Dads are complicated. Let’s just get that out of the way. They’re harder to read than mothers are, mainly because many a time they communicate via vague gestures or a grunt here and there instead of words. They also happen to be the most…interesting individual in the lives of their children many times. In honor of Father’s Day, some of the Screen Speck staff has put together an eclectic list of fictional father figures from recent media. Whether they’re actual fathers, adoptive fathers, or simply men who stepped up into the lives of children who needed a fatherly figure, let’s take a look at our staff picks.
Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian (Black Widow)
Like most fathers I know, Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour) doesn’t always say the right thing at the right time. In fact, for a lot of the movie, he’s most defined by his thoughtlessness rather than his thoughtfulness. His misogynistic quip about being on their periods to his ‘daughters’ Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) only exposed how little he knew about the life they were subjected to at the hands of the Red Room and General Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Like all other widows, Natasha and Yelena’s graduation entailed a hysterectomy to prevent them from choosing their family over the mission. But their surrogate family from the mission in Ohio is ultimately what brings down the organization.
But in Black Widow, he’s the goofy, always horny, super spy father to Natasha and Yelena that we needed to see. When he comforts Yelena by telling a story about hypothermia and urine, that’s peak dad – trying to relate to her and empathize with her by sharing a similar experience (in his mind). Was it helpful? No, not really. But it was still fatherly behavior. When he bursts into song – Yelena’s childhood favorite, American Pie by Don McLean – he reminds me of my dad, who still sings his own little jingles and tells inside jokes from when I was 6. His love for their whole surrogate family becomes the punchline in many, many jokes while the four of them topple the Red Room, but it’s truly touching to see him openly and repeatedly express his love for them. The heart of Alexei Shostakov is in his family: Melina (Rachel Weisz), Natasha, and Yelena.
Roy Kent (Ted Lasso)
Ted Lasso’s Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) isn’t a father (yet) but he’s the closest thing to a father his niece, Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) has. It would be a disservice to men who step up in the lives of children in their family who aren’t their own to not mention him in this piece. Roy is quite frankly at times, the only parental figure Phoebe has, as the series has never introduced her mother. The only knowledge we as an audience have of her is that she’s a surgeon and works long hours at the hospital. Thanks to this, Roy is Phoebe’s primary caretaker and what a caretaker he is.
Roy takes part in all of the quintessential dad activities with his niece. He volunteers at her school to show her peers basic soccer tricks, he reads to her at night before tucking her in and coaches her pee-wee soccer team, the list is never-ending. It’s so special to see a character understand the importance of a positive male influence in a little girl’s life and so willingly take it upon himself to be that person for her, so much so that when Phoebe is getting in trouble at school for swearing, he wonders if he’s been infecting her the worst of himself by being there for her the way that he is. He tells her that – because he treats her like a person, which is so important – and she wholeheartedly disagrees, pointing out that because of him, she stands up to bullies and that, in the end, she’s as good as the best of him.
Walter Bishop (Fringe)
In the sci-fi series Fringe, a father’s love constitutes the utmost transgression. Walter Bishop’s (John Noble) love for his son, Peter (Joshua Jackson), tore the first hole in the universe. The magnitude of Walter’s love for Peter is consistently likened to the fall, as strange events start occurring after Walter split the world open to save his son. By upending the given rules of science, Walter created a malleable, softer world where the impossible — time travel, telekinesis, and crossing over to an alternate universe — became possible. Every mad scientist like Walter was finally given their due, and the price Walter pays for his reckless love is an estranged relationship with a son for whom he had betrayed the world to save but ultimately isn’t truly his to raise.
As we realize in the second season, the Peter that we have come to know isn’t truly Peter. Walter’s real son died from an inexplicable illness when he was seven. Walter crossed over to an alternate universe to save another version of Peter, whose father was also desperately searching for a cure but was distracted right when his experiment became a success. Walter stole a boy who wasn’t his, and his soul-destroying guilt eventually drove him away from Peter.
