Here’s a timely topic: fathers. In speculative stories, it seems the more-epic a story gets, the more likely the author tries to explore Father Issues.
Oh wait. Fred Warren already explored that, and not even near to Father’s Day.
In that case, this column will take off from his, along with reviving the Sex in the Story series — which explores, not steamy scenes of romance and such (I am so sorry), but gender differences seen in stories.
Fathers are all over most speculative stories. These can be done well or done poorly.
- How to Train Your Dragon explores father issues very well.
In a recent re-viewing, I noted how much the 2010 Dreamworks animated film urges audience to sympathize not only with Hiccup, the awkward teenage son of Viking village leader Stoick the Vast, but with Stoick himself. Just when you think this may be another teen-proves-idealistic-youth-triumphs-over-traditionalist-age, the film subverts that with warmth, humanity, and mutual apologies and learning between father and son. Fantastic animation and acting only aids this theme.
- The Disney 1964 musical film Mary Poppinshandles father issues a bit poorly.
Of course, this is a classic of music and animation, and I enjoy this movie too, but let’s admit it: Dick Van Dyke does a bad cockney/British/Scottish/South England/North England whatever accent he does. But besides that, the movie’s moral is that Daddy Needs to Learn a Lesson. I’m still not sure what that lesson was. Anyway, the story extricates him from any consequences by deus ex machina. I know, I’m a grump.
- The Star Wars film series is the modern-classic example of father issues done right.
The original trilogy has defined a stereotypical “bad father” and his redemption arc for several generations already. Everyone knows (and misquotes) “No, I am your father.” Still, its resolution is that good-son-redeems-bad-father, a twist on the “prodigal son.” Do I suggest that Luke should have learned from Darth Vader? Not really. But any other story exploring father issues could twist the template yet again.
- Finally, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treaderfilm (Fox/Walden, 2010) shows “father issues” done horribly wrong, or rather, barely done at all.
- Someone decided the movie needed to show King Caspian doing something, or having a Redemptive Arc, instead of simply captaining the ship and being kingly. (Furthermore, it wouldn’t do to show film-Caspian building up to what the book showed was his desire, all along, to go to Aslan’s Country suicide-style and forsake his responsibilities as Narnia’s monarch. It just wouldn’t do because … because … because giving anything to see Aslan’s Country just doesn’t make sense, right?)
Thus, we get a serving of Father Issues in a little plastic tray, slid out from a thin cardboard box. Peel off the cellophane and you get Caspian pining for his lost father, and kinda-sorta wanting to see him again. With no real change in his desires, he suddenly makes an about-face and realizes he shouldn’t want this. As a friend of mine put it: why did Caspian not even mention his mother and wanting to see her?
That brings me to my central theme: that despite the stories that explore Father Issues half-heartedly, or that — like the Dawn Treader movie — merely toss them on top to try to seem epic or profound, it’s fascinating that authors want to explore these at all.
Isn’t out society past such themes? Some people would think so:
- According to secular feminists, liberated women should be doing even more victory laps after “taking over” news media, academia, and Hollywood with their rhetoric.
- According to Christians who have experienced bad fathers, or even notions of “patriarchy” that abuse Scripture (and people, especially women), we should focus more on the truth that we’re one in Christ, and not worry about specific “roles.”
These can’t be right. Too much evidence proves many in our culture think otherwise. Deep down, we suspect that, even if many fathers stink, they should be great:
- Among Christians, father-oriented teaching and books are more popular. (And I think we may have finally left the Wild at Heart notion of “real men are mushy poet types who fancy themselves studs even as they’re whimpering over how much Jesus their lover loves them and bemoaning their inevitable Wounds From Fathers.”)
- Almost all speculative stories, including “secular” ones, fall all over themselves to explore Father Issues, and to present dads or father-figures as good role models.
Tween-or-older “millennials” who hang out on “meme” websites (such as this one) have a unique desire to credit, tribute, venerate, and repeat the purported pranks and wisdom of a character commonly dubbed “Trolldad.” This is one case that surprises me most. If we’re really such a feminist, family-rejecting and fatherhood-detesting culture, why this eagerness to exhort dads as awesome figures? Even more, why do these folks constantly make themselvesinto the butt of the jokes?
So, why do you believe speculative stories, in particular, are so apt to explore issues of fathers and children? Which father-oriented stories have you enjoyed and why? Which ones haven’t done so well? And finally (perhaps most vital), will you defy niche-trench-digging and give your own father a Christian speculative novel for this Father’s Day?