One Last Thing Before I Go
Jonathan Tropper is known for his darkly humorous take on middle-aged family life. See: This is Where I Leave You. In this novel, he returns to a divorced dad as the central character, but one even more pathetic than Judd Foxman. One Last Thing Before I Go is a redemption narrative that anyone who has been truly disappointed by their dad can relate to. Your dad might be a total loser, but chances are he probably loves you.
The Book Thief (Anniversary Edition)
If your father is going to be captured by Nazis and disappear, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better foster father than Hans Hubermann. This mild-mannered accordion player is described in the book as “barely visible,” “un-special,” and “not noticeable,” but these are the very qualities that allow him to hide a Jew in the basement during the Holocaust. Oh, and despite only having a 4th grade education, he teaches Liesel, our heroine, how to read. Talk about a life saver.
“You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?” This book is intense, but it delivers one hell of a lesson: If you are a child facing a post-apocalyptic world, you better hope that your father is as much of a badass as this one.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
When Charlie Bucket discovers the Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, bed-ridden Grandpa Joe leaps out of bed to be his chaperone throughout the adventure. Charlie’s father, Mr. Bucket, is a good role model and works his heiny off to support his family, but it’s Grandpa Joe who teaches Charlie to believe in the wonder and magic of the world. I sure hope I can still dance like Grandpa Joe when I’m 96.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a beautifully woven fairytale about a father and son. Rashid, the father, is a professional storyteller whose gift of imagination is in danger of being taken away from him. His son Haroun must travel through a fantastical land to save him, and return them both home again. Sometimes we don’t save our children, our children save us.
Dreams from My Father
And while we’re on the subject of President Obama, have we ever seen a better father in the White House? Obama took office when his girls, Malia and Sasha, were 10 and 7, and throughout his presidency he has been forceful in his support for the rights of women on behalf of his daughters. Not only is he scandal free, he also cracks dad jokes in front of the entire nation. Obama writes in Dreams from My Father that his own father was more of a myth than a man to him. With the legacy this president leaves behind, his girls will not suffer the same fate.
About a Boy
At the beginning of Nick Hornby’s novel, About a Boy, Will Freeman is about the worst father figure you could imagine. He invents a two-year-old son named Ned in order to pick up women at a support group for divorced parents. He manages to redeem himself by the end of the book, but let the record show that preying on single moms is not cool, man. Not cool at all.
I was browsing online for a father’s day gift last week when Beyoncé’s country track, “Daddy Lessons,” shuffled to the top of the queue. With a Houston twang and a boot-stomping beat, she crooned, “Daddy made me dance / Daddy held my hand / and Daddy liked his whiskey with his tea.”
This is a complicated relationship. In the song, Beyoncé credits her father with giving her the tools to conquer the world: “He held me in his arms / and he taught me to be strong … Daddy made a soldier out of me.” But he also personifies the men she should avoid in her life. Alcoholics. Adulterers. Overbearing men who want to control you.
Much ink has been spilled over the complex and fraught relationships that mothers have with their children, particularly daughters. But count the number of stories that come to mind with a wicked stepfather, beyond Lolita. (I’ll wait.) Absent fathers, abusive fathers, and, of course, loving fathers appear frequently in literature. But too often the characters are one-dimensional: Mr. Bennet? Good dad. Humbert Humbert? The worst.
Occasionally, we do stumble upon great books that examine in depth the complicated role that fathers play in the lives of their offspring and vice versa. Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote six volumes on the subject. The dads in these books are not perfect, far from it in some cases, but each of them enlightens us as they struggle through fatherhood.
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The lesson that Beyoncé learns in “Daddy Lessons” is the central thesis of Lemonade, and one that I hope all fathers will teach their children, especially their daughters. Stand your ground, know your own worth, and never settle for anything less than you deserve.