Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Best Dads in Fiction

The Top Ten Dads in fiction

Just in time for Father’s Day! Like my list of the best siblings in fiction, this list is heavily skewed towards genre fiction, because that’s what I tend to read.

Limiting Criteria and notable omissions

No Mentors: Rather, no characters who are only mentors, as a good father will also be a good mentor to his child. There’s clearly a bit of overlap between good parents and mentors, but the distinction I’m making here is that I’m not looking at anyone who was introduced into the character’s life after childhood or whose primary interaction with the character is outside the home. No Giles, no Dumbledore, no Doctors Who.  They’re admirable figures, but they’re outside the scope of this list. (I was thinking of making a distinction between characters who are the biological fathers of their children and those who not, but I came to my senses. Biological paternity isn't an important part of being a father.)

A Dad-Shaped Hole:  One of the smartest choices the Supergirl TV show made was the decision to leave Superman on the fringe. We see him as a silhouette in flashbacks and a distant figure and presence on the other end of a text conversation with Kara. That was the only way way he would have worked. Removing him entirely would beg the question "Where is Superman?" and making him any more prominent than they did would have overshadowed a character that did not yet have her own identity in that sphere. A dad who exists only as an idealized memory for his children doesn't qualify.

That Belongs to Me!: I was looking around on the internets, and most examples of good dads in genre fiction are variations of Liam Neeson's octogenarian serial killer from Taken. "The Papa Wolf: Don't take his stuff, or he'll kill you."

I don't like that, because it reduces the child to level of a prop.
The true measure of worth as a father is not how much more you love your family than everyone else. I want somebody who loves his kids and respects them and prepares them for their adult lives, not the McGuffin at the end of his roaring rampage of revenge.

Ned Stark: This one is practically de rigueur for geek lists, but as I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog, I don’t think he was a good dad. Even my friend Nicole agrees, and she's married to the mirror universe George R. R. Martin (He's skinny, handsome and has neither beard nor hat).

Ned loved his kids, but he didn’t prepare them for life outside Winterfell, where leadership consists of publicly decapitating traumatized refugees who were just trying to escape the paramilitary organization into which they were involuntarily conscripted.

The Ten Best Dads 

(+ One Bonus Dad, because Josh miscounted when he was making the list!)


11) Gomez Addams (The Addams Family) :  He's creepy and he's kooky, yes, he's mysterious and spooky. I would go so far as to say that he's all together ooky. However, the reason I like Gomez is that he's crazy about his family.

You see it more in the TV show than with the movies, which is why I picked John Aston over Raul Julia for the picture, but they both convey what I like about the character, his boundless gonzo enthusiasm and deep, unabashed love for his family.

10.) Arthur Weasely (The Sisterhood of the Pottering Pants): No list would be complete without  kindly, decent Arthur Weasely. (Seriously, he's always on these lists, even the non-fantasy ones.) One of the very few good dads in a very large series, he's often overshadowed by his my extroverted wife, but together they form the foundation on which the entire series is built.

9.) Jean Valjean (Les Misérables): I've always found Javert a more interesting character, but Jean Valjean is unquestionably one of the best dads out there. The reason he's not ranked higher is that his character arc concludes so early in the narrative that he winds up being a a rather flat character. Still, he loves Cosette, and he dedicates his life to her. (And Le Miz is really her story anyway.)

8.) Ben Parker (Spider-Man): He barely meets the criteria of being a character, but I'm going to include him because I think Cliff Robertson's portrayal, as brief as it was, is the glue that holds the Spider-Man movie together. 

7.) Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender): He's the uncle rather than biological father to Prince Zuko. Long before the series began, Iroh's own son died while under his command, and this devastated him. Like Valjean above, Iroh had his epiphany before the main thrust of the story, but his mellow good humor makes him much more fun.

He, as much as anyone knows the kind of monster Zuko's father is. And honestly, there is a lot in the story to suggest that Iroh wasn't a very good father to his own son when he was alive. It was only after his son's death that he became the man that we see in Avatar.

He is everything a father should be to Zuko, patient and kind and understanding. He teaches Zuko by example. He sees the mistakes his nephew is going to make, but respects Zuko's right to make them and he's there to catch Zuko when he falls.

