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 arriving this weekend, I’ve pulled together a list of the 10 best dads in pop culture, as a tribute to 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 over the seven years we know him, but none is worthier of the title than Arthur Weasley. Sure, Harry’s father James, godfather Sirius Black, mentor Remus Lupin and headmaster Albus Dumbledore are more powerful wizards than Arthur, but they’re also pretty flawed role models, too.
The same doesn’t apply to Mr Weasley, who isn’t weighed down by the immaturity, recklessness, insecurity and flat-out Machiavellian tendencies that plague Harry’s other pseudo-dads. Sure, he’s not perfect; his endearing obsession with Muggle technology has nearly landed the rest of the family in hot water at least once and holds him back professionally, and he tends to leave disciplinarian duties to his wife, Molly.
But he’s also exceedingly kind, unerringly brave, and generous well beyond his modest means. He instils these same traits in 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 very much sexually active!) relationship with spouse Pam, but plenty of fathers in real life and fiction are the same.
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 and moral guidance to Gav’s friend Smithy, and most of all, is there for Gavin himself when he faces the heart-breaking prospect of infertility.
Through it all, he remains a good humoured and, in his own quiet way, 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. Widowed when Indy was still a teenager, poor Henry wasn’t quite sure what to do with the precociously bright and active child on his hands. Despite their shared passion for archaeology, the relationship between father and son soon became seriously strained, until Indiana finally walked out.
Still, we can trace Indy’s trademark resourcefulness back to Henry’s emphasis on self-reliance, and Indy obviously owes more of his academic success to his father than he cares to admit. Their relationship also improves in later life, when Henry and Indy are thrown together by the evil machinations of the Third Reich. This ultimately re-ignites their dormant relationship – making them quite possibly the only family in history reunited by the Nazis.
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.
Indeed, Rocky knows 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. Rocky is also openly besotted with Robert’s mother (and later, devoted to her memory), and has zero qualms about telling his son 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, to name a few – 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 simply has to count for something…
5. Alfred Pennyworth/Ben Parker
Just because you aren’t someone’s biological parent, doesn’t mean you aren’t their dad, and this is epitomised by Alfred Pennyworth and Ben Parker. Including two characters in the one entry is a bit of a cheat, but I struggled to choose between them, as they both deserve equal recognition for actively choosing fatherhood.
In the case of Alfred, he’s a bloke who went above and beyond his paid position as butler 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, medical assistance, top shelf cooking and – most importantly – paternal love for the entirety of the Dark Knight’s career.
Likewise, Uncle Ben (and Aunt May, of course) stepped in when nephew Peter’s parents were no longer around. Despite his advanced age (or maybe because of it), Ben did as a good a job raising Peter as if the future Spider-Man was his own son. Most importantly of all, Uncle Ben also taught Spidey the lesson that would come to define his superhero career: with great power comes great responsibility.
4. Coach Taylor
Friday Night Lights‘ Coach Eric Taylor 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: to spotlight how exceptional the seemingly mundane efforts of dads like this small town football coach really are.
A wise man despite his relative youth, Coach Taylor is a pillar of strength, compassion and decency whenever his family or his team needs him. He’s also not afraid of openly showing affection to wife Tammy and daughters Julie and Gracie, and although he’s occasionally a touch over-protective, he’s always there for his kids when they need his help.
Coach’s paternal duties extend to all the young men in his team, as well. This makes a huge difference in the life of kids like Saracen and Riggins who lack a father figure in their lives – especially because Coach Taylor 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! And it’s a good thing, too; since Jonathan Kent (alongside wife Martha) was just the right person to teach the Man of Steel what being a man is all about.
Indeed, it was Jonathan’s 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, Jonathan helps ensure the high flying Last Son of Krypton’s feet remain planted firmly on the ground.
Admittedly, Marlin takes over-protectiveness to a whole new level. But then, wouldn’t you, if your wife and babies (save one) were all eaten by vicious barracuda? Besides, Marlin more than makes up for his smothering tendencies over the course of Finding Nemo, proving himself an incredibly devoted father by traversing the ocean (overcoming immense peril) to track down little Nemo. Along the way, Marlin eventually learns to give Nemo the freedom he needs to experience life, transforming into the more dynamic, less risk averse father his son needs.
1. Homer Simpson
I think I mulled over this choice for about… oh, five seconds. After all, for more than 25 years, Homer Simpson has repeatedly shown us 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 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 to nurture her talents, and literally gave up his dream job – and returned to his nightmarish one – to provide for Maggie.
Examples like these are all the evidence you need to see why Homer has nabbed this top spot, illustrating how – despite his many foolish or selfish moments – Homer will always come through for his kids, no matter the personal cost. And at the end of the day, that’s the measure of a truly great dad.