5 Favorites: Fathers in children’s books

Children’s books are full of fantastic mother characters, but where are the fathers? In many books they are invisible or barely involved, like Mr. Mallard in Make Way for Ducklings. It’s a wonderful read, but it’s not a book where you leave thinking the father played a significant role.
Still, there are some great father characters. Here are a few–a badger, a swan, two bears, and a human–who are memorable, witty, and might even be able to give us a few tips at this whole mysterious parenting endeavor.
The Father in the Frances series
by Russell and Lillian Hoban
He is a hands-on father–perhaps all badgers are–and he has the answer to every question Frances asks him. He saves her from eating the Chompo Bar she buys for her sister’s birthday gift, he always compliments Mother on the meals she puts on the family table, and he demonstrates empathy when Frances, as a new big sister, runs away from home and hides underneath the dining room table.
In this marvelously scripted scene from Bedtime for Frances, Frances has gotten out of bed several times, and she is standing next to her parents’ bed, worrying about noises outside her bedroom window:
“’How can the wind have a job?’ asked Frances. 

‘Everybody has a job,’ said Father.

‘I have to go to my office every morning at nine o’clock. That is my job. You have to go to sleep so you can be wide awake for school tomorrow. That is your job.’

Frances said, ‘I know, but…’

Father said, ‘I have not finished. If the wind does not blow the curtains, he will be out of a job. If I do not go to the office, I will be out of a job. And if you do not go to sleep now, do you know what will happen to you?’

‘I will be out of a job?’ said Frances.

‘No,’ said Father.

‘I will get a spanking?’ said Frances.

‘Right!’ said Father.

‘Good night!’ said Frances, and she went back to her room.” 
Just to clarify, in case you were concerned, we do not spank in our household, but our children think that the idea of spanking is one of the most amusing things ever. And we have a badger to thank for that.
The Father of Louis the Swan
in E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan
The father swan, the cob, is packed with personality, dedication to his son, and wisdom he is yearning to impart to his son. The scenes starring the father are some of the funniest and most dramatic. And yet you can also see his tremendous love for his family and his determination to help his son achieve everything possible despite his inability to speak. When he steals a trumpet for Louis to use as his voice, the father returns and presents it to him with pride:
“‘Louis,’ he said, ‘I have been on a journey to the haunts of men. I visited a great city teeming with life and commerce. Whilst there, I picked up a gift for you, which I now bestow upon you with my love and my blessing. Here, Louis, is a trumpet. It will be your voice–a substitute for the voice God failed to give you.’”

What’s that? You’ve never read it? Drop everything, run to the nearest library, and go home and start reading. Now.
Father Bear from the Little Bear series
by Else Holmelund Minarik
I love the whole family in the Little Bear series, and the mother is particularly outstanding. But we also love Father Bear around here.
Our boys still go into gales of laughter over the scene where Little Bear has the hiccups and his father walks in and says, “Who is making all that noise?” The animals tell him that Little Bear has the hiccups, and Father Bear doesn’t believe them. And then Little Bear can’t hiccup for him.
Why is it hilarious? I don’t know. Something about hiccupping is just outrageously entertaining. But it’s also funny that Father Bear walks in and puts an end to the hiccups without even trying.

Papa Bear from the Berenstain Bears series
by Stan and Jan Berenstain
I was tempted to leave Papa Bear off of this list. The truth is that part of me resents that Mama Bear is always right, always saving the day, always treating Papa Bear as another child in the family.
But then what I do like about Papa Bear is his sense of fun, his eagerness to be involved in everything his children are doing, his woodworking ability, and his ability to pick himself back up and continue on even after getting into trouble in every possible way.
From The Bike Lesson, one of our favorites
In The Bears’ Picnic as the bear family is searching for the perfect place to picnic, Small Bear says, “Dad, can you find us another spot? Are we having a picnic today, or not?”
And Papa Bear characteristically says, “Now stop asking questions. Be quiet! Stop stewing! Your father knows what he is doing.”
I think a lot of the reason I love Papa Q. Bear is that he speaks in rhyme, at least in the early Berenstain Bear books.
Pa Ingalls from the
Little House on the Prairie series
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Like so many other girls, I grew up believing I could churn butter, resenting that my sister’s calico dress was prettier, and scampering to the one-room schoolhouse with my sunbonnet dragging behind me.
Pa Ingalls was the quintessential father figure, providing for his family and always imagining a brighter future for them, while taking on every adventure with wisdom and courage.
In The Long Winter the situation looks bleak, but Pa stays strong.
“’It can’t beat us!’ Pa said.

‘Can’t it, Pa?’ Laura asked stupidly.

‘No,’ said Pa. ‘It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up.’

Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.’”
Ah, Pa Ingalls. Can’t you just hear him fiddling away right now?
So those are my five favorite father characters from children’s books. What am I forgetting? Or is there some wonderful book with a star father character I have yet to discover?

Catholic Review

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