The Fictional Non-Fictional Fatherhood Triumvirate

In honor of Fathers Day, I was going to make this about some of my favorite fictional character who also happen to be fathers. In order to do this, I decided to write about the best fathers from books, television shows, and films that I enjoy. In order to be as rational and fair as I could I started writing down my favorites and compared them and their qualities head to head. I ended up with about 8 on each list, but in my opinion, there was a clear winner in each category. My favorite fictional father in a book was one the greatest fictional characters of all time, Atticus Finch (from To Kill a Mockingbird. My favorite fictional film father (try saying that 5 times fast) was Mufasa from the Lion King. My choice for best TV dad might surprise some people, but the more I thought about it, the more it became clear: Phil Dunphy from Modern Family was the clear winner for TV dads.

Before the Roman Republic fell and became the Roman Empire, it was ruled by Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus in a triumvirate – three powerful men who made a one year alliance to lead the largest political body in the world at that time. Usually, one man was opulently wealthy, one man was militarily gifted, and the third man was diplomatically gifted, but it did not always have to be this way. When mapping out this post I came up with a list of qualities why these were some of the best dads with every intention of making them the “Dad Triumvirate,” but as I looked at the list of qualities I knew there was no need to create a fictional fatherhood triumvirate. The reason I did not need to create one is that there already was a fatherhood triumvirate in existence. So my fictional fatherhood triumvirate became the nonfiction fictional fatherhood triumvirate, which in case you haven’t already figured it out, I like saying those words together.


The more I thought about it the more I came up with similarities between those three fictional characters and the fathers in my own life. My father and both of my grandfathers have served at various points in my life as my Mufasa, My Atticus, and My Phil. While each of those three men possesses qualities of all three fake dads, for the sake of brevity, I chose one for each to talk about. I could write 2,000 words on each and still not run out of things to talk about, but my posts are already verbose enough as it is I will let each these examples serve as ample justification for my claim.

I will start with Mufasa. I see so much of my maternal grandfather, called Papa, in Mufasa. The Lion King is the first movie that I can vividly remember seeing in the movie theater. I was 4 or 5 years old and my maternal grandmother (Nana – who is married to Papa) is the one who took me to see it. I was riveted to the screen. Aside from the Papa – Nana connection, as an adult, I can see many similarities between my Papa and Mufasa that I did not pick up on as a child. Throughout the movie, Mufasa guides Simba from above just as my Papa guides me – but this is just one of many reasons they are similar.


Another one of the things I love about Mufasa is that he is voiced by James Earl Jones. The voice of Mufasa and Darth Vader immediately touches you. There is something calm and soothing about the voice that also projects strength and safety. You can just feel everything is going to be ok when you are near it. My Papa had the same kind of voice. It was deep, but quiet all at the same time. When he spoke, you listened – not because you were afraid or out of some sort of “respect your elders” type of thing – but because you actually wanted to. You felt like you were being told something very important. Papa had a way of doing that when he talked. It is one of the things I miss most about him. I have a four-second voicemail saved on my phone. On June, 29 20014 my Papa called and left the voicemail “It’s Papa. Call me.” on my phone. As stupid as it sounds, when I think of him or when I have a rough day I sometimes play that voicemail. It may not solve my problem or whatever I am thinking about, but it also makes me feel less upset.


Mufasa had a majestic and regal exterior but was not too important to play with Simba and goof around. My hambone playing Papa was the same way. Serious when he needed to be or thought he should be, but not too important to make his grandchildren smile by doing something silly. Mufasa had the loudest roar in The Lion King and so did my grandfather. You might think it sounds weird saying, my Papa roared, and you’d be right. My grandfather didn’t roar when he wanted to be heard; he whistled to be heard instead. Growing up my siblings and I all were swimmers. When you swim with a cap and your head underwater, most swimmers either don’t hear the yelling of their friends and family (or at least I didn’t hear it). The only noise I heard was the whistle that came from Papa as I would come up for air. I would almost wait on the whistle before I kicked it into overdrive.

