The Role of Fathers in Romantic Fiction

In honor of Father’s Day, I decided to take a look at the different types of fathers and how they are utilized (or not) in fiction with a few glimpses into how I have used the role in my own work. 

There are many famous fathers either applauded or ridiculed in literature.  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is often hailed as the best father in fiction for his moral strength, compassion, and his love for his children. On the opposite spectrum, Shakespeare’s King Lear in King Lear wins no props for father of the year for playing favorites with his daughters, not to mention promoting the practice of false vanity. 

In the world of Romance, the role of father is usually found somewhere between the two.  A father in romance can take on a variety of roles. 

Photo credit: 'J' / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

King Lear wins the award for Daddy Dearest
Photo credit: ‘J’ / Foter.com / CC BY-NC


The Wise Old Sage

Viewed as the quiet solid presence ready with an open ear, this dad often times nudges the hero or heroine to a path of self-discovery, or an Ah-ha moment or two, by what they say, or don’t say. 

The Villain

Often in a historical romance, the father can be viewed somewhat as a villain if forcing his daughter to marry someone she doesn’t love to secure the financial stability or further promote the business/social interests of the family.  Usually these dads come around in the end when they see their girls blooming with happiness over a hero who has claimed her heart.  (NOTE: These Dads don’t dwell over anything ELSE the hero may have claimed on the road to his girl’s happily ever after.) 

The Comic Relief

Mr. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite fathers in literature.  I personally find him very funny.  The man is so intelligent and his wit goes right over the heads of his wife and three youngest daughters.  Unfortunately, his lack of guidance/interests nearly ruins his family.  This character type contributes to the conflict the H/H need to resolve before they reach their HEA. 

The Workaholic / Neglectful dad

I’ve been reading a lot of Young Adult romance novels lately and this seems to be a popular dad in the genre.  These dads can go either way in the end.  They either recognize their errors and come through big time for their children, or continue to live on in oblivion.  (Note: If you’re looking for a good YA Romance, I recommend Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits.) 

The Over Protective Dad

Photo credit: Chicago Man / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Stand Back or I’ll ROAR!!!
Photo credit: Chicago Man / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Men tend to be over protective especially of their little girls.  In romance, this dad sends his daughters straight to rebellion road.  Sheltered all her life, this heroine wants adventure. Often times the hero will come along and help the gal stir up just enough trouble to satisfy her need for adventure before settling down.  Often times this hero earns the gratitude of dad who can now relax knowing his girl is in good hands, unless of course, he doesn’t approve of the guy.  In that case, Over Protective Dad reigns and he’ll keep a close eye on the situation. 

The Absentee Dad

Sometimes the absence of a father is more keenly felt in a story (romance or otherwise) than if he were present.  If a father has passed away or abandoned the family, both scenarios form the character and world perspectives of our heroes and heroines.  Like me, heroines #1 and 2 in my Brothers of Audubon Springs series, suffered the loss of their fathers whom they shared a close relationship.  These losses put them on the road to self-discovery and their happily ever after.  For me, the loss of my father inspired me to become serious about writing.  The 3rd heroine in the series suffers from absentee parents.  This weighs heavily on her and impacts her entire life’s journey. 

The Single Dad

Daddy Daughter on the beach

Loving Dad with his girl

The 3rd book in the Brothers of Audubon Springs series focuses on a Single Dad.  I love all my heroes, but Vince holds a special place in my heart.  A touch of my husband lives inside all my heroes.  Vince is the stand out because when I met my husband, he was a Single Dad and my stepson was six.  I didn’t expect Vince to have his own story, but my subconscious mind had other thoughts.  In book #1, Vince is married with a young child.  By book #3, he’s a single dad with a six year old daughter.  I love and admire his journey.  In many ways, this book is a toast to my husband, as Vince’s dedication to his child and family reminds me of my hubs.  Vince’s lady love and former high school sweetheart, Marissa, is one lucky gal indeed!   

The Rest

What other categories of fathers in fiction have I missed?  There is The Self Sacrificing Dad, The Adopted/Surrogate Father, The Father with a Heart of Gold, The Abusive Father, who else? How do they figure into the fabric of a manuscript?

Please leave a comment and let me know how you have used the role in your own writing, and readers, who are your favorite fathers in fiction and why?

Happy Father’s Day!!!! 🙂

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15 Comments

  1. Hi RoseAnn,

    What about the dad as a role model for the hero? (Maybe this is incorporated in some of the other types.) Even though it’s not blatantly on the page, I know at least one of my heroes definitely looks up to his father and hopes to live up to his example. It’s a large part of who he is.

    There are definitely elements of my husband in all my heroes as well. Whether it’s his sense of humor or what a terrific dad he is, my heroes just wouldn’t be heroes to me if they didn’t have some part of my husband in them.

    Emma

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  June 17, 2013

      Hi Emma!

      I LOVE the HERO dad. So many possible complexities. Wanting to be like dad, feeling like you’ll never attain that same hero status, or live up to dad’s expectations.

