Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, is a sweet yet neurotic man who is a center point of the small rural town of Highbury, in which the novel is set. Mr. Woodhouse lost his wife to illness when his two daughters, Emma and Isabella, were very young. While it’s never expressly stated, Mr. Woodhouse’s wife’s death likely caused him to develop anxious and hypochondriac tendencies. He’s constantly concerned about the safety and well-being of his daughters, friends, and himself. He believes that everyone should live the way that he does when it comes to health and diet, but this belief is born out of genuine concern, and not out of any sort of ego. His interest in the health of others is seen by his family as endearing, but not particularly rational, and his social circle tolerates his advice kindly while still indulging in whatever food or behavior Mr. Woodhouse has begged them not to partake in. Mr. Woodhouse is also concerned about being left alone in his old age. The marriages of his daughter Isabella and the beloved governess Miss Taylor (or Mrs. Weston) were deeply upsetting to him because they removed both women from the house. He’s particularly protective of Emma, his last remaining daughter, and she, in turn, is a devoted child. While Mr. Woodhouse's neuroses are often utilized as gentle comedic relief, Emma nonetheless takes his anxieties seriously and vows not to marry so that she will never be separated from her father.

However, although Emma’s loyalty is admirable, Mr. Woodhouse is not Emma’s intellectual equal, and he cannot provide the challenge and stimulation that her mind requires. He believes Emma can do no wrong, and never questions her judgment, meaning that Emma is essentially without a strong parental figure who can recognize her faults and guide her toward appropriate behavior. While Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston fulfill these roles to some extent, they only have so much power over Emma, and ultimately, Emma makes her own decisions separate from their opinions or advice. Mr. Woodhouse doesn’t have the sharpness of mind to recognize how Emma’s behavior might result in unfortunate consequences, and his constant coddling and praising of his daughter only further enable her to make frivolous and poor decisions. Although Mr. Woodhouse is undoubtedly a good man, perhaps his greatest weakness of character is his inability to see that his clever, talented daughter requires more out of life than he alone can give her. Instead, he seeks to contain her at Hartfield, keeping her from travel and marriage and effectively stifling any new experiences or opportunities that might help Emma to learn, grow, and flourish.

That said, Mr. Woodhouse’s kindness is an important quality that cannot be undervalued. His life revolves around his friends and family – he takes care to support and entertain the Bateses, treats Mr. Knightley as a surrogate son, attends and throws all sorts of events despite his anxious nature, and dotes on his daughters. Mr. Woodhouse’s goodness has affected and been passed down to Emma. Although Emma has a lot of maturing to do throughout the novel, she undoubtedly possesses a big heart and a genuine love of other people. Had she not had such a gentle father as a role model, perhaps her meaner and shallower traits would have triumphed over her good and kind ones. And while it is true that Mr. Woodhouse is a bit silly and certainly no match for Emma’s wit, Emma herself remarks that kindness is the greatest trait that someone can possess, stating that Harriet and her father are both examples of the best kind of people that the world has to offer.