6.) Tatsuo Kusakabe (My Neighbor Totoro):  Or almost any dad from a Miyazaki movie, really. My daughter wanted to add Kiki’s Dad, from Kiki’s Delivery Service. I was like “Yeah, what a great dad!  He let her take the radio.” (That was sarcasm.) But she pointed out that he let her take the radio, and he loved her and supported her and let her go off on her adventure.

Mister Kusakabe is just a good guy. Trying to give his young daughters as normal a life as possible while their mother is in the hospital, working to provide for them, listening to the. I don't think he really believes in the Totoros, but he acts as if he does, and that's such a nice thing to do.

5.) Charles Halloway (Something Wicked This Way Comes): This isn't something kids get about adults until they get older, but we have our doubts and fears too. 
The Witch, if she were alive, would have known that sound, and died again

Charles Halloway is an old man, and he worries that he's too old to be a proper father to his son.

“Dad," said Will, his voice very faint. "Are you a good person?"

"To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man's a hero to himself. I've lived with me a lifetime, Will. I know everything worth knowing about myself-"

"And, adding it all up...?"

"The sum? As they come and go, and I mostly sit very still and tight, yes, I'm all right.”

Spoiler, he turns out to be a pretty good dad after all.

4.) Keith Mars (Veronica Mars) 
I love Keith. He was always my favorite character on the show.

Lily once said that I only like people who make mistakes, and that's as true as anything anyone's ever said about me. Veronica is haunted by the ghost of the girl she used to be. Veronica loses as much as she wins, but she always comes back for more. Veronica is a competent investigator, with the skill set one would reasonably expect to find in the daughter of a sheriff turned PI. She's sensible, she's methodical, and she knows the tricks of the trade, but she's not brilliant. 

And everything she is, Keith helped her become.

3.) Pa Kent (Superman) (panel from All Star Superman)

Click to embiggen

Young Justice was a TV show from 2011 that suffered from the same problem afflicting a lot of DC Universe properties. The creators loved Batman and hated Superman. In Young Justice, which was  otherwise a decent show, Batman was this cool father figure to the team of young heroes, and Superman was a prickly, standoffish jerk who couldn't stand to be around his own clone.

There have been and will continue to be many different interpretations of the characters, but some things about them are constant. A Batman who is kinder than Superman is just as wrong as a Batman who is stronger than Superman.  He's up to what, five Robins now? "Come here, little boy. I have some elf boots.  Those don’t fit? Don’t worry. I have several pairs. Don't mind the blood."

Superman would have been a great dad, just like Johnathan Kent. When he was pitching All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison said "'Superman' is an act. 'Clark Kent' in Metropolis is also an act. There are actually two Kents, at least – one is a disguise, a bumbling, awkward mask for Superman. The other is the confident, strong, good-hearted Clark Kent who was raised by his surrogate Ma and Pa in Kansas and knows how to drive a tractor. I think he's the most 'real' of all."

That's who Johnathan Kent was and who Clark Kent aspires to be.

2.) Tenzin (The Legend of Korra): I love Tenzin. On one level he's a hilariously grumpy sitcom dad,
Pema: Dear, the best thing you can do right now is to give Korra some space.
Tenzin: You must promise me that your teenage years won't be like this!
Jinora: I will make no such promises.

but he's also an incomparable badass. He fares much better than Korra against the Equalists, for instance. (You'd think someone who solved her problems with her fists for her entire life would be better at using them.)

He's fundamentally decent person. You often hear variations on the phrase "He would do anything for his kids" as a compliment, but I it struck me as I was reviewing episodes for this post that Tenzin wouldn't. There are lines he will not cross. He will not commit abhorrent acts in their name. When his home and temple are invaded and supervillains take his family and his students hostage, Tenzin's kids are right there getting the hostages to safety. He taught them to stand up for themselves and for other people, by setting that example.

1.) Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird):

The Free Space on the Good Dad Bingo Board and for good reason. Even after Go Set a Watchmen, he remains the ideal to which dads expire. Atticus is a widower doing his best to raise his children in 1930s Alabama.

