It’s an odd fact that the genre of Science Fiction is rather devoid of strong father figures. Indeed, there are many bad fathers, surrogate fathers, or just flat out sperm donors, but solid fathers that shape and guide the children of SciFi are pretty rare. That being said, this article turned out to be an interesting challenge to write; I like challenges and I also have a tendency to diverge from the rules. The originally, perhaps loosely defined, parameters for this were to a a top ten list of father’s in SciFi, preferably good fathers. Well maybe, perhaps ten, eleven, even twelve? Good or bad? I’ll let you decide. Oh, by the way, there may be some spoilers in this article and you might also encounter some characters that are unfamiliar. I apologize for any possible spoilers and if you don’t recognize the character, I guess you’ll just have to read the book or watch the movie. Oh. And by the way, I don’t do lists, I prefer narratives.
In researching for this piece I reached to several people, including my compatriots here at SciFi4Me.com and received a few ideas. Some made it in but, sorry to say, there where several that just don’t cut it in my book. Anakin Skywalker? I guess he tried to be a good father by seeking any way possible to prevent Amidala’s death that he foresaw. Perhaps he should have looked a tad deeper and figured out who was the ultimate cause of her death. I suppose that one might claim that he was unaware of the existence of his own children, but that’s unfounded. He attempted to use his fatherhood to coerce Luke into joining the evil Dark Side and, for some unexplained reason, he was unaware that Leia was his daughter in episode IV, although he seemed to have known all along about Luke. One also might argue that Anakin was redeemed in the end but, by that time, Luke was pretty much grown up and the Empire was defeated. How much more fathering was required from the ghost of Anakin? Luke’s other potential surrogate fathers? Well, there was Uncle Owen, but he was more of an overbearing user rather than a supportive father figure (I think that the Troops fan film sums up that relationship rather nicely). Perhaps Obi Wan then: well maybe for the time that it took to get to the remains of Alderaan and the Death Star. That’s not a whole lot of time for quality fathering and he did take Luke to the seediest bar in Mos Eisley as soon as they met.
What about Yoda? Yoda was arguably the strongest father figure in young Luke’s life, but consider this: I think that someone as strong as Yoda in the Force would have tied Luke up and locked him in his room instead of lamely trying to talk him out of rashly flying off to Cloud City. Luke was strong in the force, perhaps the strongest, but still vastly under trained.
Well. That’s one kicked out. What about others? There was Kyle Reese from Terminator. He was a dedicated soldier who went back in time with orders to protect Sarah Conner and give her a message. He conveniently died shortly after his “donation” so, although he was an upstanding fellow, not much of a father figure. And others? Dr. Henry Jones (senior)? I don’t personally consider the Indiana Jones franchise to fall into the SciFi genre, but a particularly distant father figure who raised a son who, as a noted Archaeologist who had a distinct ability to completely destroy just about every important dig site he ever visited, walking away with a single artifact, it seems to me that there was quite a bit of angst in Indiana’s behavior. It can’t have been a very happy childhood.
Maybe we need to dig a little deeper, back to the beginnings of SciFi to gain an understanding of this lack of quality fatherhood in the genre. Perhaps the first SciFi novel with a profound father figure and, arguably, the first novel in the SciFi genre itself, was Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.
Victor Frankenstein was the surrogate father to the monster. The end result was a father – son combination that loathed each other. A son desperately fleeing from his dissociation with humanity and a father desperately trying to destroy his abominable creation (skip the crappy movies and read the book, it’s dark, Gothic and tedious but you don’t know the real story unless you read it). With beginnings like that, it’s hard to break the mold, but I’m sure we can find some fathers to consider.
How about Dr. Eldon Tyrell from Blade Runner?
Here’s an even more modern Prometheus, the creator of thousands (perhaps even millions) of fabricated humans. He benevolently gifted them with super-human strength, and in some cases, superior intellect. Knowing full well that these “replicants”, as they are so tritely classified, will eventually come to the conclusion that they are nothing more than slaves and revolt, he also gifted them with a built-in four year life span. While that may be good for corporate profits, it’s not such a nice thing to do to your offspring. When he tried to explain these facts of life to the prodigal son, Roy Batty, well…let’s just say that it did not end well. Fatherhood for profit is generally not a good plan.
