I’ve written before about why my dad is awesome, but looking back at my childhood, he definitely wasn’t the only father figure in my life. Being the imaginative weirdo that I was, most of my alternate dads were completely and totally fictional, but that didn’t make them any less integral to my emotional development. It was actually pretty hard to pare down this list, but here are 7 fictional characters — from a Jedi Master to a clumsy handyman — who were my imaginary dads, and taught me a lot about life in their own unique ways…
1. Captain Jean-Luc Picard from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Besides my actual dad, no other man, real or fictional, exerted as much fatherly influence on me as Captain Picard. My dad and I used to watch “Star Trek: TNG” together every week when I was a kid, and even though Picard is famously uncomfortable with children, his calm, commanding attitude guided me through my childhood. In times of stress or panic, he always knew what to do, and sometimes when I found myself unsure of how to proceed, I could hear his British accent in my own head, giving me sage advice and urging me to make it so. Is that weird? Probably. But it was also really comforting.
2. Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables. I’ve read Anne of Green Gables at least 10 times, and I went through a phase as a pre-teen when I watched the movie version literally every day. I related so much to awkward, fiery, nerdy Anne, and her relationship with Matthew was so sweet and gentle. Matthew was someone who never really planned to be a dad, especially to a daughter, but the way he loved Anne exactly as she was taught me a lot about relationships. I still tear up at the mere mention of “puffed sleeves.”
3. Tim Taylor from “Home Improvement.” I just loved how Tim Taylor would mess up over and over again, but he never stopped trying to be a better husband and father. Often seeking advice from his neighbor (and runner-up fictional father figure) Wilson, Tim showed a surprising amount of vulnerability, especially for a grunting man’s man. It breaks my heart to see Tim Allen’s career descend into misogynist drivel like his most recent sitcom, “Last Man Standing,” because Tim Taylor was a truly good example of a sweet, caring husband and father.
4. The Big Friendly Giant from The BFG. As a huge Roald Dahl fan, I didn’t find many examples of good parenting in his books (poor Matilda), but one fatherly character that always stuck with me was the Big Friendly Giant. Honestly, who wouldn’t want a benevolent, big-eared giant who collects good dreams and destroys nightmares to be their dad?
5. Obi-Wan Kenobi from “Star Wars.” Damn, between Jean-Luc and Obi-Wan, apparently many of my fictional father figures are handsome British men with hyphenated first names who hang out on space ships. Whatever. If you’re looking for a father figure, you could do worse than a Jedi master. I took in every single lesson Obi-Wan parceled out to Luke Skywalker as if I were his eager second student. I admired his cleverness, commitment to using The Force for good, and ultimately, his willingness to sacrifice himself for a greater cause. My brothers and I looked up to Obi-Wan so much that for many years we celebrated Alec Guiness Day, which involved watching the original “Star Wars” trilogy in a pillow fort while eating Cheez-Its (it wasn’t planned very well, but it was the thought that counts).
6. Daniel Hillard from “Mrs. Doubtfire.” I just thought it was the coolest thing ever that Daniel missed his kids so much he dressed up like an elderly female nanny to see them. His devotion was totally inspiring, as was his playful relationship with his children. I used to watch “Mrs. Doubtfire” about once a week and fall asleep imagining intricate scenarios that would force my dad to cross-dress to prove his love for me. Not to mention the fact that “drive-by fruiting” is one of my favorite puns of all time.
7. Splinter from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” One of my father figures is a giant rat. No shame. In both the TV cartoon and the movie versions of “TMNT,” Splinter was a zen master who guided his ragtag band of ninja turtles through any number of crazy situations. While the turtles were out fighting or scarfing pizza, Splinter could usually be found meditating or doling out pieces of wisdom that wouldn’t make sense to them (or me) until much later. Cowabunga!
Did you guys have any fictional father figures? Which characters helped guide you through childhood?