My grandfather served as a marine in WWII, leaving high school early in order to serve.  He supported his family for half a century. As an old friend of his said at his funeral, "He always had a smile for everyone and he never talked too loud." There is a scene in "To Kill a Mockingbird" where Atticus shoots a rabid dog. He doesn't go bragging about it afterwards. He doesn't exchange high fives with his friends. He did it because he was the best equipped to do it, and he went on with his life afterwards. I loved my grandpa. He was a good man. He always made me think of Atticus.

Atticus did his best. He was warm and kind and good.

"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it", is some darn good advice.

Friday, June 10, 2016

I must say, we're enjoying the new Voltron

Appropriately mythic, a clever updating of the original series, some great action and tied together with that sly Avatar sense of humor.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

On one hand...

On one hand, we try to support local businesses on principle, it's within walking distance and the prices are reasonable.

On the other,

they spell sandwiches with a "z".

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Balticon 50 Part 1: Friday, I'm in Love

We went to Balticon 50 for Memorial Day weekend.  I was actually pretty lukewarm on this convention at first, but as my friends tagged along to (Re)Generation Who because I was so enthused about it, I figured the least I could do would be to repay them that courtesy. I wound up having a really good time, so it all worked out in the end anyway.

Our cast

Me: Josh, the hero of this blog.
Jen: The long-suffering Mrs. Josh.
Lily: Our precocious daughter.
Nicole: Our next door neighbor, the George R.R. Martin superfan.  She planned to disguise herself as his porkpie hat and elope with him.
Jeremiah: Mr. Nicole, third corner of the George-Jer-Nicole love triangle, video-game podcaster extraordinaire!
Young Master J: Their son, Linus to Lily’s Lucy.

Long Day's Journey into Maryland

We drove down on Friday in Jen’s vehicle.  Even with the convention discount, rates were pretty high, so we stayed at a different hotel than the one where the con was being held. It was just a couple blocks away, so it worked out pretty well.  We arrived shortly after registration opened, and it all went smoothly. Jen was dressed as a Weeping Angel and the kids went as Black Widow and Falcon. I was supposed to do a father-daughter costume of Deathstroke and Rose Wilson with Lily, but she changed her mind at the last minute, so I went as a fat dude in a comic-book t-shirt instead. (It was very convincing) If anyone asked, I told them I was dressed as Kevin Smith.

Part of the reason for my initial ambivalence about the con is that when I think of geeks, I do have a negative initial impression, even though I identify as one. Without any other context, when I hear the word, I think of misogynistic basement dwellers engaged in games of petty one-upmanship. Yeah, #notallgeeks, but I take a rather dim view of our subculture, as we’re a subset of humanity, another group of which I have pessimistic expectations.

However, my expectations were subverted in the best way possible, because the people that we came to see (George Martin, Peter Beagle and the staff from March's Dr. Who con) were all really cool. People were friendly and courteous towards Jen and the kids with their costumes, and it was all pretty wonderful. There were tons of workshops and people sharing their passions and that kind of thing. It was a pretty great crowd.

The I saw someone in a ROADMARKS t-shirt. I only saw it out of the corner of my eye and he was gone before I processed it. It had writing on the top of the image, and my best guess is that the image from the book was used for another convention or appropriated by a fan group. I really wish I’d been able to catch the guy to ask him. Zelazny had been the guest of honor for Balticon 21 in 1987, and I thought the shirt might have been from that, but the program book featured a different image. (Also, the t-shirt would have been thirty years old and they seldom last that long.)

The First Night 

My status update on Facebook for that night: I'm at Balticon, and I'm the only person in the restroom. Another attendee enters, loudly proclaims "Excellent!" and heads into a stall. Meanwhile, my daughter and her friend have co-opted the abandoned table full of pamphlets for a Furry convention, and are enthusiastically welcoming all passers-by.

Going to be a memorable weekend.

I'm not sure quite what was going on for the first part.  It happened pretty much as I described it there.

The Furry convention in question was Fur the 'More.  That's not my particular scene, but I've got to admit that's a pretty great name for a con. We bought a shot glass from them when they returned later in the weekend.

The kids were really cute at the table.

Continue on to part two, Saturday!

Balticon 50 Part 2: Saturday, what a day Groovin' all week with you

Part two of our trip to Balticon 50. Part One, Part Three.

