Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

My Top 5 Literary Dads

This list turned out to be harder list than I thought.

I never realised until I thought about it how many fools, tyrants and just plain absent Dads there are around. Really, we do get a pretty bum deal from the great writers.

King Lear as a Model Parent? Get away. Heathcliff as your Dad? Sign junior up for an ASBO and counselling ASAP. The father in Swallows and Amazons? His sole contribution to the books is to respond to his children's requests to go sailing with "If not duffers, won't drown. If duffers, better off drowned." I doubt event then you could pass that off as a thorough risk assessment.

So here we go with my top (pretty much only) five fathers in literature.

No.5 Odysseus in the Odyssey

Lets be frank, as a father Odysseus has a few shortcomings. To miss your son's birthday once is sometimes inevitable for a working Dad. But to miss the first 20 is going a bit far, especially when you've spent the best part of the last decade hanging around with nymphs and doing drugs.

When he does get home Odysseus does go a bit OTT as well, murdering all the house guests and stringing up most of the servants. However these things happen in military families, so I'm told.

However at least he gets there in the end, which is what counts I suppose.

4. Prospero in The Tempest

Prospero stands as a literary reminder of the virtues, and pitfalls, of home schooling.

Although I suspect Ariel did all the cooking and Caliban all the nappies, Prospero does seem to have given little Miranda a fairly decent grounding in most of the necessary skills in life, although he does seem to have neglected one rather important area.

Not that this would have mattered if he hadn't ensured that a ship load of lusty Italian sailors would wash on their little island, probably with their shirts sticking to their chests.

Perhaps not the best way to teach your daughter the facts of life, but what teenage girl would really object?

3. Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird

Shakespeare may have written "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers", but he may have made an exception for Atticus.

The epitome of upright virtue, who shields his children from the worst of the racist society he lives in whilst ensuring they have the values to challenge it, Atticus is also a dead shot with a rifle, which must come in useful at Fun Fairs.

However for all his liberal values, you suspect it was the late Mrs Finch who got her hands dirty when Jem and Scout were little.

The worst that can be said against him is that his example has caused many otherwise harmless young men to take up careers in Law. Personally I'm with Shakespeare.

2. Mr Bennett from Pride and Prejudice

Having children means having to put your Hell Raising years behind you - or at least postpone them until they go off to University. It's therefore vitally important for a Dad to be able to entertain himself close to home, and Mr Bennett, the philosopher with a fondness for books and nature, does just that.

Laughing at his sillier children, he is never-the-less a best friend to his brighter ones. In a time when parents were supposed to be ogres, Mr Bennett was an early practitioner of the theories of Dr Spock, allowing his daughters the freedom to learn from their own mistakes.

Alas, like many hippy parents, his values didn't entirely rub off on his off-spring, and his second daughter eventually chooses to marry the man with the largest country estate in Derbyshire.

1. The Father in The Road

In a blasted future in which the death of Nature is equated to the death of God, the unnamed man and his son travelling through a Nuclear Winter (or whatever) are clearly going nowhere geographically, but spiritually it's another matter. The man has the map, but the boy has the moral compass.

George Monbiot believes the power of this book is that it shows that although we can survive without civilisation, we cannot survive without a biosphere, and if nothing else it certainly makes you value the cornucopia that is your fridge.

But surgically remove from the story the Mad Max elements, and it is still powerful stuff. As a father, how do you cope with the idea that one day you won't be around to look after your children in a cruel and dangerous world? Can you really claim to be one of the 'good guys' when the way your food gets to the table may not be terribly moral?

Finally, how as parents do we deal with passing on to our children a world which is in considerably worse shape than the one we inherited? Difficult, but important questions.

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