Last month, in a post about Mother’s Day, I commented on a recent trend of companies allowing women to opt out of Mother’s Day ads and other mom-related content. I’m saddened that the pain points of Mother’s Day are pushing society towards eschewing the holiday altogether, but it’s understandable given the number of individuals who experience more hurt than happiness on a day that honors moms.

Interestingly, I don’t get that same sense around Father’s Day. I doubt it is because of a lack of tension around this day that celebrates dads: just as there are many mourning the loss of a mother or longing to be mothers themselves, there are many who have lost or never known their dads, and men who ache for children of their own. Somehow, though, that dynamic is not as fraught. Maybe it is because we place less weight on the role of fatherhood than the role of motherhood: the absence of a dad is not felt in quite the same way as the absence of a mom, and while many (if not most) men do want to be fathers, it is often a smaller part of their identity than that of motherhood for women.

That said, dads are every bit as important as moms and every bit as deserving of all the accolades and honor we can offer them! I was so blessed to grow up with a dad who is wise, intentional, and ridiculously available for his kids. My brother and I never doubted his love or presence or his willingness to offer a shoulder to cry on or a joke to make us laugh. I’m also married to an amazing dad who is deeply invested in our kids, provides for them and teaches them and offers so much care and nurturing. (Much to my embarrassment, I think he’s the more soft-hearted of the two of us, but don’t tell the kids I said that!)

Looking out at the landscape of commendable fathers not related to me by birth or by marriage, I had a realization: most of the amazing moms in my Mom Hall of Fame were women of history whose stories I admire. But I am not aware of as many historical men whom I recognize as exceptional dads; I am certain they exist, but most of my male role models are individuals I respect outside of their fathering. In contrast, I can think of numerous fictional fathers deserving of acclaim. I have my theories on why this is: it could be that we expect so little of real-life fathers that it’s easy for them to be elevated in fiction. Also possible is that so many in our society are lacking in personal father-figures that we need more of them in our books and on our screens. Whatever the reason, I’d love to spend a moment recognizing these dads—the real ones, and the ones we wish were real!

Joseph, the Father of Jesus — We don’t know too much about Joseph, but what we DO know indicates that he was a commendable surrogate father to Jesus. His willingness to keep his engagement to Mary and raise a child he know wasn’t his (Matthew 1) is evidence of his faith and integrity. Joseph was wise and proactive, protecting his young family from Herod’s wrath at a time that was very frightening for young Jewish boys (Matthew 2). Given Jesus’ early spiritual maturity (Luke 2), we can assume that Joseph was himself a student of Scripture and was invested in young Jesus’ spiritual education (can you imagine being tasked with teaching the Torah to the Son of God?!). Perhaps the best evidence of all that Joseph was a great father was that God CHOSE HIM to raise God’s Son on earth; that’s a pretty strong endorsement!

Jean Valjean — In this protagonist of Les Misérables, we have another adoptive father! Though hardened after years spent in prison for a minor crime, Valjean shows compassion towards Cosette, whom he adopts after the death of her mother. Valjean dedicates his life to protecting and providing for Cosette and is even willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of her happiness.

Atticus Finch — I don’t think any list of literary icons would be complete without the inclusion of To Kill A Mockingbirds heroic protagonist. This single father is a man of incredible strength and kindness who, through his words and his actions, teaches his two children about empathy, looking past appearances, pursuing justice, and standing up to evil. Atticus is patient and wise, and he knows when to instruct his children and when to let them learn important lessons for themselves.

Andy Taylor — The early years of television brought us some great sitcom dads who modeled great strong values and commitment to both their careers and their home lives; I think the star of The Andy Griffith Show is my favorite. Single dad Andy Taylor manages to maintain order in the small town of Mayberry while also smoothing over the antics of his overly enthusiastic deputy and, most importantly, raising a smart, independent, and adorable son. I fully agree with one source that describes Andy as “the kind of father that every kid deserves—a kind, understanding and compassionate man with a sense of humor and a load of common sense.”

Marlin — As the only non-human father on this list, Marlin the clownfish (father of Nemo) is not without his flaws: he is paranoid, pessimistic, and overprotective. But he loves his son fiercely and overcomes all of his greatest fears in order to rescue him. In addition to modeling great bravery and relentless hope in the midst of tragedy, Marlin is also tender towards young Nemo and wise in how he teaches Nemo to embrace his unique “lucky” fin—setting him up for confidence rather than perpetual victimhood. Marlin’s trajectory from fearful and serious to lighthearted and adventurous demonstrates beautiful growth.

Albus Dumbledore — Dumbledore is not a biological father, but he is a great father figure to Harry Potter, numerous Hogwarts students, and countless fans of the series. Dumbledore is wise, offering words of insight and advice at just the right time while also knowing when to get out of his students’ way as they discover things on their own. Dumbledore is kind-hearted, courageous, adorably quirky, and always has more than enough jokes and sweets to share.

John Avery Whitaker — This prominent character of Adventures in Odyssey may not be as well known as some of the other fathers on this list, but for those of us who grew up on Odyssey, his mentorship and surrogate fathering is unrivaled. Mr. Whitaker made more than a few mistakes with his own children, but in his later years as the owner of Whit’s End Ice Cream Parlor, he has been #1 teacher, advice-giver, adventure-guide, and comfort-provider to the hundreds of children who frequent his shop. Whit’s calm and confident voice has served as the internal compass for a whole generation of Christians, myself and my kids included!

Jack Frost — I’ll end this list with the titular father figure in my own Dad’s favorite movie. Jack, the lead singer in a rock band, adores his son Charlie—so much, in fact, that even death cannot keep them apart. A year after Jack’s fatal car accident, he returns in the form of a snowman to reconnect with his family. Despite the inherent challenges of parenting as a giant piece of ice, Jack and Charlie navigate this unique father/son dynamic with humor, creativity, and resilience. Jack helps Charlie work through his grief, staying connected while also allowing Charlie to move on once he’s gone. Like every good father, Jack recognizes when his parenting duties have ended while still offering love and support to his child.

There are so many other awesome dads I could have included in this list: Nathan Drum of Ordinary Grace; Goofy as seen in The Goofy Movie (my dad’s other favorite!); Pa Ingalls; George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life; and George Banks from Father of the Bride. Each models traits we hope to see in our real-life dads and that I am BEYOND GRATEFUL to experience first-hand from my dad and the dad to my kids! Happy Father’s Day, all you wonderful fathers!

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