10 Great Fathers (Father’s Day Special)

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A Brief History

On June 16, 2019, Americans celebrate the annual day devoted to giving dad across the country neckties and coffee cups, maybe even T-shirts, usually with some sort of “World’s Greatest Dad” themed logo emblazoned on the gift.  Today we take the opportunity to recognize 10 Great Fathers, both real and fictional.  In this case, we are not defining “Great” as particularly good or wonderful, but more along the lines of “famous.”

Question for Students (and others): Who else would you put on this list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

Digging Deeper

1. Adam.

The First Mourning (Adam and Eve mourn the death of Abel); oil on canvas 1888 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The original Dad! (Unless you count “God the Father” if you are so inclined.)  Even this venerable first father could not keep his kids from squabbling.  When he got presents that said, “World’s Greatest Dad,” he really was!  What would the first father in creation get for Father’s Day?  A new fig leaf?  At least he did not have to co-sign for college or car loans!

2. George Washington.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, December 25, 1776, Emanuel Leutze (1851)

Yes, the “Father of our Country.”  Washington is the leading man in the pantheon of those we call “The Founding Fathers,” those brave men that created the United States in the face of execution for treason if they had been captured by the British or if their revolution had been unsuccessful.  Washington was the prototypical “father,” strong, brave, stalwart, and he made whiskey as a sideline.  While he did not have children of his own, he did adopt John and Patsy, the children of his wife, Martha.

3. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Duvalier in 1968

Okay, maybe not great, just famous.  This leader of Haiti was a dictator and a real life father, his son, known as “Baby Doc,” taking over his job as dictator when Papa Doc died.  This cat deserves some sort of mention just for having a cool name.  Apparently national leaders sometimes like to be considered the “Father” or “Papa” of their people, indisputably in charge and ready to deliver a spanking or time out if deemed necessary.  Papa Doc ruled with an iron fist from 1957 to 1971, calling himself “President for Life,” until succeeded by his son, Jean‑Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.  The “Doc” part of his sobriquet came from his training as a physician.

4. The Mysterious Father Dowling.

Father Dowling (Tom Bosley) and Sister Steve (Tracy Nelson)

Get it?  “Mysterious” because this character was the title role on the television series Father Dowling’s Mysteries (1989-1991 as well as a made for TV movie in 1987).  Father Dowling was played by Tom Bosley, the genial “Dad” from Happy Days (1974-1984, another venerable television series with Bosley as a prototypical American dad).  Bosley played a Catholic priest in Chicago that for some reason solves all sorts of serious crimes such as murders and kidnappings!  He was assisted by spunky and streetwise nun, Sister Stephanie (played by Tracy Nelson), though his superior, Father Prestwick, tried to limit Father Dowling’s crime busting activities on behalf of the Bishop.

5. Ernest “Papa” Hemingway.

Hemingway and sons Patrick (left) and Gregory, with three cats at Finca Vigía c. mid-1942

One of the greatest American writers, Hemingway also served as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I after being turned down for service by the US Army, US Navy and US Marine Corps because of his bad eyesight.  He earned a medal for bravery when despite his wounds, he continued to assist wounded soldiers.  His granddaughters, Margaux (born Margot) and Mariel (born Hadley), went on to fame as models and actresses, but unfortunately Margaux followed Papa’s example and committed suicide in 1996.  Papa Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.  Papa Hemingway had 3 children, all sons, Jack, Patrick and Gregory.

6. George HW Bush and John Adams (tie).

Governor Bush (right) with father, former president George H. W. Bush, and wife, Laura, in 1997

Both of these former Presidents share the distinction of having one of their sons become President of the United States, the only US Presidents (so far) to have that distinction.  Any chance of any current Presidential children becoming President in the future?  Obama’s daughters?  Maybe.  Trump’s kids?  (Please, do not make me laugh!)

7. Father Edward Joseph Flanagan.

Fr. Edward J. Flanagan statue, Ballymoe, Co Galway.  Photograph by Darren J. Prior.

A real life Catholic priest, Flanagan is famous for founding Boys Town, an orphanage and home for troubled boys in Douglas County, Nebraska.  Flanagan, born in Ireland in 1886, was the archetype of the Irish Catholic priest.  He immigrated to the United States in 1904 and founded  a home for homeless boys in 1917.  When that home became inadequate, he founded Boys Town in 1921.  He became a US citizen in 1919.  Flanagan was famous for his belief in the goodness of people, quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad boy.”  Flanagan and Boys Town became famous in 1938 when a major motion picture was made starring Spencer Tracy as Flanagan, called Boys Town.  Tracy won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Flanagan, giving the kindly priest immortality on the silver screen.  Flanagan’s image has appeared on a US Postage Stamp and he is in the Nebraska Hall of Fame.  Proceedings to have him made a Catholic saint have begun.

8. Robert Young as Jim Anderson, Sr.

Cast photo from Father Knows Best Reunion. Standing, from left: Elinor Donahue, Robert Young and Jane Wyatt. Seated: Lauren Chapin and Billy Gray.  Photograph by NBC Television.

From 1954 to 1960, Robert Young was America’s Dad long before Cliff Huxtable, starring as the title character in the television series Father Knows Best.  Remember, this was an era in which television was limited to 3 stations and people did not have the distractions available today.  It is hard for people today to understand just how influential and pervasive television shows were in those days.  Jim Anderson was a fairly quiet and calm guy, thoughtful and wise, presumably the way a father “should be.”  (Bill Cosby probably would have made this list as well for his portrayal of a television “Dad,” but a conviction for rape keeps him on the sidelines.)  Re-runs of the show continued for the next few years.

9. Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif.

Portrait of Ismail ibn Sharif

This Sultan (King) of Morocco (reign 1672-1727) boasted a harem of 500 wives (try to remember those anniversaries and birthdays!) and had at least 867 children (but who was the favorite???)!  Moulay is the grand champion of men siring children, at least as far as we know, and of course, all this siring was accomplished in the traditional manner, or so we assume.  Sharif begat 525 boys and 342 girls.  Makes one wonder, at what point do you start recycling names?

10. Bertold P. Wiesner.

This modern champion of conception managed to produce 3 children the traditional way, and another 600 or so through the use of his own donated sperm surreptitiously used in a fertility clinic by his wife, Mary Barton, an obstetrician in artificial insemination treatments.  Wiesner, a physiologist from Austria (1901-1972), immigrated to England and practiced in London.  His sperm may have been used in as many as 1500 cases.  Patients were told the sperm provided for their artificial insemination in cases of male infertility was provided by “anonymous” donors, never telling the patients that Dr. Wiesner was the donor.  The number of 600 offspring is merely an estimate.  DNA testing may one day develop a better data base of exactly how many children Wiesner may have sired.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Limbert, Tom. Dad’s Playbook: Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Time. Chronicle Books, 2012.

Niro, Jimmy. Dad Jokes: Good, Clean Fun for All Ages! Sourcebooks, 2018.

Watson, Benjamin. The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life. Baker Books, 2017.

The featured image in this article, a U.S. Marines photograph for Father’s Day by Cpl. Daniel Wetzel from Arlington, VA, United States, is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the United States Marine Corps. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by United States Marine Corps Official Page at https://flickr.com/photos/40927340@N03/9055483641.  It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the United States Government Work.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.