I have always thought that Fringe was about the sacrificial depths of a father’s love. Sure, Peter and Olivia’s (Anna Torv) relationship transcends timelines and universes, but it was Walter’s love for Peter which first transgressed the laws of reason. Without the fall, we wouldn’t have humanity in all its ugliness and beauty. Even in another timeline where Peter was forcefully deleted from existence to correct the fall, Walter’s love persists. In this new timeline, both versions of Peter died young from the illness. Walter never got to see Peter grow up. But still, he sees an adult version of Peter everywhere and almost goes mad from his grief. And so the version of Peter that Walter has saved in another life returns again against the wishes of reason.
In Fringe, the topos of the lone mad scientist is the heroic story of a father who does madness for love. For Walter Bishop, fatherhood is a miracle created through grit, faith, and hubris. He willingly pays the personal price in exchange for Peter’s future. Walter’s love for Peter embraces a softer world, and Fringe invites us to embrace it too.
Ted Lasso (Ted Lasso)
Almost everyone on Ted Lasso has daddy issues, none more so than Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) himself. Ted’s connection to fatherhood is a very complex one. When I started watching the show, I found it interesting and refreshing to see a man in his mid-to-late 40s with a child under ten. People are waiting longer to have children these days, so I loved seeing it. But after season two revealed that Ted’s father killed himself when Ted was 16 while Ted was in the house, it made me wonder a lot.
Ted has a lot of conflict around being away from his young son, Henry (Gus Turner), as would most parents. Ted took a job in another country in the hopes of fixing his marriage because his (now ex) wife asked for space. At the end of season one, when the team is relegated, Ted half-heartedly tries to quit, but his boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), rejects his resignation and doesn’t fight much. Ted knows he has more to do in Richmond.
In season two, we see more how his decision to stay in Richmond and be away from Henry is putting a strain on him. Ted doesn’t get to see Henry for Christmas as was planned and all of their interactions are via facetime and phone calls. It sends Ted into a panic. Literally. He has a deep-seated fear of Henry feeling abandoned by him and we learn that fear is nearly indistinguishable from the hurt/anger/pain/grief of Ted losing his father the way that he did.
One could argue that the easiest solution would be for Ted to move back to Kansas to be with his son. However, that only partially solves that problem and presents many more. Henry is not Ted’s whole life, nor should he be. For Henry to get the most out of being parented by his father, Ted needs to work through his grief and anger with his own dad. He needs to be able to process what happened to him when he was 16 and how that has impacted the rest of his life (including why he waited until he was almost 40 to have a child). Ted’s lived with grief for more than half his life and I think working through that in Richmond with all the support he has will be better for his relationship with Henry in the long run.
Kevin Garvey (The Leftovers)
For a show about a rapture-like event that resulted in 2% of the Earth’s population “departing,” The Leftovers is very concerned with defining the idea of family and what that can mean. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), one of the titular “leftovers” from The Departure, survived along with his ex-wife, estranged stepson, and rebellious daughter, a family that while all alive and healthy, will never be able to replicate the closeness they had before The Departure. The event led to his wife joining a cult, his stepson running away to work on a farm with a so-called “prophet”, and his daughter becoming depressed and angry at not only her parents but also life itself. The Leftovers take lots of care in examining the intricacies of what family and parenthood looks like in the wake of mass tragedy and grief, but at the end of the day, most of Kevin’s struggles are recognizable to anyone, not just someone grappling with a large-scale catastrophe.
Kevin’s fear that his life post-departure is meaningless is outweighed by his fear that it could mean something important. His life is now plagued by people believing he could possibly be the second coming of Christ (pretty typical stuff for The Leftovers), and his relationship with his children is ingrained in his struggle. How can he be a figurehead for the masses when his relationship with his own children is so strained? When he embraces the idea that he has some sort of service to the world and embarks on this journey, his unhappiness with his path is what leads to the acceptance and desire to be back with his family. In Kevin’s case, this means that it took getting stuck in a purgatory-like hotel universe and having to sing Simon & Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound at karaoke was the catalyst for this realization, but as insane as it sounds, it got him back to his family.
Din Djarin (The Mandalorian)
When Baby Yoda (aka Grogu) emerged from his pram in the first episode of The Mandalorian in 2019, he became an overnight darling of both committed and casual Star Wars fans. And rightly so. In a franchise that spends a lot of time with younger people, from 9-year-old Anakin (Jake Lloyd) in Phantom Menace to teenage Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan) in the Fallen Order video game, it’s odd that we haven’t seen an actual baby before in a significant role.
