I’ve written before how family structure can impact fictional writing. As I think more about famous historical families, one can hardly overlook the famous fathers that gave us sons and daughters to become either as or more famous. No powerful person can truly know their legacy in full while alive, but for many of them it’s a driving motivator as well as wanting the children to reach great heights in history also.
Sometimes patriarchs are referred to as “the Old Man,” or just “Father,” as the all-knowing, or if not, the all approving of family members. Nothing happens without the nod of Father. Work for the family company? Ask Father. Join the military? Ask Father. Marry a man? Ask Father. Run for political office? Ask Father. Going to which college? Ask Father. So, come the clichés: Want to be in the family Will? Don’t tick off Father. Marry a man that’s the wrong religion? Father never speaks to you again! You played at college? Father cuts you off!
Can powerful fathers be an inspiration for fictional writers? Yes. Fathers can exert their own powerful will onto their children in a way no other person can in their lives. A wimp can become a tough guy. An anti-hero will become a hero. A shy girl becomes a smart business executive. Or a nice kid becomes a bully. A popular girl becomes promiscuous. Children become runaways. Mothers wise up, often taking the children with her.
Do powerful fathers need to be “good” or “bad?” No. To me, it depends on the story, and simplicity brings forth clichés. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, because some simpler story concepts give room for a more complex inner message. But when we think of the real men, the powerful family patriarchs, we usually find not simple good or evil but controversy. Very few people lead simple lives, and the powerful are able to accomplish deeds that affect the world historically; therefore it’s easier to scrutinize the lives of the famous. Several powerful people tend to get there because they want power, and if we could ask, they would say they would also want privacy.
Powerful patriarchs give us historic realities and fantasy inspirations. Joe Kennedy was real and Tywin Lannister was fictional. Were they perfect? No. Were they rich? Yes. Were they stupid? No. Were they worthy of remembrance? Definitely.