Being a parent is a herculean task, even when you have a wife or husband to help you out. But, successfully raising a child on your own is a task worthy of a legendary hero. Many of the labors single parents face are mundane and don't involve mortal peril, but everyday they're called on to employ an extraordinary amount of courage and selflessness to provide their children with the life they want them to have. Although, some of pop culture's legendary single parents do regularly risk life and limb in order to save the day, city, world, and sometimes the galaxy, while still providing for their kids.
So, in honor of Father's Day, I thought we might pay tribute so some of the greatest single fathers in TV, movies, and comics with a look at five awesome and ass-kicking single dads. We'll examine what makes these guys great fathers and provide you with some viewing material that showcases them at their best, so you and your dad can celebrate Father's Day with TV & movie marathon.
Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks)
When then Commander Benjamin Sisko first stepped aboard space station Deep Space Nine to assume command of it in 1993's “Emissary,” the pilot episode to the spinoff series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he was a grieving widow who wanted nothing more than to focus on raising his young son Jake.
Over the course of the show's seven seasons, though, he was given so many additional responsibilities. He became a messianic figure to the Bajoran people, the Federation's first representative to a new sector of the galaxy, and then one of the pivotal figures in an intergalactic war.
He did an amazing job juggling all of those duties, but what makes Sisko a truly awesome dad is the fact that he did all that while still playing a large role in his son's life. When his son was still a child, Sisko knew about all the people under his command, while keeping abreast of Jake's education and who his friends were. When Jake grew older and Sisko became embroiled in the intergalactic Dominion War, he still managed to find time to have regular family dinners with his son. The two were still in each other's lives right up to amazing—and in many ways heartbreaking—final episode of Deep Space Nine.
Recommended Viewing: Season 4, Episode 2: “The Visitor”
The relationship between Sisko and his son Jake is a large part of many episodes of Deep Space Nine, but it's perhaps most poignant and powerful in the episode, “The Visitor.” Jumping into an alternate future, an older Jake recounts the many failed attempts he's made to reconnect with his father, who vanished years earlier in an accident aboard a spaceship and can only reappear for a few minutes at certain points in Jake's life.
Avery Brooks, Cirroc Lofton (who plays Jake), and Tony Todd (who guest starred as the older Jake Sisko) are all amazing in this episode. A warning though! You'll probably want a box of tissues nearby when watching this episode, because “The Visitor” is very intense and emotional. I'm tearing up just thinking about it. There's a point in the episode where Sisko looks at Jake with such love in his eyes, after not seeing him for decades, and it breaks your heart.
Keith Mars (Enrico Colatoni)
Private detectives are usually loners, with no family and few friends. That's because it's a tough job that often involves being the sole voice of truth against corrupt institutions and greedy wealthy families. However, it's a job that teen detective Veronica Mars is best suited for, and one can argue its even her dream job. That's in large part because of her father, Keith Mars—a hard working Private Investigator, who's retained his humanity, in spite of all the things he's seen, and is devoted to his daughter.
That made Keith his daughter's hero, and over the three seasons of the Veronica Mars television series, we watch the adolescent title character try to live up to the example set by her father by using the sleuthing skills she's picked up from him to help her classmates when they have no one else to turn to. Keith encouraged his daughter and was always there to help her when she needed it—or when things got too dangerous—regardless of what it costs him. But, like all great fathers, he dreamt of a better life for his daughter. That conflict came to a head in the Veronica Mars feature film, and it’s part of the reason why the movie was so compelling, leaving fans desperately wanting a sequel.
Recommend viewing: Season 1, Episode 22: “Leave it to Beaver”
Like the relationship between Ben Sisko and Jake, the Keith-Veronica relationship is a large part of many episodes of Veronica Mars and the feature film. So, I thought I would recommend an episode that shows how tough and devoted Keith is. In the first season finale of Veronica Mars, the title character's season-long investigation into the murder of her friend Lilly Kane puts her in mortal peril. So, in “Leave it to Beaver,” we get to see Keith engage in a daring rescue, in an episode full of many exciting payoffs.
Alfred Pennyworth (Several actors, notably, Michael Caine)
Being an awesome dad doesn't necessarily mean you have to be related to the person you're raising. Bruce Wayne's faithful butler and surrogate father, Alfred Pennyworth, is a perfect example of that. Like Batman, Alfred's origins have evolved over the decades to keep him contemporary. Some things have not changed though: the fact that he was a man of action before he came into the Wayne's employ (he's been both a soldier and a spy), the fact that he's an accomplished actor and combat medic, and the fact that he loves Bruce Wayne like he's his own son.
