Something you only really begin to appreciate once your friends and siblings start to have kids is just how hard it is to be a good parent.
Not only does it require a (super)heroic amount of effort to do the job well, but it’s also easily one of life’s most thankless tasks.
With Father’s Day rolling around this weekend, I’ve decided to pull together a list of the 10 best dads in pop culture, as a small way of paying tribute to the efforts of all the real life fathers who do the role proud.
This list doesn’t celebrate the coolest characters who also happen to be dads – don’t expect to see Darth Vader or Walter White make an appearance – but rather those guys who actually do a decent job of parenting. Bravo, gentlemen.
10. Arthur Weasley
Harry Potter has several father figures in his life over the seven years we know him, but none is worthier of the title than Arthur Weasley.
True, Harry’s father James (known only through the relayed memories of others), godfather Sirius, mentor Lupin and champion Albus Dumbledore are all more powerful wizards than Arthur, but they’re also pretty flawed role models as well.
Not so, Mr Weasley, who is pleasantly free of the immaturity, recklessness, insecurity and flat-out Machiavellian tendencies that plague Harry’s other pseudo-Dads.
Sure, he’s not perfect – his (admittedly endearing) obsession with Muggle technology has nearly landed the family in hot water at least once and has held his career back too (which is not ideal when you’re trying to raise seven kids), and he does tend to leave the duties of disciplinarian to wife Molly.
But he’s also exceedingly kind, unerringly brave, and generous well beyond his modest means. He instils these same traits into his children and Harry, along with his staunchly held belief that people should be judged on the quality of their character above all else.
In fact, Arthur’s such an outstanding dad, that it’s not hard to see why JK Rowling couldn’t bring herself to kill him off as originally planned!
9. Mick Shipman
On the face of it, Gavin & Stacey‘s Mick Shipman is nothing special. Granted, he’s built a warm relationship with son Gavin and a loving (and still sexually active!) relationship with spouse Pam, but plenty of fathers in real life and in fiction can lay claim to both of these things.
Look a little closer though and you’ll see that Mick is an uncommonly supportive bloke.
He makes a genuine effort to make daughter-in-law Stacey and her family welcome in his home, supports Pam in most of her less well-thought endeavours, offers work (including less than necessary house extensions!) and moral guidance to Gav’s friend Smithy, and most of all, is there for Gavin himself when he faces the heartbreaking prospect of infertility.
Through it all, he remains good humoured and, in his own quiet way, a shining example for all the young people in his life. If that doesn’t make him special, then nobody is.
8. Henry Jones Sr
Henry Jones Sr has one of the spottier parental records on this list, especially as he kinda blew it early on in son Indiana’s life.
Left a widow when Indy was still only a young teen, it seems like poor Henry wasn’t quite sure what to do with the precociously bright and active child on his hands, and despite their shared passion for archaeology, the relationship between father and son soon became seriously strained.
Still, much of Indiana’s trademark resourcefulness can probably be traced back to Henry’s emphasis on self-reliance, and Indy obviously owes more of his academic success to his father than he would care to admit.
Their relationship also improves in later life, when Henry and Indy are thrown together by the evil machinations of the Third Reich and re-awaken their underlying affection for each other – making them quite possibly the only family in history re-united by the Nazis.
For further proof of just how much Henry loves his son, consider the anguished moments where he fears Indy has perished, and their reunion shortly after (“I thought I lost you, boy!), which leaves little doubt how deeply this father cares about his son.
7. Rocky Balboa
Rocky isn’t the kind of dad who can help out with the homework (although he’d certainly give it his best shot!), but the former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion offers plenty of lessons from the school of hard knocks.
No, he might not be the brightest, but Rocky knows more than a thing or two about life’s harsh realities, and he endeavours to teach his son Robert how to apply the values he learned in the ring – a strong work ethic, personal accountability and courage – to the world outside it.
Refreshingly for a man from a “tough guy” profession, Rocky is also openly besotted with Robert’s mother (and later, devoted to her memory), and best of all, shows zero qualms about telling his boy point blank just how much he loves him.
Walt Disney Studios has given us more than a few stand-up dads over the decades – Mister Geppetto, Pongo, Maurice and Zeus leap to mind, just for a start – but really, who could look past Mufasa?
A mighty lion king, Mufasa is ferocious to his enemies, yet gentle and good humoured when instructing his young cub Simba on the facts of life.
His lessons cover all the key points a future ruler needs to hear, including being brave rather than foolhardy, respecting the balance in nature and honouring one’s responsibilities to society.
