5 Dads Who Put the “Pop” In Pop Culture

For this week’s editorial, I wanted to take a moment to recognize the dads out there. I’m still a childless bachelor, myself, but I know how hard a good father struggles to provide for his kids, and I can say from experience what an impact those figures can have when they take the time, not just to be money makers and house men, but more importantly, to be actively engaged with their sons and daughters on a fundamental level. I won’t get too sappy, but since we’re a pop culture page, I thought I’d put together a list of five great representative dads from across TV, books, games, and more! Just a heads up: this list is in no way exhaustive, and it’s probably not even my “Top Five Fictional Fathers” – it’s just the ones that came to mind and spoke to some different sides of the role.

So with no further ado, let’s get started!

*OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING FOR ANY AND ALL OF THE FOLLOWING*

#1. Dr. Orpheus – Venture Bros.

It’s no small secret that I’m obsessed with this show. This Doc Hammer/Jackson Publick creation is my favorite television offering, and you can be sure that once Season 7 drops, I’ll be in for a weekly recap of each episode. That fervent adoration is due, in large part, to the fantastically realized characters, my personal favorite being the master of mysticism, Dr. Orpheus.

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He’s an avant garde arcanist who rents on the Venture grounds while protecting our reality from extra-dimensional threats, in a ridiculous send-up of Dr. Strange-like characters. But what really makes Dr. O stand out from the rest of the cast is the role he takes with the other core members. He’s almost always in a mentoring or protector position, and we see that it comes from being a divorced father to the teenage Triana, whom he treasures above all else. He needs to keep the universe in tact, but he also makes sure to take time to look after his little girl, try to keep up with her life, and help her as best he can. He’s fiercely protective, even through his playful and soft personality. And the love he shows for her spills out into his other relationships, as he watches over the young Venture boys, or even when he leads the other members of his super hero team, The Order of the Triad.

Dr. Orpheus may be the ultimate goober dad, but he’s also strikingly brilliant and endlessly caring. Now who wants pizza rolls?!

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#2. Adam Fenix – Gears of War

When most people think of Gears of War, I’m sure “heartwarming fatherhood story” isn’t what leaps to mind, but it is for me. Sure, it’s a goretastic shooter that introduced active reloads, chest-high walls and a color palate more brown than the Sahara, but there’s a noble soul just beneath the surface, if you take the time to look.

You see, from its inception, Gears was a story about family and loss. Series creator Cliff Blezinski lost his father at a young age, and that event always haunted him. He’s talked openly about how when he came to making Gears, he had those notions of brotherhood and the loss of a parent, and wanted to try and explore that. So having the story hinge on the main character, Marcus Fenix, having to chase the research and recordings of his dead father to finish a fight for humanity’s survival – well, it brings this to its most melodramatic extreme. Marcus must constantly face the specter of his loss, just to press on to live another day.

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Then, in the third installment, and Cliff’s final work on the series, it’s revealed that Adam Fenix is still alive, held hostage by the monstrous Locust trying to exterminate humanity. This catharsis gives both Marcus and Cliff, himself, hope of some return to normalcy. This changes the stakes from “We have to save my father’s work,” to “We have to save my dad!” – a complete tonal shift.

Sadly, the solution to the Imulsion problem Adam devised will also kill him, as he had to test on himself, after being so close to the irradiated Locust for so long. But that drives the point home, because while it makes the story ultimately tragic for Marcus, it’s therapeutic for Blezinski, giving him a surrogate through which to say all the things he never could have said to his father, and to have that last connection. He gifts his character that last goodbye, letting Adam choose the moment and the final words, just as he wants them, rather than being ripped away by the cruel transience of mortality.

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#3. Geralt – The Witcher Series

This one goes out to all the dads who choose their children. To the adopters, to the step-fathers, to the foster parents, to all the surrogates that legitimately pick their kids again and again. Geralt shows us that just because you might not be able to have offspring doesn’t mean you can’t be a father.

You see, way back in the earliest stories of the Witcher by Andrezj Sapkowski, titled “A Question of Price,” he introduces the concept of “The Law of Surprise:” a means by witch one receives repayment for saving a life, other than by coin or title. Here, Geralt invokes the right and requests, “That which you already have, but do not know.” As the prince who he saved had a wife pregnant with child, the Witcher became linked to her by destiny, becoming an adoptive father of sorts when her parents were killed, and raising her in the Witcher school.

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Though the novels focus mostly on Geralt’s struggle to “rescue” (I use that term extremely loosely, as the reader knows that Ciri is quite capable on her own) and reunite with this “Child of Destiny,” when Ciri is introduced to the video games in  The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, these bonding moments are much more explicit, both in flashback and when the two finally do reconnect. We see that Geralt falls into a guiding role quite well, despite his earlier apprehension, to the point that he protects Ciri from the horrors of becoming a full Witcher through the Trial of the Grasses. Later in the current time of the story, we spend time as the two engage in monster hunts, trade stories, and just generally go about what would be daily business if they were a father-daughter team.

