There are a lot of fathers in fiction. I haven't made an exhaustive study, but it seems that quite a lot of them are bad fathers. Why? Because that makes for greater tension. Better conflict. If a character has had to forge their own way in the world, or to overcome a really bad parent, that character has a lot of depth that can be explored as the writer tortures them some more.
'Cause we writers are sadistic like that.
One of my favorite musicals is Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. Act II, of course, is the best one. Happily Ever After is over, everything the fairy tale characters achieved in the first act is revealed to be rather empty / problematic / messy / fake. Oh, and a giant comes to avenge her husband's death.
Has anyone noticed that the parents in that play are almost universally deficient? All the mothers die, with the sole exception of Cinderella's evil step-mother. All the fathers are absent at some point, either emotionally or physically. Usually chronically absent.
There's a turning point in the play, after the baker's wife is killed, leaving the baker a single parent. The baker, true to the form of the play's fathers, hands his baby to Cinderella and walks away, determined to find someplace to live without so much dang trouble. Along the way, he runs into his own father, long suspected dead (after stealing greens and consequently losing his daughter, Rapunzel, to the witch, and his wife to death-by-grief). This absent father passes on some much-needed fatherly advice to the baker: running away doesn't help. Have a listen:
After this song, the baker returns to the remaining group, they carve out a plan to kill the giant's wife, sing a poignant song about how no one is alone, and end triumphant, though still grief-stricken. The baker goes on to actually parent his child.
One of my college roommates played Cinderella in her high school production of Into the Woods. She told me that the boy who played the baker had a real-life absent father, and he was thrilled when his father decided to attend the play. I'm sure he imagined that the song No More could spark a similar turnaround. At the halftime intermission, his father came backstage to congratulate him... and to say he was leaving early.
In my own WIP, I have a variety of parents. Absent, involved, theoretically-fine-but-never-mentioned, overbearing, loving, etc. I'm working on helping my parents be more "real," which is hard when I'm already over-budget on word count. Still, little by little, I'm slipping in moments with parents.
In honor of Father's Day, I thought I'd post a snippet of my WIP, showing my MC's relationship with her father. Hope you like it:
Dad pulled back and lifted Brina's chin in time to see the first tears spill down her cheeks. “Hey, now, none of that.” He gently brushed them away and pulled her close, hugging her tightly. Brina wrapped her arms around his chest, between his upper and lower wings, and squeezed.
“They hate me, Dad.” Brina’s voice was almost carried away by the soft morning breeze.
“They don’t know you, Brina. They’re scared of you because you’re different. They hate your skin and your wings, but they don’t hate you. That’s impossible. If you let them get to know you . . . .”
“They don’t want to know me.”
Dad pulled back again and held her shoulders. His face was intent as he stared into her eyes. “That’s what makes this such a great opportunity for you. They’ll be forced to spend time with you outside the classroom. To see you as a person, as a fellow actor. You’ll see. It’s really hard to hate someone you work with—especially when that someone is as cool as you are.”
Brina looked away. “Dad, I’ve been going to school with them for ten years. One play won’t change things.”
Dad smoothed back her hair from her face. “Try it out, and I won’t make you do it again, okay?”
From Brina’s window below them, she heard her mom call up. “Brina! Rand! Breakfast is ready!”
Neither of them bothered to yell back, since she’d never hear them. They were too small. Instead, Dad climbed to his feet and held out his hand to help her up.
Brina put her hand in his, but looked away toward the rising sun as she stood.
Dad squeezed her hand. “This too shall pass, darlin’.”
Brina nodded, then drew a deep shuddering breath, wiped away her tears, and flew down to get ready for school.
So what kind of parents do you have in your WIP?