      Good one! Thanks!
      RoseAnn

      Reply
  2. Jenna Blue

     /  June 17, 2013

    RoseAnn, what a great post! I haven’t thought about this at all until now, but they really do fall right into categories, don’t they? Runaway has the Absentee dad (died when she was young, part of what allows her untenable situation to arise), and Unhinged has three dads, so Villian Dad for the heroine, Absentee for the villian, and The Wise Old Sage for the hero (though not disappointing his adoring father weighs heavily on hero’s mind, so there’s room for conflict there too!
    Thanks, RoseAnn!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  June 17, 2013

      Hi Jenna,

      Once you really start to think about it, such a minor role in a manuscript really helps build our characters and conflicts. Sometimes the dads don’t need to step onto the page to be felt. I wanted to write a Father’s Day post, but had a hard time figuring out how to make it relevant to our audience and then stumbled upon this.

      Every nugget of info you drop on Unhinged makes me want to read it more!

      RoseAnn

      Reply
  3. Good idea for a post, RoseAnn! In my first manuscript, the hero was the dad, which is a common theme in category romance. In my novel, the hero didn’t even know he was a father, until his ex (and the girl’s mother) dropped their daughter on his doorstep. With no experience and a troubled, mutinous 9 year old, he turns to the heroine for help. So in a way, he’s the absentee dad who becomes the single dad.

    The heroine’s dad is also part of the story, and he is a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working dad who always expected his daughter to be able to do anything the men could do, including being a tree-climber/removal specialist. So she’s pretty fearless and capable as a result.

    Oh, and I love Mr. Bennett, too!

    Jaye

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  June 17, 2013

      Hi Jaye,

      The first book in The Brothers of Audubon Springs is a “Secret Baby/reunion” story. I love watching Rafe work through his anger, feelings of betrayal, etc, Even through all that, nearly as soon as he finds out, he stands in awe, and a bit of fear, that he is suddenly a father.

      I love the motivating type dad you mentioned in your novel too.

      RoseAnn

      Reply
  4. Perfect Father’s Day post, RoseAnn! Kate’s dad in Love’s Second Chance is along the lines of the Wise Old Sage. He’s quiet compared to the rest of her family and when he talks, people listen to what he says. I consider him a role-model sort of dad, much like my own. The hero from Love’s Second Chance had a workaholic dad and self-absorbed mom. Both have caused him to have a jaded view on relationships and not have a desire to have a family. Things get interesting when the heroine befriends a six-year old orphan.

    I have to admit, I haven’t developed too much of the dad figure in my stories. Maybe that’s something I need to look at while I edit story #3. I like Kristan Higgins’ dad in The Best Man. He’s a widow and his children all try and set him up on dates. He’s a little absent-minded along with overprotective. I like stories where one protagonist has a strong family background and helps the other protagonist appreciate the value of family.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  June 17, 2013

      I love that we’re getting an inside look into everyone’s manuscripts in the comments of this post. For me, because my father died before I REALLY started writing, it’s hard for me to write the dad. RETURN TO AUDUBON SPRINGS started out as REBIRTH AT THE BEACH HOUSE. I was going to write a story about a mother and daughter going through very different forms of grief. I just COULDN’T write it. Instead, I sort of modeled Emma’s father after mine and immortalized him through the lens of perfection in his daughter’s eyes.

      Reply
      • JoAnn Chiavetta

         /  June 18, 2013

        Makes me want to cry. Love you , Mom

      • JoAnn Chiavetta

         /  June 18, 2013

        So hear I am sitting in the waiting area for my oil change and inspection and searching for a tissue as I read through blurred vision. Oh yes, I did find one dirty tissue in my purse

      • RoseAnn DeFranco

         /  June 18, 2013

        Oh, Mama! I’ve never known you to leave home without a tissue. I knew you’d find one!

  5. I love Atticus Finch. He is the gold standard for me. Can any man ever live up to him?!

    Mr. Bennett is great, and you get the sense that Lizzie gets his humor. And one could hardly blame him for disappearing–I’m not sure I wouldn’t have poisoned the mother after all those years and divorce not being an option.

    Yay, single dads! Being a single parent is never easy. I love that your hero is a nod to your hubby. That’s so sweet.

    Hope all the fathers out there had a happy father’s day!

    xo

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  June 17, 2013

      One of my favorite moments in P&P comes with the mother is wailing that he has no compassion for her nerves, and he says, “You’re quite mistaken, my dear, as they have been my constant companion these last years.”

      Yes, nod to the hubs, for sure. There are moments of dialogue between the hero and heroine when he’s saying that she doesn’t understand because she’s not a parent. Those moments were in part memories from way back when. Hard to believe my stepson is 23 yrs old now!

      Reply
  6. JoAnn Chiavetta

     /  June 18, 2013

    Very interesting. I’m happy to see Dad’s and Tom’s influence.

    Reply
  7. RoseAnn, such an interesting post! I miss my father so much – he passed away five years ago on June 3rd. Talk about a hero figure! He’s the reason I became a writer because, man, could he tell a story. I love that your blogging about Fathers as Heroes. So often–and I’ve done this myself–the father figure was a damaging force. Someone who gives your character some backstory. Ironic because my Dad was a great guy. Guess that’s why it’s fiction.

    Nice job. Timely too, with Father’s Day. Michele

    Reply

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