Despite being the protagonist of the show, there’s been less focus on Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) himself and his role as guardian to the baby. Within the Mandalorian sect in which Din grew up, the concept of the “foundling” is sacred and helps extend the legacy of the group. Din himself was a foundling and, somewhat like Batman with Dick Grayson, he feels a need to take in a fellow orphan. Even though Din’s upbringing was in some ways oppressive, he’s able to rehabilitate his steadfast belief in taking in foundlings to be a life-affirming responsibility.
Although they aren’t a biological nuclear family, Din is still “like a father to [Grogu],” as Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) says in season 2. Despite his life of perils as a bounty hunter, Din is insistent that “where [he] goes, [Grogu] goes.” This relationship extends Star Wars’ tradition of exploring non-traditional bonds in meaningful ways. Younglings in the Jedi temple are raised communally before being paired with masters that help them grow in the ways of the Force. Leia (Carrie Fisher; Vivien Lyra Blair) is adopted, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), who raised herself, eventually finds a family in the Skywalkers and her close friends. Star Wars does show some of these non-traditional families as less-than-ideal; for example, the Jedi upbringing doesn’t save Anakin, and even Grogu’s short time training with Luke in The Book of Boba Fett doesn’t prove to be as fulfilling an experience as one could hope for. Din and Grogu’s relationship, however, proves in a way salvational for both of them. Din rescues Grogu from the Empire’s cruel experiments in the first season of The Mandalorian, but in The Book of Boba Fett, Grogu gives Din something to live for after he’s rejected from his religious group.
Star Wars’ focus on found family and adoption can be a compelling world for folks who, for whatever reason, gravitate to non-traditional bonds. Although Din’s insistence on taking Grogu into dangerous situations is problematic, their relationship still offers a model of the found family that is positive and emotionally meaningful. It shows the ways in which deeply-traumatized people can become loving and empathetic parents.
Philip Jennings (THE AMERICANS)
Fans of the critically-acclaimed cold war spy thriller, The Americans, will always remember Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) as the wife-guy who continued to live unhappily in a cesspit of moral filth so that his wife, Elizabeth (Keri Russell), would not be alone. The man literally came out of retirement from the KGB to help Elizabeth chop up a body. Just before the final hack, he pauses for a moment. Decades of living a life filled with violence and lies has worn Philip down. Elizabeth sorrowfully notices his pause. After the incident, she tells their daughter that Philip should have never been a spy.
Elizabeth’s comment on Philip isn’t an indictment of his capabilities but a harrowing look into Philip’s struggles with fatherhood and generational trauma. Like Elizabeth, Philip grew up in poverty. Until his forties, Philip believed that his father, who was rarely home, worked as a logger. It is the experience of destitution which compelled Philip to join the KGB so that his people will never suffer again. Every act of violence committed by Philip is matched with immense regret, as he begins to wonder why ordinary Soviets are forced to bear the brunt of America’s mistakes. When Philip eventually realizes that his own father actually worked as a KGB prison guard, he breaks down: the violence with which nation-states treat their citizens is generational, and Philip feels that his bloodied birthright has sealed his miserable fate.
Nevertheless, Philip does the same to his American-born son, Henry (Keidrich Sellati). He refuses to tell Henry that he is a child of Russian spies. Like his own father, Philip is out working all the time and rarely spends time with his children. The only difference is that Philip genuinely believes that he is giving his children a better life — after all, their cover story as a family in the American suburbs yields material luxuries that young Philip could only dream of. But Philip’s amoral devotion to Elizabeth causes him to neglect every single milestone in Henry’s life. Unlike his privileged, middle-class American children, his relationship with Elizabeth is rooted in a shared understanding of what it truly means to have nothing.
While the threat of geopolitical espionage looms large in The Americans, the series never lets us forget that the real violence occurs when fathers grow apart from their children. Philip is unknowingly passing down his father’s mistakes, and the price he pays is a permanent separation from Henry, who eventually finds out the truth about Philip and Elizabeth from an American. Philip may have dedicated his life to exposing America’s lies about the Soviet Union. Still, Henry will always see him as a monster because that is ultimately his bloodied birthright as an American. Maybe Elizabeth and Philip are monsters, for putting the mission first. But The Americans always let us know that choices are scant in Philip’s world. Fathers like Philip are scarred by wars that they want no part in, and their wounds are left to fester on their sons — continuing the tragedy like a well-oiled machine.
