Sunday was Father’s Day in the U.S. and I have been determined to do a companion to my Mother’s Day post last month, this time looking at Father Bear from our beloved Little Bear book series. Now, I am not a father, so it feels a little weird to be writing a “how-to” post on something I am not and won’t ever be. But Father Bear is such a strong literary character that it seems only fitting to devote a post to him in celebration of the holiday. In the children’s literature world, parents are often quite terrible or non-existent; so I adore the solid, faithful figure Father Bear presents. Let’s take a look at a few of Father Bear’s strengths and celebrate the joy of fatherhood through him. Here are my observations on how to be a great dad as seen in Father Bear Comes Home by Else Holmelund Minarik, pictures by Maurice Sendak, 1959.
1. Have both pride and humility in the fact that you are adored.
I find it notably significant that the first story in this book does not actually have Father Bear in it. The whole story is about Little Bear attempting to provide a fish for Mother Bear in Father Bear’s absence, all while pretending that he is actually Father Bear. While Father Bear is not physically present in the story, the stage is set emotionally with Little Bear missing and emulating Father Bear. We get a picture of not only what Father Bear does for the family, but also that he is loved, longed for, and a hero to his child. Through failures and successes, every kid loves and adores their dad. This is no doubt equally delightful and sobering.
2. Work hard and come home.
It sounds so simple, and yet the reality of working well and then leaving it behind physically and mentally is so incredibly difficult. Father Bear doesn’t show guilt about being gone to work, but he comes home to his family. I love the wording that Little Bear hugged Father Bear. And then Father Bear hugged Little Bear. Father Bear is completely there and returns the affection. Work is at work and he is at home.
3. Bring home gifts.
I vividly remember the gifts my dad used to bring me from his many travels. There was something so special about receiving a part of his work and his trip or day. Whether it is a paperclip, a picture, or a toy purchased in the airport, the real gift is the invitation into dad’s world of work. Father Bear may not have brought the exotic thing Little Bear imagined, but he did bring something. A simple gift for Little Bear to enjoy and for Little Bear to know that he was thought of and missed as well.
4. Relax, but stay present.
Father Bear is a fisherman and he must have been exhausted when he came home. He deserved the time to be alone and indulge himself with his pajamas and paper. What I love about Father Bear is that he is still there. Yes, he is in his robe and slippers, reading a paper in the corner and rightfully requesting quiet. But he still participates and ends up bringing the solution to a problem and joke to the day. It takes a lot of skill to be both self-indulgent and patient with interruptions.
5. Invite magic even if you stay in reality.
Father Bear is never shown in this book as playing with Little Bear. This may seem like a side point to the story, but in a society that pushes for everything to be entertainment to little ones, including the parents, it is refreshing to see Father Bear be a relaxed adult. He is there. He is kind and he is loving. But he doesn’t have to be the game. When Little Bear imagines something fantastic, Father Bear is willing to participate and invites Little Bear to bring him along; but he is content to sit and enjoy watching the fun too.
From my perspective, Father Bear is all about inviting. He invites emulation with his character. He invites Little Bear into his hard work and also into his arms. And he invites relaxation as well as imagination. Father Bear is a character to love and to learn from.
Here’s to all the Father Bears who are present and loving amidst their hard work.