I’m a daddy’s girl; always have been. I had one of those dads who read aloud to me, taught me to appreciate Miles Davis, and jogged alongside my bike holding it up as I first wobbled down the street. By the time I was in middle school we shared a mutual passion for C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower books, and used to bemuse onlookers with our passionate debates on naval battle tactics of the Napoleonic Era. So in honor of my dad and in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d do a post today in honor of great historical fathers.
Unfortunately, historical dads get a bad rap. Pretty much across the board in most cultures and eras, fathers were not expected to interact much with their kids. You provided food for the kids, perhaps taught the boys to fight, but overall your wife did most of the hands-on nurturing. This was even more true of kings, who often didn’t even see their kids much since royal babies would be whisked off into their own entirely separate households within a few weeks of birth.
But there were some good dads out there, and quite a few daddy’s girls. Philip II of Spain, despised by Anglophiles because of his marriage to Mary Tudor and his failed Armada against Elizabeth I, was nevertheless a doting father to his daughter Isabella: he brought her to the study with him while he worked, allowing her to sort papers and translate documents while they chatted, and later she nursed him devotedly on his deathbed. Giangaleazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan in the fourteenth century, was a ruthless warlord who murdered his uncle and various cousins on his way up the ladder–but he doted on his daughter Valentina so much that he nearly declared war on France when he learned the French court was saying nasty things about her. Two famous daddy’s girls of a more ambiguous nature were Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I. Frankly, I doubt I’d be on good terms with a father who chopped my mother’s head off, or even just hounded her to death, but both girls seemed unable to resist their father’s charm when he smiled at them: Both prided themselves openly on being the daughters of Henry VIII.
Historical fiction has even more good dads and daddy’s girls. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father in the “Little House” series, who treasured Laura as the toughest and funniest of all his daughters. The scholarly father in Judith Merkle Riley’s “The Oracle Glass,” who favored his crippled intelligent daughter over all his other children, and honed her mind on Greek and Latin. Johnny Nolan from “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn,” a drunk and a bad provider but still a gentle man who adored and was adored by his daughter Francie. “Gone With the Wind” has two great father-daughter relationships: Scarlett and her peppery Irish father, who loves his eldest daughter because she has his fiery temper and love for the land, and Rhett Butler who nearly goes insane when his beloved Bonnie dies in a riding accident.
So happy Father’s Day to dads everywhere, of the past and the present. You don’t get nearly as much cred as mothers sometimes, but there are a lot of daddy’s girls out there who love you.