Gordon Clark (Halt AND Catch Fire)
The first time we see Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), he’s being picked up from jail by his wife and two young daughters. Gordon, a borderline alcoholic and vaguely depressed person is seen as a down on his luck computer engineer that constantly ends up involved in projects that end up dead. At first glance, his wife and kids could be seen as the stereotypical family that’s neglected and unloved, but Halt and Catch Fire never got bogged down in the obvious. Throughout the show, Gordon’s relationship with his family and existence as a father changed greatly.
When the show started we saw him focus on work more than anything else. His kids love him, and he loves his kids, but it’s obvious that his marriage and personal life are struggling from the weight of the pressure his career puts on him. As the show progresses and the timeline jumps further and further, his relationship and closeness with his family changes exponentially.
When Gordon is diagnosed with chronic toxic encephalopathy in season 2, both he and the viewers know his time was limited. A main character of a show getting some sort of life-threatening disease to change the course of their lives is not uncommon, but the way that it changed the entire show’s dynamic was a big part of what made the show so special. When the last time jump occurred, Gordon’s daughters, Joanie (Kathryn Newton) and Haley (Susanna Skaggs), were much older and much more aware of Gordon’s declining health and ironically increasing commitment to work.
Most of the show’s shining moments in the final season were spent focusing on his kids and how Gordon, their father figure, impacted their lives. It’s easy to say that Gordon was either neglectful or a poor influence. Still, when his brain continues to degenerate in the show’s later seasons and his kids and wife grapple with the idea of him passing, it’s easy to see that he made a positive impact and was a great father.
Logan Roy (Succession)
Upon examining the concept of fatherhood, authority came up quite a few times. There’s a connotation of power that comes with the title. It’s heavily implied that fathers are afforded the luxury of complexity beyond measures of wealth and titles. Of being misunderstood and also understood. To be empathized with. To be excused. Where does Logan Roy (Brian Cox) fall within these arbitrary expectations on fatherhood? Succession has all but dialed up the bleak nature of the familial relationships between the Roys almost immediately. At the center of this symbiotic, toxic circle is the throbbing, malignant cancer that’s Logan Roy.
Who are children to their fathers? To some, their children are their treasure. Their pride and joy. To others, extensions of their legacies. An act of narcissism. To someone like Logan Roy, his children are pawns. Pieces on a chessboard he moves to his whim. Carelessly tossing them aside when they’re of no use. An underlying current to Logan’s demeanor makes you question his humanity. Even further, it makes us examine the very nature of humanity.
I can’t help but reflect on the “million-dollar home run” scene from the pilot during the final ten minutes of the season three finale. Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin) offers the kid of one of the landscape workers a million dollars if he hits a home run. He did it, knowing the kid wouldn’t be able to complete the full home run. Laughing at the child, Roman rips the check up in front of his face. Enjoying the look of hurt and disappointment in the child’s eyes. A sick and twisted game that mirrors that of his father.
Cut to Roman on his knees, broken and defeated, begging Gerri Kellman (J. Smith Cameron) to do something to stop Logan from selling the company. Is it karmic justice? Or is it Roman’s “awakening” of the father he’s come to love unconditionally? His million-dollar check ripped up in front of him. It’s no surprise, only to Roman, that his father would sell any of his children out to keep control of the company. Of the billions he could make of it. Because that’s what matters to Logan. Love? Love is but a foreign concept to Logan. Even if he does feel some semblance of it, it’s on his terms.
In the end, it’s always on his terms. Tragedy comes in the form of knowing his children so well, something any child craves, that he’s able to mold them. Sway them and appeal to their natures. He knowingly gives enough love to string them along and cuts them down when they fly too high. Like any abusive relationship, Logan gets off the power and control he holds over his children. Three children parading around in adult clothing, pretending, but still those small kids in the starched white clothes, void of emotion, as their father looms in the background of Succession’s opening sequence.
And yet, they continue to love him. Deep down, underneath all the piles of insults and slaps, the Roys hold an uncontrollable love for their father. For his approval. For that one moment. A moment their younger selves crave with unabashed hunger: acceptance.