Happy (Literary) Father’s Day!

Happy Father’s Day! As I spend today enjoying my daddy’s company before heading back home, I’d like to reblog a post I wrote two years ago: my list of best and worst fathers in literature. I originally wrote this to celebrate my dad’s birthday, but with the extra traffic it’s been getting lately, why not give it the spotlight once again?

Give him a hug – Best book dads

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Defender of the discriminated, Atticus was the perfect role model to kids Jem and Scout. Possibly literature’s favorite lawyer, he defended an African-American man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. He risked complete alienation from his Southern community, even suffered Bob Ewell spitting in his face, but he did so in order to stand up for what he believed was right. Definitely check out Academy Award-winning Gregory Peck in the 1962 film, one of the best adaptations of all time.

Arthur Weasley from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: Another dad who fights against racism, this time of the magical kind. Mr. Weasley loved all things Muggle, and was obsessed with learning how the non-wizards live. His empathy passed on to all of his seven children, even if a little late (looking at you, Percy!). When the going got tough, Arthur stepped up as a member of the Order of the Phoenix, battling Death Eaters while Harry could destroy Voldemort. But I remember the most was how warm and kind the Weasleys were, and how awesome it must have been to spend the holidays with them!

Kick him to the curb – Worst book dads

King Lear from King Lear by William Shakespeare: Don’t let the title fool you, this king was royally messed up. The elderly Lear decides to give his kingdom to one of his three daughters–the one who flatters him the most. Goneril and Regan brown-nose excessively, but Cornelia refuses to do so and is disinherited. But when Lear lives with his other two daughters, they are still not grateful enough. After a series of betrayals, Lear goes crazy with paranoia. I won’t go into all the play’s details, but eventually tragedy befalls all three daughters, and Lear realizes his mistakes…too late, though, because he dies quickly afterward. Moral of the story: you have to earn love to receive it.

Denethor from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien: Lucius Malfoy and Lord Asriel were close runners-up, but Denethor truly makes my blood boil. First off, he’s not even worthy of his throne, which actually belongs to Aragorn. Then, he treats his son Faramir like dirt, because his beloved son Boromir died on the quest to destroy the One Ring. I mean, take a look at this despicable conversation between father and son in the movie (courtesy of IMDb):

Denethor: Is there a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord’s will?
Faramir: You wish now that our places had been exchanged… that I had died and Boromir had lived.
Denethor: Yes.
[whispering]
Denethor: I wish that.
Faramir: Since you are robbed of Boromir… I will do what I can in his stead.
[Bows and turns to leave]
Faramir: If I should return, think better of me, Father.
Denethor: That will depend on the manner of your return.

But Faramir still fights for his father, trying to win his love. He gets gravelly injured, and Denethor–believing him to be dead–tries to burn himself and his son on a pyre. Luckily, Gandalf and Pippin save Faramir, while Denethor goes completely nuts, throwing himself aflame off a cliff. Well, good riddance!

Any other dads that should be on these best and worst lists? 

Masterpiece Monday: “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and the first thing that I thought of to commemorate the holiday was Sylvia Plath’s famous poem “Daddy,” which was written in 1962, a few months before she took her own life at 30 years old. It’s a shame that Plath suffered from such depression, because she was a gifted writer. It’s no wonder that she was the first person to win a Pulitzer posthumously, as can be seen in this poem.

“Daddy” (Oct. 12 1962)

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You–

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two–
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

This beautifully raw poem tells of Plath’s relationship with her father Otto. “The cleft in your chin instead of your foot” refers his foot being amputated after a case of untreated diabetes. Believing his illness to be lung cancer, he died shortly after.

His death affected Plath tremendously. “Daddy” uses the Nazi as a metaphor to describe how oppressed Plath felt by her father. However, even though she characterizes him as a black-hearted, brutish fascist, she still grieved him enough to attempt suicide by sleeping pills when she was 20.

The poem tells of her solution to her pain after her recovery: to marry an imitation of her father. Plath married poet Ted Hughes, known for dressing all in black, in 1956. They had two children together. Plath calls him a “vampire” who sucked her blood for seven years, because she discovered that he was having an affair with a woman named Assia Wevill.

Plath committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas oven. Hughes was rumored to have been abusive, given that Wevill killed herself and her four-year-daughter from Hughes in the same manner six years after Plath’s death. In 2009, Plath and Hughes’ son Nicholas hanged himself after suffering from depression as well.

I love this poem for its melodic rhythm and powerful emotion. It reminds us how love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Our relationships with our fathers, especially for women, often mold our perspectives and decisions in life. The Plath family lived and died tragically, but every family goes through struggles.

I can only hope that you all love and support your dads enough to wish them a wonderful Father’s Day. Since I’m leaving for Japan on Friday, we’ll be celebrating early!

Feel free to share your thoughts on this poem and others related to fatherhood!