Mufasa was a teacher to Simba and Papa was a teacher to me. Although I wished he had taught me how to do that whistle, he taught me how to do something far more useful when he taught me how to drive. When my backseat driving mother (love you mom) was trying to teach me how it almost started World War 3 in the Boliek House. My dad was not much better than my mother. That’s when my Papa stepped in. He was patient, provided just the right guidance at just the right time, and didn’t critique harshly or yell when you made a mistake. Had it not been for Papa I would probably be ubering to work every day. I cherish those moments just the two of us in his big golden brown Oldsmobile.


The final similarity with Papa and Mufasa is one of the strongest. Simba thought Mufasa was brave and strong and not scared of anything. For the longest time, I thought the same about Papa. Papa was always strong. He worked out regularly and although he was old he was in much better shape than all his friends for the most part. I never thought about Papa not being strong until he got shingles and was put in the hospital when I was around 17 or 18. That was the first time I realized Papa was not always going to be invincible. that was the first he looked old to me. I was lucky to get 10 more years after that. In and out of the hospital over the last 6 months of his life, we did lots of visiting. It will never have been enough, but it was important and we talked about things I still hold onto. Mufasa and Simba go on a walk together and Mufasa admitted to Simba he was afraid of losing Simba. We did not go on a walk, but I did visit Papa in the hospital and there was a time it was just the two of us, and while I will keep the conversation between my Papa and me, the love and bonding that was shared is something I will cherish as long as I live.

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Moving on to my favorite book father and one of the greatest books of all time. Atticus Finch is probably one of my favorite fictional characters ever, and most of the qualities that Atticus Finch had I can also pinpoint in my Pop – my paternal grandfather. The demeanor with which Atticus Finch carried himself reminds me so much of my Pop in many different ways. Quieter than garrulous, but when he spoke you listened. The way he carried himself and treated his children with both love and respect. His strength has a man was not showy, but you knew it was there because you could point at Atticus/Pop and say “He is the kind of man I would like to be.”

One of my favorite things about Atticus is he is always honest with his children. He may not tell them the full truth and he may put rose-colored glasses on the truth, but the truth is always what he gives them out of a respect he feels they deserve. I cannot pinpoint a single instance in my life where I feel like my grandfather has lied to me or not respected me enough to tell me the truth. When I asked why something was the way it was or any other philosophical question that a grandson asks their grandfather I always felt valued by getting that honest answer. It is one of the reasons Scout loves her father and its one of the reasons I love my Pop.


One of the things I value most about Pop is when we disagree he doesn’t just tell you that you are wrong. While we do not agree politically on most issues, I have never had my grandfather look at me and say with a matter-of-fact type of feeling “You’re Wrong! Instead he always calmly tries to make me see his point of view or the other side. Sometimes that might be a discussion or conversation. Other times it is by him forwarding an email to me or saving me a magazine or newspaper article to look at. Sometimes it works and sometimes we agree to disagree. But every time it is done in a respectful way and I never have had him discredit or demean my views. Atticus does this every time he talks to Scout. One scene on the front porch with Scout is similar to the way Pop tries to make me see the other side. In that scene Atticus says

“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.”

I see so much of Pop in that quote and I do try to listen to it before I make up my mind. Sometimes I am successful at listening. Sometimes I am not. Atticus wouldn’t judge me for it. Neither does Pop.

One of my core beliefs in the life is that every human being is worthy of equality, dignity, and respect simply because they are a person. It is part of the reason Atticus take the case in TKAM and it is one of the reasons I love and respect my grandfather more than I respect other people. Throughout my life, I have seen my grandfather be respectful, kind, and equal to all sorts of people and one thing stands out. My grandfather treats the CEO of the company the same way he would treat the custodian or janitor. My grandfather has respected people who have less money than him in the same way he respects those who have more money than he has. He even gives the kindness and respect to people who do not reciprocate those ideals in return.