So, Alfred definitely kicks ass. There's no doubt about that. What makes him a great father is how he stood by Bruce Wayne's side over the years. When Bruce's parents were murdered on that fateful night in Crime Alley, Alfred stepped up to care for the grieving boy. Then, when Bruce comes back into his life, after disappearing for many years, Alfred welcomes him back and serves as his lone confidant, conscience, and inspirational figure in his crusade against crime as the Batman.
On top of that, Alfred has been a father figure to almost all of the other young heroes that were brought into Batman's crusade, including the many Robins. He is especially close to Dick Grayson, the first person to hold the mantle of Robin.
Recommended Viewing: The Dark Knight (2008)
There are many great actors who played Alfred over the years, like Michael Gough, who portrayed the character in the '90s era Batman films, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who voiced the character in Batman: The Animated Series. And, while I'm not a fan of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice or Fox's Gotham series, I have to admit that Jeremy Irons and Sean Pertwee are both pretty great Alfreds.
For this article, though, I decided to go with one of my favorite portrayals of the character, Michael Caine's in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Caine is great in all three of these films, especially during his heartfelt plea for Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne to reconsider his crusade as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises.
I also decided to go through with the best film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight. In that film, we see Alfred as a valuable part of Bruce's crime fighting endeavor, and he’s there to inspire him during several difficult moments. We also see him make a difficult choice to preserve his surrogate son's mental wellbeing, when he chooses to not deliver Rachel Dawes's letter—a choice that would later come back to haunt him.
For those of you looking to read some of the examples of how great a father the comic book incarnation of Alfred is, there are a variety of great stories throughout the over 75-year history of Batman. A good and recent place to start would be the Batman & Robin series of graphic novels by the acclaimed team of writers Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, where Alfred serves as a mentor to an adult Dick Grayson, who is taking over the role of Batman during a time where Bruce Wayne had disappeared and was believed dead. The first volume in that series is called Batman Reborn.
Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver)
Sam and Dean Winchester (the protagonists of the CW Network's Supernatural series, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) hunt and kill unearthly monsters and menaces because their grieving father showed them how. That's not why their heroes though. Their father, John, was a distant and angry man, so I firmly believe the reason they became such caring and compassionate hunters is in large part because they spent quite a bit of time in the care of their father's friend, auto mechanic-turned-hunter Bobby Singer.
Bobby provided the young Winchester boys with many well needed, normal kid moments when they were younger, and when they became adults, he was once again there for him. Despite his age, he was still an incredibly capable hunter, and when things got crazy and the world was about to end, he was Sam and Dean's cantankerous moral rock. It's all because, as he tell's Dean when they try to charge off and confront a powerful demon without him in Episode 16 of Supernatural's third season, “Family don't end with blood, boy.”
Recommended viewing: Season 7, Episode 10: “Death's Door”
The seventh season of Supernatural is the show's weakest in my opinion, but it still has some great moments like “Death's Door,” the episode that said goodbye to Bobby Singer (in his mortal form at least). In the episode, we travel inside a dying Bobby’s subconscious and are taken to various moments in his past. Among those moments are some particularly poignant ones where he bonds with an adult Sam and Dean over martial arts movies and we see him take a young Dean to play catch. We also learn the real reason why he never had any children; he was afraid he would be like his abusive, alcoholic father.
John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
When John Matrix walks onto the screen for the first time in 1985's Commando, he is carrying a gigantic tree that he cut down for use in the home he shares with his young daughter. We're then given a montage of how devoted and loving a father he is to his daughter, Jenny. We also see that he gave up a clearly lucrative career as a Special Operations soldier to raise Jenny on his own; a career that he refuses to be drawn back into.
Commando wouldn't be much of an action movie, though, if Matrix was successful in avoiding the world of his past. So, early on in the film, he's drawn back into the dangerous realm he left behind, as a cabal led by a former dictator and a member of his old squad kidnap Jenny and attempt to force Matrix into assassinating the president of a Latin American country. That, of course, doesn't go as planned, and we're given plenty of sequences demonstrating why John Matrix is one of the most ass-kicking single dads on this list.
Recommended viewing: Commando
Commando is, of course, unique in that Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a single father, but it's also a really fun film that shows why the Austrian actor would go on to become one of cinema's most iconic action stars. It's a movie jam packed with all the things that made Arnold's '80s era films so enjoyable: one liners and amazing action that is often ridiculously and gloriously over the top.