There’s a pretty interesting discussion happening at Man of the House around the topic of who is the World’s Best TV Dad and it’s gotten me thinking about the topic quite a bit. As I’ve written about before, I believe that modern culture does a disservice to us Dads by portraying us as clueless morons who want to avoid anything that might be domestic work or responsibility, while still having our pin-up sex partners.
Watch the ads on TV for even one commercial break and I’d be astonished if you don’t see at least two advertisements that convey this message, either overtly or subtly. House cleaning? Yeah, that’s women’s work (apparently none of the ad execs are single dads, or, if they are, yikes, their places must be disaster zones!). Finances? The gal’s the smart one, the guy’s a dope. Parenting? Don’t women just disseminate the concept that they’re the parent in the household and that their spouse is “just another boy”?
As you can imagine, that’s not exactly how I look at things and while I admit that I know a couple of slacker guys, I know just as many women who are basically incapable of managing what life throws at them, be it parenting, finances, interpersonal or even familial challenges. And I know a ton of guys who are smart, responsible, mature and a pleasure to hang with.
Which gets us back to how Dads are portrayed on TV. For every Bill Cosby there are five Al Bundys, Peter Griffins, Homer Simpsons, or the gaggle of Dads in South Park or even the walking disaster that is Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men.
Suffice to say, there’s not a lot to choose from in terms of a portrayal of us hard working, family-focused Dads on the ole boob tube. Still, Man of the House has pulled out a list of 32 different TV dads, highlights including: Don Draper from Mad Men (yikes! he’s not my idea of a good Dad!), Howard Cunningham from Happy Days (he was okay, but it was Mrs. C. who ran the house, as I recall) and Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie (which I never watched. Too cloying for my tastes).
What I realize as I read through the list, however, is just how little TV I watch. There are tons of shows that are apparently family dramas or family sitcoms that I haven’t even heard of, let alone watched enough to appreciate the portrayal of fatherhood.
I mean, how much TV do most people watch? Now if we were talking about Dads portrayed in movies, well, now that’s an area I’m more familiar with since I watch an alarming number of movies (and when I’m not helping out with free tech support, I’m a movie critic too, see Dave On Film for my reviews).
So maybe I need to recuse myself from this particular vote, but, then again, there are some really good writeups that are expanding my horizons a bit. For example, here’s the Man of the House profile of Don Draper:
Um, yeah. What they said. Or not. 🙂
Anyway, it’s pretty fun reading and I like the NCAA-bracket-style voting that they have set up, so spend a few minutes during your lunch break or — perhaps, I dunno — while your spouse or partner is busy cleaning or making dinner, and cast your own vote for the World’s Greatest TV Dad.
Just for the record, Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men does not play a dad.
I followed the link to the brackets. Though I was way too late to participate, I do think that Richard Castle is a great TV dad. He’s smart, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and loves both his daughter and his mother despite the requisite irritations of each of those relationships. And he’s earning a (very good) living doing something he loves, which is an example we all can use.
Though he lost in the first round, I really liked Dan Connor of Roseanne too. He was a good man who worked hard to support the family he loved. The fact that he was able to be wrong improved the character quite a lot in my eyes.
He wasn’t in the list, but I also liked Kieth Mars, played by Enrico Colantoni. He was the Sheriff first, then a private detective and dad to a high school sophomore, the eponymous Veronica Mars from 2004-2007. He did the single-dad thing incredibly well, deftly managing that transition between treating your child like a kid and treating your child as an adult.
But for me, the TV dad at the top of the heap has got to be John Walton Sr who, with Olivia, raised a family in the Appalachian foothills of the Depression. He did hard physical labor at the sawmill out back when he could and did anything he could between lumber orders. He always spoke to his family with love, but didn’t hesitate to speak harshly when it was needed – or to admit he was wrong if it proved to be so.
He lived with his wife, their seven children, and his parents in one of the poorest places in the country at the poorest time in our country’s history, yet he carried himself with pride. He disciplined with a quiet word and tried to always make time for his family. He didn’t worship with Olivia, but he got along well with the preacher and when a tree fell through the chapel roof, it was John who repaired it.
The Waltons was in the top 20 shows for five consecutive seasons, and we got to know John Walton very well. I truly believe he was the best dad American television has ever produced.