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Bad Dads of History

Joseph Stalin, one of the bad dads of History

Oh, Father’s Day! A celebration of the man who gave you life, with just a dash of cynical marketing. Freud believed we see God in our father’s image. Nietzsche, the other hand, said every god has a devil for a father. To make you feel extra thankful today – hopefully! – here are some fathers through history who definitely didn’t deserve a card.

Marvin Gay Senior (October 1, 1914 – October 10, 1998)

Marvin Gaye in London
Marvin Gaye, above, was killed by his father

Once known as “the healer”, Reverend Marvin Pentz Gay Sr. never got along with his first-born son, Marvin Gaye. A violent philandering alcoholic, his daughter Jeanne described him as a “cruel and all-powerful king”, and he was said to be especially hard on his young namesake. The Motown legend even added an ‘e’ to the end of his name to distance himself from his father. On 1st April 1984, following a protracted family row, the Reverend shot and killed Gaye Jnr with a gun the singer had bought for him.

Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – August 18, 1227)

Image of the Mongolian leader Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan, Mongolian leader and 'bad dad'

In a way, Genghis Khan is all our ‘bad dads’ – around 1 in every 200 men living today is his direct line descendant. Said to have caused up to 40 million deaths, Khan left an indelible footprint. The ultimate ‘absent father’, most of his offspring would never have known him. In fact, after his death no one was entirely sure what he had looked like or where he was buried. His official heirs, meanwhile, were raised to follow in his vengeful acquisitive footsteps, conquering Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the rest of China. Khan’s last official ruling descendant was finally deposed in 1920.

Joseph Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953)

Joseph Stalin hated his son, even refusing a swap to free him from prison during WW2

One of the evilest dictators in living memory, Joseph Stalin, surprisingly, was not such a great father either. When his son Yakov tried and failed to commit suicide, Stalin delivered the killer putdown, “He can’t even shoot straight”. While fighting for the Red Army, the ill-fated Yakov was seized by Germany in 1941 and Stalin imprisoned his wife as punishment. He later refused to trade a captured German officer for his son’s safe return. In 1943 Yakov died in a German concentration camp, with sources saying he threw himself onto an electric fence.

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547)

image of Henry VIII, father to 7
Henry VIII was father to 7 children, but they were only the legitimate ones...

OK, you may know the story, but look at things through his children’s eyes for a moment. In his desperate efforts to ditch your mother, your father claims their marriage has angered God – and by extension both he and God wish you’d never been born. No wonder Bloody Mary was angry. He had his second daughter Elizabeth I’s mother beheaded. Then there was his shameless favouritism of Edward over the two girls. On top of this, consider the many illegitimate children he wouldn’t acknowledge were his. A father worthy of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Hermann Kafka (1852 – 6 June 1931)

Image of Franz Kafka, who's father inspired the term Kafkaesque
Without Franz Kafka's (pictured) dad, the term Kafkaesque might not exist

Hermann Kafka was not so much a bad father as a state of mind – without him the term ‘Kafkaesque’ wouldn’t exist. In one famous anecdote, he shut his young son, Franz Kafka, outside on the balcony in his nightshirt in the middle of the night for daring to ask for a glass of water. In 1919, Kafka wrote his father a 100-page “lawyers letter”, indicting years of intimidation and emotional abuse, which – true to genre – he never sent.