This Father’s Day is especially poignant for me, having lost my father just months ago. When Dad learned he had lung cancer at the age of ninety-three, he chose not to do anything about it. “I’ve lived a good life,” he said. “A long life.” He was an unforgettable role model, showing me the importance of giving back, of being responsible, of seeing opportunity in challenges, and in living life fully all the way to his last days.
Growing up in the ‘60s, I watched my dad strive to build his fledgling office supply business. After dinner, he’d spend many evenings doing volunteer work, part of his commitment to give back—to repay the kindness of a stranger who took a calculated risk on a Jewish family by sponsoring their entry to America in the spring of 1938. So my dad wasn’t as present as my mom during those years, making those special father-daughter moments vivid memories: the family driving trips when he’d moo at the cows, or when he’d toss me like a ball across the water at the swimming club we used to frequent.
When I was thirteen, his mother died suddenly and I remember him telling me that life is such a short journey, and not to forget to smell the flowers along the way. His journey continued fifty years after that sad day and I watched him drink in all of life: the love affair he had with my mom, the fellowships he’d built with his business associates and friends, his enjoyment of golf and bridge and symphony—all activities he loved and made sure to relish as much as possible.
When I was nineteen, I was rejected from a program to which I had qualified and expected to be admitted. I was devastated. It meant I needed to rethink my goals and plans in the middle of my undergraduate years. I recall my dad taking me out to a Chinese restaurant that night—just the two of us—and he told me to look at this setback as an opportunity; to consider things I hadn’t thought of before. So he turned a negative into a positive, and I owe it to him for allowing me to see the opportunity in every challenge I’ve faced throughout my life.
I’ve similarly encountered wonderful father figures in novels. I’ve chosen four books that reveal the value of a father teaching his children empathy and tolerance, sharing happy experiences, and demonstrating integrity:
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (1960)
One of the greatest father figures in all of fiction is Atticus Finch. This man has moral fibre, is dignified, brave, loyal and kind – traits that any child would wish to see shine in their dad. Raising two children as a single father — the unforgettable six-year-old Scout, and her older brother Jem — in a landscape of poverty and racism, he still manages to instill acceptance, gratitude, and open-mindedness in his children, as well as to teach them the importance of standing up for those who need it. Memorably brought to life by Gregory Peck in the big screen adaptation, but it’s Harper Lee’s mesmeric depiction of Atticus in her original novel – not least his numerous quotes to live by, chief among them: “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” – that really shines brightest.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer (2006)
Readers meet Thomas Schell for only a brief moment in this novel that takes place the morning of September 11, 2001, when he calls his house from the toppling World Trade Center towers and his son Oskar doesn’t answer the phone. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed novel, Schell’s memory lives large in his doting son Oskar who spends the rest of the book chasing his beloved father’s memory all over New York City. It soon becomes clear that the pair’s relationship was a fun and loving one, with Thomas treating Oskar with respect and devotion, positively impacting Oskar’s self-image forever. Living and loving in the here and now, where memories can be formed, is a message not to take lightly.
The Last Season: A Father, A Son, and A Lifetime of College Football, by Stuart Stevens (2015)
Fathers, sons, and sports are enduring themes of American literature. Here, in this fresh and moving account, a son returns to his native South to spend a special autumn with his ninety-five-year-old dad, sharing the unique joys, disappointments, and life lessons of Saturdays with their beloved Ole Miss Rebels. I, too, remember those special father-daughter times around sports—whether I got up at the break of dawn on Saturdays to join my dad on his eighteen holes of golf as a ten year old, or attended my first Ohio State football game with him at age six.
A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Backman (2016)
While not the main character and one who only comes up in backstory, Ove’s father looms large. He brought Ove up as a single father until his early death and imparted lifelong lessons by his actions more than his words. He was quiet but kind, a man of routine, of integrity and one who always helped others and never spoke ill of them. “We’re not the sort of people who tell tales about what others do,” he told Ove. Ove’s father was good with engines and whenever he had a Saturday off, he brought Ove into the yard, opened the hood, and taught him all the names of the various parts and what they did. On Sundays they went to church because Ove’s mother had been insistent about it and it was their time to grieve her together. On one day in Ove’s young life he’d decided to be “as little unlike his father as possible.”
Written by Linda Kass
About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications and am now an assistant editor for Narrative, an online literary magazine. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. It won a Bronze Medal for Historical Fiction from the Independent Publisher Award Program and is a 2016 Foreword INDIES Award Finalist. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, central Ohio’s newest indie bookstore!
Learn more about me on my personal website.