Father Knows Best: Know-It-All Dads in Fiction

Father Knows Best: Know-It-All Dads in Fiction


Dads. Love ‘em, but sometimes they think they know everything: They’re often quick to weigh in, because after all, they have been around the block before. Fictional dads are no exception. At their best, they always know just what to say. At their worst, they have trouble relating to their kids. Then again, maybe this is why some of them give such great advice. Some are candidates for #1 Dad mugs, some are less-than, but they all have one thing in common: These dads have an answer foreverything.

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    1. To Kill a Mockingbird

    Atticus Finch

    Fictional fathers everywhere, take note! Atticus Finch is pretty much the quintessential father figure in modern literature, with his wisdom, care, and unflagging good advice for Scout and Jem. Here are some gems: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience,” and “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus’ wisdom isn’t his only strength: He’s also sneaky about sharing it, and never makes others feel like he’s shoving unwanted advice down their throats.

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    2. Infinite Jest

    James Incandenza

    If you have a question about avant-garde film, James Incandenza is the man to see. This literary dad is responsible for weaponizing (yep) the art form; his extensive works for Poor Yorick Entertainment are detailed at length in the endnotes of Infinite Jest. James appears to have a vast and encyclopedic knowledge of his field, but there’s also a reason that his children refer to him by the nickname “Himself.” He’s more than a little emotionally absent, and he has his share of problems. Ask Himself anything about film, but maybe hold off on demanding life advice or emotional support.

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    3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

    Arthur Weasley

    Despite their lack of material possessions, the Weasleys know what most matters: family. Arthur Weasley is a lovable and bumbling dad who has his priorities—family, loyalty, and honor—well in order. He’s never at a loss for the right thing to do; what’s more, he never hesitates to let people know where he stands on an issue (example: his now-famous “We have a very different idea about what disgraces the name of a wizard” speech to Lucius Malfoy). We think Arthur is just about the best kind of know-it-all.

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    4. Matilda

    Harry Wormwood

    The irony of Harry Wormwood’s know-it-all tone is that he actually knows far, far less about the world and how to treat the people in it than his exceptionally gifted daughter, Matilda. This used-car salesman is manipulative, thinks he’s got everyone fooled, and sees himself as a successful businessman even though his practices are more than just questionable. Harry is the worst kind of know-it-all: He thinks he has all the answers, and forces them on those around him without ever stopping to consider the viewpoints and feelings of others. We’re not a fan.



    5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

    Thomas Schell

    Thomas Schell’s death in the September 11 attacks means that we don’t see much of his life in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Happily, his quirky nature and undeniable intelligence shine through the novel in the way his son Oskar carries on his legacy. Thomas’s relationship with Oskar was close and special: He regularly created elaborate and mentally stimulating games to exercise the 9-year-old’s incredibly sharp mind, and devised fun ways to get his son out of his comfort zone. Thomas Schell, it seems, is cut from the same cloth as Atticus Finch—knowledgeable but not pushy, brilliant without being in-your-face about it.


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