Editor’s Note: This article was first published as “The 5 Best Christmas Movie Fathers” in 2012 and is now resurrected and republished as part of the Ghost-Lists of Christmas Past Series.
One of the best parts of the holiday season has to be Christmas movies. There are hundreds of them and a few dozen classics among them. As a father of two, I’m always interested to see how popular films portray dads, so it makes sense to find the best papas in favorite Christmas flicks who can teach us all how to be better parents.
Let’s focus on five who would make Father Christmas proud.
5. Clark Griswold, The Do-Whatever-It-Takes Father
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third film in a series following the hilarious Griswolds. The family patriarch is the lovable goof Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), whose greatest desire is for his family to have the perfect Christmas. How many dads can relate to a guy with Christmas cheer who can’t catch a break in trying to make the season bright? Clark’s frustrations abound as he just tries to give his family a “good old-fashioned family Christmas.” Clark forgets the saw when finding the perfect Christmas tree, he can’t figure out how to get his million lights to light up (been there), he can’t make annoying in-laws happy (won’t say I’ve been there), and he buys a huge gift for his family and then doesn’t receive his Christmas bonus to pay for it. He struggles and fails, but he keeps on fighting for that wonderful family Christmas.
Time rightfully put Clark in their top ten list of perfect movie dads. They praised him as the ultimate example of “determination.” He was always willing to go the extra mile to provide experiences his family would never forget.
Clark makes our list for doing whatever it takes to bring joy and special memories to his family for Christmas. Yes, he fails and sometimes fails miserably, but his heart is in the right place. While many men may ignore Christmas or leave it to others in the family, Clark takes the lead to bring his family the joys of the holiday. I can relate to that and so can countless other fathers. We are kids at heart and want our families to experience the wonders of the holiday season.
4. Fred Gailey, The Always-Believing Father
I have a feeling that Fred Gailey will be considered the most unexpected pick of the lot. Fred is the always-believing and saintly lawyer from Miracle on 34th Street. He’s not the first person you think of when you picture this movie and he isn’t even a dad. However, Mr. Gailey is actually the most vital piece in the puzzle of this classic Christmas film. Fred lives next door to Doris Walker and her daughter Susan. Doris rejects Christmas, hope, miracles, and the belief in true goodness. She raises her daughter to believe the same. Yet she allows Fred, who believes passionately about all those things, to often watch her daughter. He becomes a surrogate father to little Susan, whose absent birth dad never appears.
When no one else believes, Fred hopes that a sweet man named Kris Kringle is the true Santa Claus. He helps Susan believe and he encourages her to use her imagination and hope. Fred even gets blunt with Doris’ lack of faith when he has to:
Look, Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.
In the end, Fred proves Kris is Santa and sparks renewed belief in Doris and Susan. We learn Fred will marry Doris and become Susan’s new father.
There are a lot of unsung heroic men who fill a parental role to kids who desperately need it. There are guys who are lifting up hurting families when no one else will believe. There are true gentlemen who become like fathers to kids who so desperately need a dad to encourage them to hope and dream. Fred Gailey was one of those men.
3. George Bailey, The Put-Family-First Father
From a forgotten father to an iconic father, I give you George Bailey. Truth be told, It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie and one of my top two favorite movies in any category. I love this film. And who doesn’t cherish George Bailey as one of the great fathers in cinematic history?
George struggles financially but takes care of his wife and kids all while honoring his father’s legacy and helping the community. When given opportunities in life to help himself but maybe not his family, George always puts family first. He captures so much of what all dads should strive to be. He makes mistakes like all of us and almost forgets what matters most, but in the end, he makes the right choices.
“In spite of his frustration and dreams, George honors his father’s work and keeps the Savings & Loan running. With a drafty house, sick kids, low wages, work stresses, and a normal man’s frustrations, he loves and supports his family. Is it easy? Heck no. But he comes through.” – Harold Pond, The Art of Manliness
Every caring father can relate to George. Life is tough, filled with challenges and obstacles. Sometimes we even make poor decisions when striving for the right ones. We love our families so much that sometime we can even hurt them when we put too much stress on ourselves. It can be hard to prioritize what matters most with so many stresses and so many options. George, like all of us, even loses perspective at one point. Thankfully he gains it back as his family reminds him of what he taught them: nothing is more important than family and friends.
2. Papa Elf, The Adoptive & Sacrificial Father
The fathers of adopted children are often forgotten for their great love. But at Christmas time, the manger scene has maybe the most famous father of adoption of all time in Joseph. A far less famous adoptive father, and a fictional one at that, is Papa Elf from the more recent Christmas classic Elf. Papa Elf shows us another loving, sacrificial side of fatherhood.
Papa Elf has never had children of his own (kind of ironic when you consider his name) and volunteers to raise a human baby named Buddy. I am struck by his willingness to raise Buddy in a completely different culture. Papa tries to protect Buddy by not telling him that he is any different. That may not have been the best choice, but Papa Elf’s motives were pure. And when it’s clear Buddy needs to know the truth, Papa Elf gently breaks the painful news.
The sacrificial love of Papa Elf manifests when he helps Buddy find the information to meet his biological father. He lets him, go just hoping that his love and care for Buddy won’t be forgotten. And thankfully, when the movie concludes, Buddy does return home to his elf father to introduce his wife and child to him. The elf who had no family now has a son, a daughter-in-law, and a grandbaby.
I know Elf is a silly Christmas movie, but next time you watch it pay attention to the sacrificial love of Papa Elf. So many adoptive dads out there are like him or Joseph from 2000 years ago. Adoption is a powerful portrayal of love. It is choosing someone fully and completely. To all the adoptive fathers out there, thank you for showing us what real fatherly love looks like.
1. Bob Cratchit, The Uplifting-Through-Troubles Father
As any fan of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol knows, there are dozens of movies from both cinema and television that have retold this story. While Scrooge is the main character of Dickens’ hardened 19th century England, Bob Cratchit shows light and love in a dark and sad world. In many homes the father sets the mood in the house. The family follows his lead. Bob leads his family to joy when there is little reason for happiness.
The harshness of the times appeared in how Scrooge treated his faithful employee. He makes him work in a dingy, cell-like area with only a one-coal fire. Bob works long hours and receives meager pay, so he can barely feed and clothe his family. Yet he somehow keeps his joy, and guides his family to do the same.
Dickens pointed out about the family: “They were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty…. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time.” How could a family with so little outwardly have so much inwardly? Because they had a father like Bob Cratchit. He raised them to be thankful, loving, and caring in a dark and painful world.
When Bob’s wife would curse Scrooge, he would mention the ears of the children, and then bless his heartless employer. Bob scrimped and saved so he could splurge on his family on Christmas day. And every chance he got he would carry Tiny Tim on his shoulder to church or elsewhere. Bob was given little, but he loved his family much.
In today’s harsh world, we could all use a little more Bob Cratchit. We could also use more men like George Bailey, Fred Gailey, Papa Elf, and even Clark Griswold. This Christmas, hug your family tight and commit to be more like one of these dads all year long.