Okay, maybe we can try the Star Trek universe. Skipping over the two minor references to James T. Kirk’s father, one father figure that stands out (mostly because he was a leading character) was Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe. Here’s a man, a single father, who takes his son Jake into hostile territory to take command of a space station. Is that really a good place to raise a child? I suppose that going fishing or going to baseball games on the holodeck counts for something, but kids need the real thing…they know the holodeck is fake. It’s a tough enough job being a single father but stack that on top of running a space station and it’s no wonder that Jake would often be found in the company of undesirables such as Ferengi or Dabo girls. At least Ben taught Jake how to cook.
Speaking of Ferengi, the real solid father in this series, in my opinion, was Nog’s father Rom. Rom, another single father, worked tirelessly for his overbearing brother to give his son a decent life in a world far removed from their home planet without full indoctrination into the devious “Rules of Acquisition.” He was also fully supportive of Nog’s decision to enter Star Fleet Academy, and he, himself, broke from the Ferengi tradition of striving for more and more profit taking a position with Star Fleet maintenance.
I suppose I would be remiss in not mentioning a few of the other fathers from the Star Trek universe such as Worf – To his credit, Worf didn’t know that he was a father until it was perhaps a bit too late. He gave it a whirl, but was too tied up in his own career and desperately trying to be more Klingon. And Sarek? Maybe a good father by Vulcan standards, but their whole society seems a bit too much anti-childhood for my taste. Kids need to have their play time.
Those are just a few that come to mind from the more mainstream sources. Let me dig a bit into the dark reaches of my memory and see what else floats up.
James Bolivar DiGriz, (Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat series) widely known as “Slippery Jim”:
Here is the most notorious mastermind criminal in the galaxy. So where does he fit in as a father? Although an accomplished thief, he was also a man of principal; deeply proud of the fact that, in all his escapades, he never killed anyone. Having finally met the woman of his dreams, Angelina, another career criminal who was also a murderous psychopath (nobody’s perfect, she did go through extensive psycho surgery though) he became the father of twin boys, James and Bolivar (also a bit of a large ego on Slippery Jim). He and Angelina indoctrinated the two boys fully into the family business. To tell the truth, the boy’s early development, roughly six years, was guided purely by Angelina, because Jim was off on an extensive mission for the Special Corp. Oh well, yet another somewhat removed father.
George Jetson, The Jetsons:
Now this guy had a tough life – working an hour a day, two days a week for an overbearing boss (Mr. Spacely) who fired poor George at least once a week–but, what a great father; cruising the family around in a flying car, providing his son Elroy with a talking dog as a companion, completely baffled by his teenage daughter – what more could you ask for? Perhaps a little fishing or camping, but that’s a bit difficult when you live in an apartment building on top of a pole attached to… something. We really don’t know exactly what that pole was attached to.
Jubal Harshaw, Robert Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land: Lawyer, Doctor, Author, also considered a Dirty old Man by some, since he had three young, gorgeous live-in secretaries and, although we don’t know his exact age, he was probably pushing eighty. Now there’s a father figure. The boy, Valentine Michael Smith, raised by Martians, was brought to Jubal through a friend of a friend relationship to protect his civil rights. Mike–even he didn’t want to be called Valentine or Val–was being exploited by the space administration and the media. Jubal, being a cantankerous old coot, took the case wholeheartedly. Little did he know that Mike would adopt him as his father, a fact the he eventually accepted, though some think that it came a bit too late. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I guess you’ll just have to read the book.
George McFly, Back to the Future:
George was not originally a very strong father figure, more like a meek pushover with a crappy car. It took his son Marty a bit of meddling around in the timeline to give George the self confidence to take control of his own destiny.
Splinter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
Splinter is number one in my book. A mutated rat living in the sewers raising four teenagers who are mutated turtles. How Splinter came to be a Ninja master depends on where you get the story from. In the cartoon series he was originally a human Ninja master with three pet turtles who came in contact with a mysterious mutagenic compound that made them become similar to the last creature that they had contact with. In the movie Splinter was a Ninja master’s pet rat and learned the Master’s moves by watching from his cage, before he mutated. The first one was semi-believable, the second one is beyond comprehension, it baffles me as to why somebody felt the need to change that. Either way, Splinter trained the young turtles in the Ninja arts. Whether he did this just because he was a Ninja master and that’s just what they do or, more likely, because he knew that they would eventually become teenagers, all three at once. This makes him the coolest father in the universe. He even allowed them leeway to indulge in some non-Ninja activities like skateboarding and eating pizza. Splinter rocks!