Harry Potter Father-Figure Face-Off

13th Jun 2013


Like many epic fantasy stories, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a tale of quests. Of course the story follows Harry Potter’s quest to defeat his terrifically evil nemesis Voldemort and save the world; but it is also a story about Harry’s smaller and deeply personal quests for adulthood, identity and belonging.

As an unloved orphan who belongs nowhere, it’s not surprising that Harry is thrilled to find out that he’s a wizard; he’s suddenly a member of the exclusive wizarding world and the tight community of Hogwarts.

Fairly quickly Harry finds a family of sorts in Gryffindor House, is enthusiastically welcomed as a member of the Quidditch team and bonds with the people who essentially become his siblings, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. For the first time in his life, Harry has a sense of belonging.

Despite this new feeling of community and family, Harry feels an emptiness around the loss of his parents. More than the memory of his father, Harry’s mother seems to remain a potent force in his life, perhaps because he will always carry a physical reminder of her love and sacrifice, branded lightening-shaped on his forehead.

Maybe it’s this connection to his mother; or because he has stable, reliable women guardians in Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall; or that he feels a particularly need for male role models in his quest for manhood.

But Harry seems to quest in particular for a father. Harry is left with a dad-shaped hole in his life, and he attaches himself to a string of potential father figures in an effort to fill it.

Below is a round-up of the men in Harry’s life who act as father figures – whether or not Harry’s aware of it, and whether or not they want to – and how they measure up to the task.

Father-Figure Face-Off

Sirius Black

Cases for: Sirius is probably the man most willing to take on the role of fathering Harry. Even before Harry was orphaned, Sirius took on a symbolic guardian role as his godfather. He invited Harry to live with him. Sirius genuinely seems to love Harry.

Cases against: Sirius is not really able to provide the most stable environment for a young man who’s already had – to put it mildly – a pretty unstable upbringing. Sirius spends most of Harry’s life in prison or on the run from the law, so he’s not really available for much fathering. He can be a bit reckless, and seems to forget Harry is a young person in need of some sheltering.

Leading a trusting teenager unknowingly to his doom is some cold shit.Albus Dumbledore

Cases for: Dumbledore is Harry’s greatest mentor. Out of all of Harry’s father figures, Dumbledore is the one that spends the most time teaching and guiding Harry through life. He helps the boy to grow into a strong, brave man capable of facing his destiny.

Cases against: Dumbledore does seem to have a bit of disregard for Harry’s life. He sends Harry on a mission with the full knowledge that it will probably kill the boy. Dumbledore puts the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few – a cause for which he also sacrifices his own life – but STILL. Leading a trusting teenager unknowingly to his doom is some cold shit.

Severus Snape

Cases for: If not for some dodgy influences, Snape could have been the man who married Harry’s mother, Lily, the love of his life. He could have been the actual father of some alternate-universe quasi-Harry. Snape is also one of very few characters whose actions are primarily motivated by a desire to keep Harry alive.

Cases against: Snape does not want to keep Harry alive because he likes him. Despite his quest to protect Harry as a tribute to Lily, I believe that Snape lives and dies resenting Harry – the spitting image of Harry’s father and Snape’s rival – as a reminder of what he’s lost and what could have been.

Arthur Weasley

Cases for: Arthur is just a general upstanding, all-round good man. He stands up for the rights of wizards, mudbloods and muggles alike. He loves his wife. He protects and supports his family (which quickly includes Harry), and teaches them, through his actions, the importance of justice and loyalty to a cause.

Cases against: Arthur is actual father to Harry’s eventual wife, Ginny. So, that’s a bit icky. He’s also a bit preoccupied with the raising of his many, many biological children to really give Harry much one-on-one attention.

Honourable mentions: Remus Lupin; Rubeus Hagrid

Ultimate Father Figure: For me, it’s Dumbledore. Sure, things get complicated, but what parent-child relationship doesn’t?

Dumbledore’s secret life, revealed to Harry after the old man’s death, causes pain and confusion; the same pain and confusion felt by all sons and daughters when they realise that their parents are complicated, flawed people who have an existence outside of their children.

At the hour of his death, Harry is guided by a group of father figures, plus his mother, to the great beyond – where he meets Dumbledore, his ultimate father, ready to walk with him into death or push him back to life.

Harry names his sons James, for his first father, and Albus, for the father he found later.

Amanda O’Boyle

Who’s your favourite Harry Potter father figure? Anyone I’ve missed?  Do you, like the editor, think there’s a case to keep Uncle Vernon in the running?


  • Kim says:

    I reckon a combination of Lupin and Black. Lupin is the more sensible one and Black really loves Harry. As grown ups they are a good influence on each other. Sadly they both end up dead, both of which made me cry…

  • Jane Bradley says:

    I always loved the way that J.K.R showed that Harry – having grown up in a cupboard with no familial love at all – recognises and appreciates the affection, love and protectiveness of all his surrogate family members, and ends up saving the wizarding world – while Draco, who grows up spoilt rotten with a mother who dotes on him, ends up on a far darker and more damaging path.

    I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision on J.K.R’s part but I think it works well that there’s no one character who meets all Harry’s father figure needs. It teaches him to recognise and sympathise with their shortcomings (however frustrating they are at the time!). Snape and Sirius are the ultimate combination for me – they’re the opposite sides of the same coin and Harry needs Snape’s tough love (but not in the way some slashy corners of the internet might make out!).

  • Madeleine says:

    I love this theory. I too believe that the greater narrative of the HP series is Harry’s quest for a father. I think all the above mentioned fathers are tried, then rejected, as possible father figures, bit all fall short in some way, even Dumbledore. Ad as discussed, this isn’t a quest for a mother because of the stable mother figures present. Even Lily, who is dead, is never found to have flaws as James does. So ultimately, who is the ideal father for Harry? I think it’s Harry himself, as we see a glimpse of him as a father in the very final chapter of the series.