Return to the Con

We made it back to the hotel for some early morning panels. Jen had gone through the schedule and highlighted panels and activities of interest. One of them was scheduled for ten o’clock: The creators of Intervention Con and (Re)Generation Who talk about what the process is like of taking a convention from a good idea to a successful event.

The panel was run by Oni Hartstein and James Harknell. I wasn't actually interested in learning how to run a convention; I was just there so I could tell them how much I liked (Re)Generation Who. That said, I was extremely impressed by how Oni laid things out. More on RegenWho crew later, but she seemed like an exemplary showrunner. She mentioned her leadership position in the real world and how she applies that expertise to running conventions. Honestly, that’s something our fandom could use more of, as too often we try to substitute passion for expertise, and the exchange rate is seldom very good.

She explained the whats and whys very clearly, and methods seemed practical and data-driven. The two (R)GWs were well run, and I can see now that this wasn’t an accident. I’m pleased that something I enjoy so much will be around for so much time to come.

She was wearing a Sixth Doctor costume, but I didn’t realize it until she came out and said so. In my defense, she was seated at a table for most of the panel and I only saw the top of her body, and on top of that, the crossplay threw me, as the Sixth Doctor, outside of certain fan fics, rarely wore a corset.  I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even recognize it as a costume; I just thought “Oni’s taste in clothes is kind of tacky.”

After that we went down to their table, and I had the chance to talk with them about how much I loved the con.  The thing that had struck me at the time of (Re)Generation Who was how enthralled Kara Dennison looked when she was listening to the thoughtful responses of the guests when she was moderating the panels. She confirmed that impression when I mentioned it, and spoke briefly about how lovely all of the guests were. It’s wonderful to see your faith in the people you admire affirmed. I was talking with Nicole afterwards, and she mentioned that she had the same concerns I did. What happens if these people you were so excited to meet turned out to be giant jerks? I’m so happy this wasn’t the case.

 Jen’s Weeping Angel costume was very popular too, with both the (R)GW crew and the convention crowd as a whole. She got a lot of “Don’t blink!” comments and had a really good time.

The Foodie

Later on, we ran into Scott Edelman.

I follow his blog, so I recognized him from his picture. (And bravo to him for using a profile picture that actually resembles how he looks in real life.) Jer was talking to him. I looked over and thought "Hey, that guy looks like Scott Edelman." Tick. "And that's what his name tag says, too."

Jeremiah didn't know who he was. He's just friendly. He has some kind of strange mutant power hitherto unknown in my circle of socially stunted introverts, where he can go right up to someone and just start talking to them! It’s downright astounding.

I filled him in as we were walking away from the hotel to get some lunch. "That was Scott Edelman. He’s a very well-respected genre editor, and he has a blog and a podcast called Eating the Fantastic.”

We saw Scott in the crosswalk and Jer was like "So, I hear you're a foodie..."

Heh heh. That’s awesome.

While J. was in the bathroom,  Nicole and I were waiting outside and a woman who had seen him go in remarked to me. “That little kid has the best Batman costume I’ve ever seen.”

J. can be very exacting about the language used to describe his interests.  That’s hardly an uncommon trait in the geek community (and it’s a one I certainly share) and it’s certainly more pronounced in children. The problem with this was that he wasn’t Batman; he was the Falcon.
Me: Did she just call J. Batman?
Nicole: Yeah.
Me: J. would have lost his shit if he’d been here.
Nicole: Yup.
Me: We’ve got to tell him.
Nicole: Of course! 
We had a superhero escort as we  returned to the hotel in the late afternoon. Jen went back for masquerade rehearsal, and Lily wanted some downtime, so we swam in the pool and watched some TV. The masquerade wound up being a bigger commitment than Jen had expected, so she opted not to participate. That was the end for us for that evening.

Continue on to part three!

Balticon 50, Part 3: Sunday Morning Coming Down

Part three of our trip to Balticon 50, covering Sunday.
Part One; Friday
Part Two: Saturday


The last day of a convention is always kind of quiet. Balticon actually runs for four days, but we were only staying for three, so this was the last day for us.

