Advice from our parents: We might not always want it, yet we always seem to get it.
The same seems to hold true in literature. Parental wisdom gleaned from characters both real and fictional often challenge readers to reconsider their thoughts and opinions.
With Father’s Day just around the corner, we’ve highlighted fatherly advice from ten of literature’s most iconic father figures—in 160 characters or less. These quotes provide wisdom that holds true in today’s tweetable world, no matter how long ago they were written.
Daedalus, The Fall of Icarus
“I caution you to keep the middle way.”
In this poem attributed to Roman poet Ovid, Daedalus fashions wings from wax and feathers so he and his son Icarus can escape the island of Crete, where they have been imprisoned. Daedalus—using both ingenuity and fatherly good sense—prepares for their lofty escape by warning Icarus not to fly too low or too high, lest the sea’s water or the sun’s heat destroy their fragile wings.
You probably know how this one ends. Icarus, whether emboldened by boyish bravado or caught up in the bliss of their successful escape, indeed flies too high. To his father’s horror, Icarus’ wings melt, and he plunges into the sea. If only Icarus had heeded his father’s advice to be thoughtful, and patient, seeking that metaphorical “middle way.”
Jean Valjean, Les Misérables
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Many who’ve read Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables (or seen the musical) are harrowed by the plight of protagonist Jean Valjean. He is a man haunted by his past who only finds a measure of peace when he adopts orphan Cosette later in life. It is his love for Cosette that allows him to finally find harmony and a sense of home.
As her father figure, Valjean is patient, doting, and devoted. He can see the world not merely as a black-and-white, dog-eat-dog game but as a beautiful and complicated place where love is the only remedy. Valjean challenges readers to learn and grow as he has, to accept the nuances of the world and seek out the good—which often begins by finding the good in yourself.
Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
“Let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”
Mr. Bennet is the often sarcastic, ultimately doting head of the Bennet household in Jane Austen’s razor-sharp classic Pride and Prejudice. None of his five daughters will inherit his modest estate, and his cringe-worthy, social climbing wife is obsessed with marrying them off.
While his daughter’s futures are—in large part—dependent on a proper proposal (from a properly wealthy man), Mr. Bennet urges Elizabeth to follow her heart. This tweetable advice reveals Mr. Bennet’s genuine fatherly love on full display. It is his shining moment in the novel.
While not all of his daughters have the self-awareness to make good decisions (ahem, we’re looking at you, Lydia), it is clear Mr. Bennet affords Elizabeth the agency to author her own life.
Otto Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
“There are no walls, no bolts, no locks that anyone can put on your mind.”
As the only surviving member of the Frank family after the horrors of the Holocaust, Otto Frank became a public figure and human rights advocate, as well as the driving force behind the publication of his daughter’s memoirs, The Diary of Anne Frank.
Anne describes a good-natured father who encouraged curiosity and whoe steely resolve made it possible for the children to study languages, ethics, history, and mathematics, even under terribly difficult circumstances. It was Otto who most encouraged Anne’s writing.
Post-publication, we know of Otto’s own revelations that Anne’s diary helped him learn the deep emotional and intellectual capacities of his younger daughter in new, profound ways—emotional and intellectual layers that he no doubt helped foster.
The Man, The Road
“Keep a little fire burning, however small, however hidden.”
Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road is an apocalyptic tale of parental sacrifice in which the unnamed protagonist, The Man, and his son journey through wasteland America. It’s a gritty look at what humans are capable of once society has crumbled, alongside the struggle to find the love still embedded in individuals’ hearts.
Nothing gets to the core of this theme more than the fire metaphors The Man uses to urge his son to persevere, no matter what. He uses the fire imagery to inspire his son, telling him, “It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”
That fire represents the flames of hope and light all children embody for their parents, as well as the growth and possibilities within us all-if we tend to their sparks.
Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays with Morrie
“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
In his mega-bestselling memoir, Mitch Albom confesses he likes himself better when he’s around Morrie Schwartz, the college professor he reunites with while Morrie is dying.
In their titular Tuesday afternoon chats, Morrie patiently doles out his life advice to Albom, who is at a point in his life when priorities are scattered, and relationships are shallow. Albom gradually realizes that Morrie’s advice—if followed over the past twenty years—would have bettered his life considerably.
Morrie himself practices what he preaches, embracing love, friendship, creativity, and purpose. He draws those same things from Albom through conversation, not professorial lectures.
Many fatherly quotes could be pulled from this book, but Morrie’s recurring advice to live—actively, reflectively, with love and purpose—prompts us all to evaluate how we spend our time, and why. Maybe this is the tweet that leads us all to put down our phones for a while.
Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
There aren’t many father figures more iconic than Don Vito Corleone. The notorious patriarch running one of New York City’s most active Mafia crime families certainly doles out cold revenge, dubious advice, and offers you can’t refuse just as much as he offers tender insights.
True to Mafia form, Corleone regards family above everything else. The complex relationship between him and his sons catapult the plot of this award-winning, multi-book series.
Prequels and sequels both add richness to Vito Corleone, and quotes straight from the king Godfather himself still entertain and engage readers years later.
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
“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.”
Atticus Finch has captured the hearts of readers since To Kill a Mockingbird’s first publication in 1960. The intellectual and deeply compassionate lawyer dedicated as much time pursuing what was right in his career as he did instructing his two kids, Jem and Scout, on matters of empathy and thoughtfulness.
The novel is one of the most well-known in American literary history, and for good reason. Finch’s sense of moral obligation is an example not only to his children but to society as a whole. His work on the Robinson case and his children’s interactions with “Boo” Radley remind us that tolerance is essential, and that just because a belief is popular does not mean it is right.
Rabbi Judah Hirsch, Snow in August
“You keep quiet about some crime, it’s just as bad as the crime.”
Rabbi Judah Hirsch is the father figure 11-year old Michael Devlin needed but never had. After witnessing a local anti-Semitic gang beat up an elderly Jewish shop owner, Michael is torn between keeping the secret or reporting the crime and betraying his Irish community’s unspoken rules. It is 1940’s Brooklyn, after all, and the Irish identity dominated.
Amidst this turmoil, he befriends Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a mild-mannered refugee haunted by the trauma of World War II. Their surprising relationship quickly begins to affect Michael’s moral compass. Rabbi Hirsch not only opens Michael’s eyes to tolerance and understanding, but he does so gently and earnestly.
The Welcome Kind of Fatherly Advice, One Page at a Time
Like the father figures in our lives, books open us up to a wide range of fresh perspectives, opinions, stories, and insights. They push us to make every word count, as you never know which words will end up being the most powerful advice.
This Father’s Day, show the father figure in your life your appreciation with a well-chosen book. We’re highlighting everything from political thrillers to in-depth history in our Father’s Day Gift Guides. Give your dad his new favorite book this June 17.