Good and Bad Dads


Over the years, popular culture has offered many father figures for us to look up to or turn our nose at, displaying wholesome or mortifying paternal instincts. Seeing as this Sunday is, of course, Fathering Sunday (nice friendly reminder for you there), now is as good a time as any to assess some of those father figures. What follows over the course of this blog post will be a probing psychoanalysis of such father figures, conducted by an individual who has never seen the inside of a Psychology textbook. Together, we shall see what qualities these fathers exhibit, and what lasting effect these qualities could have on their child and/or young person in their care. It will be probing, to the point, occasionally a little frightening, but who knows, maybe you’ll learn a little something, even if that something concerns fictionalised characters and speculative musings on their paternal strategies by a 20-something childless writer.

Atticus Finch (from To Kill a Mockingbird)

Let us only consider Atticus Finch as featured in the original novel and film and avoid the controversial depiction of the character in Go Set a Watchman. Throughout the pages of Lee’s text and the stoic depiction courtesy of the gentle giant frame of Gregory Peck, Atticus Finch is framed as a no-nonsense yet fair and just father. He’s also a pretty noble lawyer to. Atticus is a man who believes that a strong moral compass is all a person needs to guide them through life; not money, not possessions, just faith in the notion that you have lived your life in a manner that you believe to be good and fair. He instils this in his two children, Scout and Jem. And while these kids may appear to be wild and free-spirted, their anchor remains Atticus: their father who is always ready to dispel wisdom to correct their path, whilst still allowing them to make their own mistakes in which to learn from. Such an approach should allow for Scout and Jem to grow into two independent individuals with a righteous sense of justice. Good job Atticus, you get this article’s first ‘Good Dad’ rating. Verdict: One damn good Dad. 

Harry Wormwood (from Matilda)

From one end of the spectrum to the other. Harry Wormwood represents pretty much everything that a father should not be. Where he may seem supportive of his equally detestable son, he is nothing short of a monster towards his youngest daughter Matilda. Destructive at every turn, professional con-man Harry and his wife Zinnia are negligent to Matilda from day one, leaving her at home to fend for herself and initially robbing her of an education. Even when they allow her to go to school, they send her to one ruled by the tyrannical Miss Trunchbull who punishes children by placing them in the twisted metal horror of the Chokee. Sure, Matilda manages to channel this neglect into psychic powers and is exceptionally bright, but it doesn’t bare to think about the long-term effects that such a level of neglect would have on any other child’s emotional development in her situation. Truly vile, although at least he has the foresight to allow his daughter to live with Miss Honey – even if it does come in a moment of desperation whilst high-tailing from the authorities. Verdict: Despicable Dad.

Homer Simpson (from The Simpsons)

The patriarch of the Simpsons family, Homer, often drags his long-suffering family (wife Marge, son Bart, daughter Lisa and bay daughter Maggie) on crazy adventures, be it embarking on an ill judged new career path, or entanglements with many various figures including – but not limited to – ex-Presidents and the country of Australia. While Homer exhibits clumsiness, laziness, neglect for rules and restrictions, and just general stupidity, he does care fiercely about his family. While his easy-going nature has distilled a disrespect for authority in hell raiser Bart, and he often lets down his daughter Lisa in areas that are important to her, he nonetheless will do all he can to earn their forgiveness and gain affection. Whilst this may happen often, the energy he puts towards mending his relationships is something to be admired, an attribute of his character that his children do recognise. They would do well not to heed every bit of advice he delivers, though, such as this golden nugget: “The key to parenting is don’t overthink it. Because overthinking leads to … what were talking about?” Verdict: Could do better, but at least he cares.

Peter Griffin (from Family Guy)

In Peter Griffin we have another animated blue-collar working man patriarch, who indeed shares a lot of similarities with Homer. But as the years have progressed, Peter’s general attitude and behaviour towards his family has often crossed the line of moral decency and into Gonzo levels of depravity, degradation and abuse. While all of the children (eldest Meg, middle-child Chris and infant son Stewie) are often on the receiving end of his general disinterest, drunken, oafish behaviour, it is daughter who receives the butt-end (often literally) of his slobbish approach to parenting. Constantly putting her down and even admitting to her that he has to continually berate her in order to keep up appearances, Peter Griffin is responsible for his daughter’s low self-esteem, Chris’s immature behaviour and Stewie’s violent desire to seek beyond the means he has been born into. This Family Guy is nothing of the sort! Verdict: Bad. Just bad.

Mufasa (from The Lion King)

It’s going to be hard getting through this one without the tears flowing. Mufasa is probably the best Dad Disney has to offer, and so of course he has to die in the kind of tragic way designed to set our hero Simba off on his journey. In life, Mufasa took on not only his responsibility as the noble king of the Pride Lands, but also as a father to young Simba, doing his best to install his wisdom in his young son to prepare Simba for the time when he will become king. In both kingship and parenting, Mufasa is kind-hearted, brave and fair. In life he taught Simba about responsibility, heritage and instinct. Even in death he continues to guide Simba on the righteous path to overthrow his evil Uncle Scar. Infinitely wise, patient and noble, Mufasa is the anthropomorphic Dad we all wish we could have. Verdict: Roar-some.

Darth Vader (from Star Wars)

There’s a lot of ego when it comes to Darth, something which has torn him away from his children from their birth. That and a turn to the Dark Side. For the first 20 odd years of their lives, Luke and Leia not only don’t know that they’re related, but also that their father is the right hand man of the diabolical Emperor who rules over all the galaxy. Sure, once Darth finds Luke he does offer support and guidance to his estranged son (even if that guidance comes in the form of an evil alliance to usurp said Emperor), but that’s only after he’s cut off his hand. He barely makes any mention of Leia, and only does so when he attempts to emotionally manipulate his son. He uses his children as tools, and while he may be redeemed on his deathbed, there’s still an awful lot to forgive. Verdict: Bad, if just shy of irredeemable.

George McFly (from Back to the Future)

A bit of an odd one here as we are technically working with two different approaches to parenting from the same man, just in two alternative timelines (whoa, heavy). The first iteration features a pathetic man, a man who his youngest son Marty seems almost ashamed of, and it is not hard to see why. George is a father with little in the way of backbone, constantly being pushed around, unaware of how ambivalent his children are towards him and how desperately unhappy his wife appears to be. Yet, after Marty goes back in time to 1955, meets his father’s younger self and instils confidence in his old man that drastically changes his character, leading to a new, more confident father-figure in the (new) future. This George is inspiring, driven, much better kept, and becomes someone Marty can be proud to call his father! Verdict: For a perfect Dad, just add time-travel.

Uncle Phil (from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)

Now this guy gets it. Philip Banks is a successful lawyer who came from a very humble pig-farming background, faced adversity and came out on top to become hugely successful in his career. Not only that but he maintains a happy marriage, has three driven (if spoilt) children, and took his nephew Will into his home to give him a better shot at life. He is often a little too strict, but any decision he makes comes a place of deep love and care, giving his children a father to depend upon and Will the positive male role model that he never had. He is the sitcom Dad to rival all other sitcom Dads. If you disagree, we can get Uncle Phil to show you the door. Verdict: Fresh.

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