For me, the most amazing part is how the story is framed. The Witcher III is a simply ginormous game, and the stakes are literally set with the destruction of the world. Yet with not only that, and a world war, and so many other terrible situations Geralt is thrown full-force into, he only ever has one true goal: to find Ciri. To him, the rest of the world could freeze over, as long as he finds his little girl and knows that she is safe and happy.

I don’t care if you made the kid or not: that, right there, is what really makes you a father.

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#4. Augustus Aquato – Psychonauts

I touched on this briefly when I discussed Psychonauts in an earlier piece, but I want to come back to the relationship between Raz and his father, Augustus. For most of the game, we only get the story from Raz’s perspective, since he’s the character we’re playing as. He tells others how his dad wouldn’t let him come to the camp because he “hates psychics,” and that he wouldn’t want him training his powers. In fact, in the final level of the game, we get to see just how far Raz takes this: he sees his father as almost monstrous, taunting him and loathing him for being a “freak” like the gypsy who cursed his forefathers to die in the water.

But once that twisted version is defeated, the real Augustus projects himself into Raz’s mind, showing that he, too, has been a powerful psychic. He has a minute to bond with his son, reassuring him that he never felt those awful things that this villain has been spouting.

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Yet Augustus doesn’t take this as a moment to chide his son in a, “How could you make ME the bad guy, here?” No, once he blasts the shadow-self for some down-time, he gets down on Raz’s level to comfort him and explain what’s been going on. He tries to tell his son that he’ll always be there, always be supportive. He wants him to know how much pain he feels for ever having made his own boy hate who he was. Augustus is the kind of father able to realize his flaws and look them square on, bearing his humanity before his child. He knows he doesn’t have to be some mythic, perfect figure: he needs to be open and honest. Raz just needs love and support, and the best way he can do that is by showing him that the man in his life always will support him 100%, no matter what.

And also by helping him psy-blast some bad guys.

#5. Don Draper – Mad Men

Alright, this last one will probably be the most contentious, but hear me out on it: Don Draper is not a good husband, but I’ll argue he’s a great father. That’s not to say that Don doesn’t make titanic mistakes in his time – he definitely does while he’s gallivanting about or in the darker times when he’s trying to put business before his humanity. But I truly believe that, even in the early years, we’re shown that though he may not respect the boundaries of his women, Mr. Draper always looks out for his kids when push comes to shove.

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Granted, it’s been years since I’ve seriously sat down to watch the show, as much as I love it, so some of the details are fuzzy, but I still recall the big impact. Like that stunning first episode, where we follow Don through his daily life, schmoozing about: booze, cigarettes, sex, fast-talk – all the glamour you could ever imagine from the New York high life! But the final scene isn’t him pleased with the act – it’s a man coming home, checking in on his sleeping children. There’s something tonally off, but also touching, in the way that this is the thing that gravitates him, the necessity in his day. Compound that with scenes later in the series, as we see him fight with and cheat on his wife, Betty, but we always see Don go out of his way for his son and daughter. He wants to make sure they’re raised right, getting good grades, pushing themselves, even if he can’t be there to guide it the whole way.

And you know what? Even that layer starts to piece together, too. Because once Don finally ends things with Betty, falls so deeply into all his vices that he has to forcibly drag himself out or die, he makes sure being an active participant in his now three children’s lives is the top priority. He’s involved with Sally’s school, he goes to Bobby’s games, and he makes sure even little Gene is being looked after. Hell, his dating principles even revolve around his kids after this – because if the women in his life don’t interact well with them, then they aren’t fit for him.

Don Draper is a man who constantly reinvents himself, and we see how he’s willing to be a guiding force every step of the way. He’s such a positive influence that he becomes Sally’s rock as she goes through adolescence, knowing she can trust him to always be honest with her in the way she needs. In fact, it comes to the point that Don can be open with his daughter about the cross-country breakdown he’s having, or she can call him on his bullshit when he starts to slip back into his old, chauvinistic ways.

Like I said at the beginning, Don Draper isn’t perfect, but I think that’s precisely what makes him such a great role model. Through him, we experience triumph and failure, and learn to persevere through both. He shows us that even people who make poor choices can be great fathers, if they rise to the occasion.

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So that’s my quick list for the day! I’m sure there are plenty more to talk about – we didn’t even get to go back to all the fun of Guardians of the Galaxy, and I didn’t pull in a single Jojo dad! How about you? Are there any great pop culture fathers you feel deserve a shout-out? Tell me about them in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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