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Friday, June 17, 2016

A Literary Father's Day Tribute

In light of Father’s Day rolling around again this weekend, I have been thinking lately about what being a good father means. There’s no right answer, per se, but there are many characteristics that a good father embodies. As a book lover, I look to stories for examples of great dads, and there’s one literary dad who immediately comes to mind. He’s not a traditional father, in that he and his co-guardian are a brother and sister team instead of a partnered couple, but his love for his adopted daughter shines very brightly all the same. Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables is fatherhood personified, in my humble opinion. Indeed, Anne feels the same love for Matthew as he does for her. She tells Marilla: “I think he’s lovely... He is so very sympathetic... I felt that he was a kindred spirit as soon as ever I saw him.” Elsewhere, the book says about their relationship that they were the best of friends.

How exactly does Matthew embody the characteristics of a good father? One would think that Anne and his relationship would have gotten off to a rocky start considering Matthew and Marilla had thought to adopt a boy but ended up with Anne instead. However, from the very beginning, Matthew and Anne have a special relationship. Matthew has an intense fear of interacting with women and girls, but on the drive home after he picks Anne up from the train station:
Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it.

When he arrives home with Anne instead of the boy they were expecting, Marilla is understandably annoyed. Matthew wants to keep Anne and tells Marilla, “Well now, she’s a real interesting little thing... You should have heard her talk coming from the station."

After Marilla and Matthew finally decide to keep Anne, they discuss her upbringing. Marilla comes to love Anne in her own way, but Matthew has already recognized how special she is. Marilla tries to keep the upper hand:
Matthew, you're not to go interfering with my methods. Perhaps an old maid doesn't know much about bringing up a child, but I guess she knows more than an old bachelor. So you just leave me to manage her. When I fail it'll be time enough to put your oar in.
Compassionate Matthew understands how much Anne needs them and replies:
There, there, Marilla, you can have your own way... Only be as good and kind to her as you can be without spoiling her. I kind of think she's one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you.

As Anne stays with them longer and longer, Matthew comes to understand how little good Anne has had in her lonely life. Even though he said they were not going to, he goes ahead and spoils her a little himself. He is thankful he has nothing to do with her upbringing and thinks to himself:
Surely it would do no harm to let the child have one pretty dress--something like Diana Barry always wore. Matthew decided he would give her one; that surely could not be objected to as an unwarranted putting in of his oar.
Matthew is so shy that he has trouble pulling off his plan to get Anne a pretty dress, but he is determined to do this nice and generous thing for her. He asks the only other woman in his life he feels comfortable with to help him follow through: his neighbor Mrs. Lynde. When he gives Anne the dress, Matthew sees his efforts have paid off when she takes the dress and looks at it “in reverent silence.”

Matthew is a good father not only because he likes listening to Anne and is generous with her, but also because he is supportive of her and believes in her. When Anne’s school decides to put on a concert, Matthew invites Anne to practice her recitation piece for him. He also tells Anne, smiling down at her, “Well now, I reckon it’s going to be a pretty good concert. And I expect you’ll do your part fine.” Most of all, Matthew is proud of Anne, and he tells her so. After Anne wins a scholarship at school, he tells her:
Well now, I'd rather have you than a dozen boys, Anne... Just mind you that — rather than a dozen boys. Well now, I guess it wasn't a boy that took the Avery scholarship,was it? It was a girl — my girl — my girl that I'm proud of.

Matthew is a good father to Anne for many different reasons, but some that stand out from these examples are: how her happiness is important to him, how he listens to her, how he supports her, how he is proud of her, and, most of all, how much he loves her. Anne’s time with Matthew is limited, but she never takes him for granted.

Matthew Cuthbert wins my vote for all-time favorite literary dad. Who is yours? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

This Father’s Day, don’t forget to tell your dad or whomever how much you appreciate them!

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