Also, he’s voiced by James Earl Jones, and that HAS to count for something…
5. Alfred Pennyworth/Ben Parker (TIE)
Just because you aren’t someone’s biological parent, doesn’t mean you don’t count as their dad, and this is epitomised by Alfred Pennyworth and Ben Parker.
I know including two characters in the one entry is a bit of a cheat, but I really struggled to choose between these guys, as while they fulfill very different parental functions – and one is technically an employee, as well as a loved one – they both deserve equal recognition for actively choosing fatherhood.
In the case of Alfred, here’s a bloke who went above and beyond the role of manservant when he took on guardianship of the orphaned Bruce Wayne out of devotion to the boy’s family and love for the future Batman himself.
Since then he’s been a source of sage advice/reassurance, medical assistance, top shelf cooking and – most importantly – paternal love for the entirety of the Dark Knight’s career.
Batman might not say it often, but of all the older mentors in his life, Alfred comes closest to filling the father role left by Thomas Wayne, and he will be devastated the day the old butler finally pops his clogs.
Likewise, Uncle Ben (and Aunt May, of course) stepped in when nephew Peter’s parents were no longer around, doing as a good a job of things as if the boy who would one day become Spider-Man were his own child.
Most importantly of all, Uncle Ben also taught Spidey the lesson that would come to define his superhero career (even if he did have to tragically die for the message to truly sink in): with great power comes great responsibility.
4. Coach Taylor
Coach Eric Taylor of Friday Night Lights fame is a bit like Mick Shipman in that, ostensibly, he’s a bit too “ordinary” for this list.
But in a lot of ways, that’s the entire point of the top 10: to throw a spotlight on how exceptional the seemingly mundane efforts of dads like this small town football coach really are.
A wise man despite his relative youth, Coach is a pillar of strength, compassion and decency whenever his family or his team needs him.
He’s not afraid of openly showing affection to wife Tammy and daughters Julie and Gracie, and although he can occasionally be a touch over-protective, he’s always there for his kids when they need his help.
Coach’s paternal duties also extend to all the young men in his team – especially to those like Saracen and Riggins who lack a father figure in their lives – and he possesses the rare gift of being able to genuinely engage with teenagers on a level they respond to.
3. Jonathan Kent
C’mon – this is the guy who raised SUPERMAN, for crying out loud!
Please don’t let the movies – with their holographic AI version of Superman’s Space Dad Jor-El – fool you: it was Pa Kent (alongside wife Martha) who really put the “man” in the “Man of Steel”.
Indeed, it’s actually vitally important to Superman’s character that Pa played the role he did, as it was his gentle guidance and love that first tethered his God-like adopted son to Earth, encouraging him to use his great powers for the good of humankind, not personal gain.
Paradoxically a “simple” farmer and an intelligent man, it’s Jonathan Kent’s earthy counsel that keeps the high flying Last Son of Krypton’s feet planted firmly on the ground.
Marlin takes over-protectiveness to a whole new level. But then, wouldn’t you, if your wife and babies (save one) had been murdered?
That said, Marlin more than makes up for his smothering tendencies, proving himself an incredibly devoted father by traversing the entire ocean to track down his kid, overcoming perils far beyond the capabilities of your average clown fish along the way.
Better yet, Marlin also eventually learns to accept that not letting anything happen to son Nemo will end up preventing anything from happening to him, allowing him to transform into a more dynamic, less risk averse dad in the process.
1. Homer Simpson
I think I mulled over this choice for about…oh, five seconds.
See, over the course of more than 25 years, Homer Simpson has shown us again and again just how far he’ll go for the sake of his family, especially his three kids.
Sure, on the face of it, his parenting style has some pretty glaring flaws.
He strangles Bart constantly (although really, I’d argue this is meant to imply parental outrage, not actual child abuse), struggles to connect with Lisa and often seems to downright forget Maggie even exists.
But he’s also the same man who fell down a gorge to prevent Bart from doing the same, bought Lisa her saxophone (twice!) to nurture her talents, and literally gave up his dream job – and returned to his nightmarish one – to provide for Maggie.
Instances like these (and many, many others) are really all the evidence you need to see why Homer has nabbed this top spot, illustrating as they do how – despite any foolish and selfish moments – he always comes through for his kids no matter the personal cost.
At the end of the day, that’s the measure of a great dad right there.
That’s a wrap for this edition of Soapbox; before I leave you, I’d like to give a quick shout out to my own Dad – I know it’s not Father’s Day back home in Australia, but I’m thinking of you all the same.