I was mostly wandering around and watching the kids. I wanted to go to a panel on writing for RPGs, not because I’m interested in doing so as a career, but because I was curious about the techniques involved. Unfortunately, the room was double booked and the panel was either going to be moved or rescheduled. I didn’t hang around to see which one it was. I had Lily in tow, and she was already getting pretty antsy, so we wound up in the anime room instead. We watched the second half of My Neighbor Totoro and all of Kiki’s Delivery Service. I’d never watched either in a group before. It was fun. They’re both great movies. I first showed Totoro to Lily when she was three and she’s loved it ever since. I maintain that the scene where they’re dredging the pond is one of the best directed scenes in all cinema, animated or otherwise.

My Neighbor Totoro

The basic plot of the movie is that a young professor and his two daughters move out to the countryside in postwar Japan in order to be close to the mom, who had been hospitalized for spinal tuberculosis. It's such a nice little film. I had vague recollections of having seen it as a teenager, but I don't think I ever watched it all the way through, because it has neither ninja nor giant robots.

I thought it might be scary for Lily at three, because they talk about parents dying, but she weathered it just fine. There's a scene where the eight-year-old sister, Satsuki, is talking to the four-year-old, Mei. Their mom was supposed to come home for the weekend, but her visit from the hospital had been postponed because she had caught a cold. Mei says that she wants mom to come home anyway, and while Satsuki does too, she understands the reality of the situation and knows that she has to stay. But Mei is insistent and in her disappointment and frustration, Satsuki yells at her sister "Do you want mom to die?!"

Mei starts crying and she runs away and decides to walk to the hospital by herself. She gets lost and the whole village is searching for her. Satsuki is running all over the countryside, and someone catches her and tells her that they found a little girl's sandal by the pond and it might be Mei's.

So Satsuki races there as fast as she can, and you see the adults are dredging the pond. She runs up and an old woman holds up the sandal and asks if the sandal is Mei's. What follows is a ten-second eternity while Satsuki catches her breath enough to answer the question. The whole scene is so well put-together, and while we wait for Satsuki to answer, the frame slowly draws in on the woman holding the sandal, and that effect and the half-hopeful, half-fearful expression on her face gives the impression that the whole world is closing in.

Roger Ebert loved it. It's on his list of great movies.

From the review:

Here is a children's film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.

 There is none of the kids-against-adults plotting of American films. The family is seen as a safe, comforting haven. The father is reasonable, insightful and tactful, accepts stories of strange creatures, trusts his girls, listens to explanations with an open mind. It lacks those dreary scenes where a parent misinterprets a well-meaning action and punishes it unfairly.

 I'm afraid that in praising the virtues of ''My Neighbor Totoro'' I have made it sound merely good for you, but it would never have won its worldwide audience just because of its warm heart. It is also rich with human comedy in the way it observes the two remarkably convincing, lifelike little girls (I speak of their personalities, not their appearance). It is awe-inspiring in the scenes involving the totoro, and enchanting in the scenes with the Cat Bus. It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.
Well, that was a long digression, but this post would have been pretty short without it.

Then it was time to go home after the rest of our group finished watching their panels.

One More Thing

One other thing happened at the con. On Friday night, as we were walking back, Lily met her first person. All the adults walked past him, and she stopped and apologized for not having any money, then picked a flower to give him from a bush near a bank building. We decided at that point to give him some money. I'm happy that she saw him as a human being deserving of respect.She's very good and very gentle, which sometimes worries me, because I think Hemingway was right about what the world does to those kind of people, but mostly I’m proud of her persistence and her compassion.  I was thinking of the parallels between that and how she rescued the stray cat that came to our house. Each time, she saw an injustice, and didn't have the power to correct it herself, so she petitioned someone who did and kept at it until we helped.

All right, enough being serious. The con was fun. I’m really happy I had the opportunity to talk to the organizers from (Re)Generation Who. They’re great people with a palpable enthusiasm for their passions, and absolute professionals about running the show.

We almost got to talk to Peter Beagle, but missed him twice. I didn’t meet with George R.R. Martin, but Nicole did, and she said he was a great guy.  It was a wonderful experience.

Plus, we bought the Kittens expansion for Munchkin. How can you top that?