At a Clemson football tailgate one time we arrived to find people sitting in our reserved tailgate spot. My grandfather approached them and calmly and politely let them know that this was our reserved spot and was immediately talked to in a tone that was both disrespectful and crass. The person immediately got defensive in their body language and at one point was so disrespectful to my grandfather that I blacked out in anger so fast I was standing in between my grandfather and this individual letting them know my two cents before I realized what was happening. Luckily my dad followed my grandfather’s example that day better than I did and talked me off the ledge because I was about to read this person to filth. And I would have done it Bianca Del Rio style.

My grandfather’s reaction still astounds me. In response to a woman who was rude, dismissive, and just downright ugly, my grandfather was firm but polite. He still called her ma’am instead of the names I wanted to call her. Our family still talks about this event at a couple of tailgates every year. My grandfather’s reaction still impresses me, and Atticus Finch would be very proud as well.


My Reaction

My Grandfather’s reaction

Last, but certainly not least we come to Phil Dunphy/my father. When I originally watched Modern Family Phil was one of the characters I liked the least. The “cool dad who is also slightly nerdy but everybody likes” trope has been done so many times, but the more I watch Modern Family the more I began to have a change or heart. Now I think Phil is one of the essential characters needed to keep the show running. My dad is not completely like Phil, but there are some great similarities that are worth exploring.

First, just like Phil defers to and lovingly dotes on Claire, my dad has always been loving and supportive of my mom. My parents have always shown each other the type of love that most people could go 4 lifetimes without every finding. My dad has always supported my mom and he both shows and tells her this (thankfully, in ways LESS corny than Phil). Phil is the nice dad that loves spending time with his kids, and my dad is the same way. Throughout the years, my dad has played PlayStation and Wii games, read books, discussed politics, sang along to Missy Elliott’s “Is it Worth it?” and a myriad of other things because it allowed him to spend time with his kids. While all three of us loved the Harry Potter series my dad joked about the books with “Quibbitch” (he knew the real word) he never really got into them. However, when the movies came out, My dad slowly watched his way through all eight films. He would study the Wikipedia pages and ask questions. He did all of this, not because he loved the series in the way my brothers and I loved the series, but because it allowed him to spend some time with us.

Phil is a realtor and he is good at his job. He also thinks his job is important. My dad is an accountant who is good at his job (I think) and I am sure he thinks what he does is important. The similarity here though is the way the rest of the family deals with Phil. They humor him when they all know the truth (his job is boring). We humor him and we all know the truth as well (except for me. I still am not 100% sure what he does.

My dad is Phil made over when it comes to how he deals with his family and friends. Phil puts his family (and sometimes his friends) before himself. My dad is kind, caring, and respectful, but watch out if you finally “poke the bear” one too many times. When provoked too much, Phil will explode and my dad is the same. My brothers and I can all describe the look his face goes into to this day; if I am being completely honest I am still scared of this face.

Last and most importantly, I feel like the writers of Modern Family based the most important aspect of Phil off of my father. Phil is always loving and supportive of his children. Throughout the entire series, Phil has loved and supported his children through whatever situation the room of Hollywood writers decided to throw to the Dunphy family. My father has done this for me and my brothers throughout the 29 years I have been lucky enough to be his son. I freely admit there have been times in my life when I screwed up, did something wrong, or wasn’t the person that my parents raised me to be. However, in every single one of those instances, I never felt like I lost my father’s love or support. There have been times where I probably should have and there have been times when I wish he would have (by giving me some space), but it never happened. I was stuck with the love and support just as the Dunphy kids are. And quiet as its kept, that is quite alright with me.

To my Papa – I miss and love you! I think about you every day and I will see you on the other side at some point.

To Pop and My Dad – thank you both for continuing to show me how to be a good person and a great man. I couldn’t be even halfway there on that journey without your example leading the way. I love you both!




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