It’s pretty universally agreed that being a good parent is a pretty tough thing to do, and nowhere is it harder than in science fiction and fantasy. Fictional parents face a bevy of challenges, the biggest one being that writers tend to kill them off early in the story, setting the tone for the hero’s tragic backstory. If they don’t get killed off, there’s a good chance they’ll be absent, and an even better chance that they’ll be downright evil. In fact, some of the most well-known fictional fathers are the worst: Darth Vader. Tywin Lannister. Craster. Most of the patriarchs of the houses in Game of Thrones, now that I think about it. Gendō Ikari. Lord Denethor. Barty Crouch Sr. Shou Tucker. Magneto. Firelord Ozai. Really, throw a rock and you’ll probably hit a ruthless, amoral man willing to manipulate and sacrifice his kids for his own personal gain.
Fortunately, not all fictional dads are like that, and the ones that rise to the occasion are shining examples of what good fathers are like. Here’s my top 10, in no particular order:
Mr. Incredible (The Incredibles)
Mister Incredible starts out as a decent dad, but not a great one. Despite being a (retired) superhero, he’s a relatable figure as he trudges through the tedium of being an adult, working at a job he hates to provide for his family. Unfortunately, he’s somewhat inattentive and distant, oblivious to the problems his wife and children are having, and his longing for the glory of his former days ultimately puts his family in danger. He’s proud of his children, but hates that they have to suppress their unique abilities in order to fit in with the mundane world. But by the end of the movie, Mister Incredible and his family are a team in every sense of the word, and he’s embraced his role as a husband and father and become a more engaged and active participant in his children’s lives.
Jonathan Kent & Jor-el (Man of Steel)
The interpretations of these two father figures vary across the different storylines and reboots and alternate timelines, but the fundamental nature of both men remains the same. Jor-el, the biological father, was a wise scientist on planet Krypton, who foresaw the destruction of their world, and failing to convince others of the impending disaster, made arrangements for his son to survive. He constructed a ship and collected data about various planets before choosing Earth, and thus Superman survives the planet’s demise. When Superman lands on Earth, he’s discovered by the Jonathan and Martha Kent, who adopt him and raise him as their own. In some versions, Jonathan Kent wants Superman to conceal his powers; in some versions, he encourages Superman to embrace them and become a hero. In pretty much all versions, however, Jonathan Kent is responsible for instilling a strong sense of compassion and morality in Superman, turning him into the ridiculously powerful boy scout we all know and love today.
Alfred Pennyworth (Batman)
He is the butler for the Wayne family, Alfred becomes Bruce’s guardian and sole parental figure after the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Alfred is a man of many skills, including cooking, first aid, tactics, and acting, which frequently came in handy both while he was raising Bruce and then later on after Bruce became Batman. Alfred clearly loves Bruce, but doesn’t let his affection blind him to Bruce’s faults and mistakes and will speak up if he disagrees with Bruce’s behavior or plans. His unshakeable British reserve and practicality are a good counterbalance for the obsessive Bruce Wayne, and he is continually one of the few people Bruce can truly trust and rely upon. He eventually helps Bruce raise and look after the various Batkids as well, serving as a mentor and butler for Bruce’s adopted children.
Arthur Weasley (Harry Potter)
The proud papa of the prodigious Weasley clan, Arthur is sometimes overshadowed in terms of parental awesomeness by his wife, Molly “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Weasley. Nevertheless, Arthur Weasley’s qualities as a father are not to be ignored. He was supportive and encouraging of his children, nurtured their creativity, and brought them up to believe in equality for magical and Muggle people. He was a hard worker and unafraid to stand up for his family and his beliefs, as demonstrated when Lucius Malfoy taunts him in the bookshop in “Chamber of Secrets.” Arthur responds with dignity, "We have a very different idea about what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy." (Shortly thereafter he also hits Malfoy in the face with a book, which gave me no end of satisfaction.) And let’s not forget, Arthur Weasley fought in both wars against Voldemort, working tirelessly with other wizards to subvert Voldemort’s return to power, often under very dangerous circumstances. He provides a home and refuge for Harry and Hermione several times, and treats them with great affection and kindness. J.K. Rowling herself has said, “If there's one character I couldn't bear to part with, it's Arthur Weasley. And I think part of the reason for that is there were very few good fathers in the book. In fact, you could make a very good case for Arthur Weasley being the only good father in the whole series.”
General Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Iroh is actually Prince Zuko’s uncle, but anyone who’s seen the show knows that Iroh is more of a father than Zuko’s real father ever was – Firelord Ozai got a shout-out in the “worst dads” list up top for a long list of reasons. Ozai’s main contribution to his son’s life was badly burning Zuko’s face in a duel before banishing him from the kingdom. In contrast to his younger brother, Iroh is patient, compassionate, thoughtful, and easy going. He’s well-traveled and very cultured, with a number of hobbies, and places importance on creating one’s own destiny. Iroh looks after Zuko during his exile, helps him improve his fighting techniques, and tries to guide the bitter and angry young man down a path of honor. Even though Zuko is decidedly ungrateful for Iroh’s support (and sense of humor) at times, Iroh is always there for him. Iroh is a key force in redeeming Zuko and allowing him to reclaim his life.
Stacker Pentecost (Pacific Rim)
Stacker Pentecost is everything you want in a father: Idris Elba. Wait, sorry, I got off track there. In all seriousness, Mako Mori’s adoptive father is one of the best we’ve seen on the big screen yet. Stacker rescues young Mako during a kaiju attack and subsequently adopts her, and the little tidbits we get about their relationship are absolutely precious - he clearly made sure she received excellent training and education, demonstrated his tremendous trust in her by putting her in charge of the restoration project, and even learned Japanese, presumably to be able to communicate with her. Sure, he starts off as a little overprotective, but not unreasonably so - he fears (correctly) that Mako’s trauma at the hands of the kaiju will make her unstable in a Jaegar. Nevertheless, he allows her to try her hand at piloting, and despite a disastrous start, she proves her merit as a pilot. Awesome dad moment: When Mako is giving him giant puppy dog eyes because she wants to spar with Raleigh, and Raleigh quips, “What, afraid your best can’t cut it?” and Stacker goes from “protective dad” to “go kick his ass, honey.”
Eddard Stark (Game of Thrones)
Okay, bear with me on this one - sure, Ned’s lack of political savvy had disastrous consequences for his children, and we won’t be nominating him as politician of the year anytime soon, but as a father, you couldn’t ask for a much better one in Westeros. He loves and tries to do what’s best for all of his children, trueborn, bastard, and foster alike, a trait rarely seen in the Seven Kingdoms. Whether it’s getting a swordplay tutor for his tomboy daughter under the guise of hiring a dancing instructor, ruthlessly squashing rumors about his bastard son and raising him with the rest of his children, or just generally teaching all of his kids to conduct themselves with honor and dignity, Ned Stark is deeply involved with the lives of his children and determined to support them in whatever way he can. Can I just point out that he goes out of his way to find Ayra a sword instructor whose fighting style is most compatible with her sword and strengths? Also, he lets them have pet dire wolves. (yes, he killed one of them, but the blame for that lies with Cersei and Jofferey, so let’s not dwell on that sad fact)
Karl C. Agathon (callsign "Helo") (Battlestar Galactca, 2004 series)
In a series full of morally ambiguous characters, Helo was one of the few people you could rely on to always do the right thing, even if it wasn’t the smart thing. In fact, here’s a little Easter egg for you BSG fans: the Greek phrase “kalon k'agathon” was used to describe the ideal man, a man who was the height of physical beauty and morality. Of course since this is BSG we’re talking about, the best way to make his goodness apparent is to toss as many horrible situations at him as possible. First, there’s his tumultuous relationship with the Cylon Athena, which causes both sides to hate and mistrust them, and then they somehow conceive a child, which causes both sides to do everything they can to get their hands on the human-Cylon hybrid. Helo is fiercely protective of his wife and child, doing whatever it takes to keep them safe, frequently butting heads with his own people and commanding officers, and ultimately, his unshakeable love and determination pay off in one of the few happy endings on the show.
Gru (Despicable Me)
Ah, the supervillain turned super-dad. Gru’s transformation from cold, callous aspiring supervillain to loveable father figure is thanks to his three adopted daughters: Edith, Agnes, and Margo. Initially, he only wants the girls in order to help carry out his latest evil scheme but over time he warms up to them. When they’re kidnapped by his villainous rival, Gru goes from bumbling grouch to Rambo papa bear, and plows through the enemy’s defenses like they’re nothing to get them back (also, he backhands a shark during the rescue. If that doesn’t earn you a million cool dad points, I don’t know what does) His parenting methods might be a little unorthodox, but there’s no doubting how much he cares about his girls. As a bonus, his new role as affectionate father doesn’t just stop with the girls, but also improves his relationship with the Minions, who excitedly line up to get their good night kisses.
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