Father’s Day Reading

George MacDonald, patron saint of literary fathers
George MacDonald, patron saint of literary fathers

Looking for some reading this Father’s Day? Perhaps you need something that rises above the din of bad Disney fathers or maybe you need some me time before opening up some poorly-wrapped black socks. Hey, we all secretly know we need more socks and that we’ll never buy them for ourselves.

On this the day of my first Father’s Day (not counting all the years I’ve been a godfather), let’s take a look at some properly festive readings.

Almost Anything by George MacDonald

George MacDonald’s fairy tales are some of the best bed time reading. And as a father to a daughter, I’m partial to the way he presents young girls, especially Nycteris who “was the greater, for suffering more, she feared nothing.”

His gentle narrative voice is one I would like to imitate, and then there’s this dedication in Dealings with the Fairies:

My Children,

You know I do not tell you stories as some papas do. Therefore, I give you a book of stories. You have read them all before except the last. But you have not seen Mr. Hughes’s drawings before.

If plenty of children like this volume, you shall have another soon.

Your Papa.

But don’t read “Gifts of the Child Christ” today. Trust me.

Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King

Are you looking for a kind, just, merciful, fantabulous father-figure Arthur? Confused by all the movies out there and the uneven personality of Arthur in Malory’s Morte Darthur? Then Tennyson’s Victorian Arthur is the man you’re looking for. He sits at court like a Solomon who metes out justice through mercy. This Arthur actually recognizes Gareth and counsels him with the paternal love of an uncle.

Malory’s Grail Quest in Morte Darthur

Okay, I know I just threw some heavy shade on Malory’s presentation of fatherhood, but I do love his collection of Arthurian lore and it has an important take on fatherhood from a different perspective. Yes, it’s troubling how little Lancelot spends time with Galahad and Arthur might be a little too willing to burn Guinevere at the stake, but you get a break from all that during the Quest for the Holy Grail. It’s almost like a little retreat in the midst of the tale. Lancelot and even hot-headed Gawain go to confession and try to mend their ways. So there’s all those “ghostly fathers” (what Malory tends to call priests) and hermits as good examples.

But what I’m really thinking about is the example of Galahad. He continually cares about his father. He has such great concern for Lancelot’s well-being that one of his visions actually involves a divine promise that Lancelot will end his life well.

When they meet together at the ship, it’s such a touching moment that they finally have some quality father/son time. That’s the particularity of fatherhood for you. It’s more important that your son has you with all your faults than someone else.

Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent

I was reading Steinbeck’s final novel about the decline of the culture when we found out about Eleanor. This dark story may not seem the best reading for Father’s Day, but I associate it with fatherhood. For all the problems in Ethan’s family and the tragedy of his moral choices, the love of his daughter is really all that matters in the last lines.

Trollope’s The Warden

Because Septimus Harding is the kind of father I want to be for my own Eleanor. You can read more about this book here.

Gioia’s “Planting a Sequioia”

If you’ve lost a child and today is hard for you, this poem may be a consolation to at least enter into the thoughts of a speaker who is a fellow sufferer and who planted a tree

to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.

You can read the poem here.

The Rule of St. Benedict.

Because it was written by “a father who loves you.”

Oh, and honorable mention goes to my favorite novel, Jude the Obscure, as the one book you should never ever read on Father’s Day.


If you’re interested in any of these books, you can follow the partner links below:

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