in SF/F television right now is Joe West from CW’s The Flash. Specifically, Joe West is an incredibly compassionate, wise, and supportive father figure/surrogate dad to the hero. Joe helps Barry have confidence in himself, supports his heroic actions both in his police capacity and as a mentor/father figure, and puts Barry back on course when he’s straying from the path of heroism that Barry sought out for himself.
Joe is human, and fallible (very fallible in one way which blows up toward the end of Season 1), but consistently supportive of his children, especially as a surrogate father to Barry, helping raise a scared and bereaved boy into the man who would become The Flash.