In honor of this Sunday being Father’s Day, I thought it fitting to take a look at some of the great television dads. This proved to be a slightly harder task than I anticipated – it was a lot easier to find TV fathers that are kind of the worst (Walter White, Tony Soprano, Donald Draper, etc.) or where being a father is a pretty minimal part of their character (the kids were pretty incidental on Everybody Loves Raymond; in plenty of other shows, male characters are fathers in name but we never see them interact with their kids). It doesn’t help that a classic sitcom trope is that fathers are buffoons that know nothing about raising no babies. But even with the cards somewhat stacked against TV dads, I was still able to find plenty of examples of fictional fathers that I wouldn’t mind having.
Dr. Cliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show)
OK – let’s get the most obvious and yet awkward choice out of the way. Cliff Huxtable’s popularity has dipped a bit recently given that the man who portrays his and is synonymous with the role is an alleged sexual predator. I get that and I did actually consider not putting him on the list for fear that this was kind of a gross choice. However, I decided that most (but not all) of my readers can distinguish fact from fiction and separate the ickiness of the actor from the greatness of the character. And by any metric, Cliff Huxtable was a pretty amazing dad. He was hands on and involved in their lives and was always there with some words of wisdom or to intervene when he saw his children straying from the correct path. He was funny and silly, but also strict and willing to get tough when needed. He was a good husband, which is also an important part of being a good father. Cliff Huxtable is really the standard by which I judge all other TV dads – I grew up watching The Cosby Show and the character made a distinct impression. That’s what makes all this nonsense with Bill Cosby all the more sad – not only is there the obvious disgustingness attached to his alleged actions, but in the process a classic TV character has been forever tainted. Cliff Huxtable would have been outraged by Bill Cosby.
Coach Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights)
Not only was Coach Taylor a great dad to his actual daughters Julie and Gracie, but he was also a father to all the players on his high school football teams. Perhaps because my own father was a volunteer coach for close to twenty years, this resonates with me all the more. Coach Taylor treated his players with dignity and respect and was a stand-in to so many of them that lacked a present and engaged male role model. Nowhere was this more evident than in his relationship with his starting QB Matt Saracen. Some of their scenes together are the most poignant and heartbreaking of the run of the series. Eric Taylor was a just a good man that cared deeply about all the young people in his life. He even loved little Gracie Bell, even though she looked like an alien. Every kid should have a man in their life like Coach.
Eddard (Ned) Stark (Game of Thrones)
The landscape of Game of Thrones is littered with nothing but tremendously shitty fathers; I can’t even imagine what Father’s Day would look like in Westeros, since most kids either don’t know the true identity of their fathers or their dads are kind of heartless or sadistic S.O.B.s. Perhaps that is why Ned Stark stood out on the show, despite the fact that he didn’t last particularly long playing the game of thrones. Unlike most of the fathers on Game of Thrones, Ned seemed to actually like his kids and see them as actual people rather than pawns or a necessary evil. He cared for them all – even his “bastard son” Jon Snow – but he had a particularly special relationship with his daughter Arya, who wasn’t interested in conforming to what society expected of her. Ned stood up for and protected his children at all costs, even when it was politically not the savviest decision. He instilled in them a sense of right and wrong; Ned was a decent guy in a world in desperate need of decent guys. Perhaps he should have hardened his offspring more to the realities of the world that they were living in, but hindsight is 20/20. In a fairly shallow pool of candidates, Ned Stark is easily the best father in Westeros.
Burt Hummel (Glee)
I tired of Glee pretty quickly, but the one thing that I thought always worked were the scenes between Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley) and his gay son Kurt. Kurt is initially afraid to come out to his father, worrying that his blue collar dad will be unable to accept him, but those fears are unfounded. What I especially liked about the relationship between Burt and Kurt is that while they love and accept each other, the show doesn’t shy away from Burt struggling a bit to understand his son. They are two very different people, which I think is an important dynamic for the show to address. But Burt always has his son’s back and proves to be a solid stepfather to Finn as well. Even when I was rolling my eyes at the rest of Glee, the moments with the Hummel men were always so beautifully done and touching that it kept me watching the show much longer than I think I would have otherwise. Full disclosure: I stopped watching Glee somewhere in the third season, so if Burt suddenly became a monster or a terrible dad I wasn’t around to see it. Unlikely, but frankly nothing was impossible on Glee.
Sandy Cohen (The O.C.)
Loyal readers of the blog have probably picked up on the fact that I have a special spot in my heart for the teen soap The O.C., which is particularly amusing given how old I was when the show debuted (I was in grad school) and my usual taste in television (dark and twisty). Not only did The O.C. introduce viewers to a lot of great indie music, Benjamin McKenzie and the term Chrismukkah, but it also had a lot of great characters, foremost among those Sandy Cohen. Sandy is a bit of a fish out of water in Newport, which is perhaps why he connects with the troubled Ryan Atwood (McKenzie) and brings him home with him. Sandy is a great father to both Ryan and his son Seth; he is very present in their lives and ready to advise them as they make their way through adolescence. Sandy is a relatively permissive father, but still provides both of his sons boundaries and stability. Plus he has amazing eyebrows.
Louie is a great, if occasionally weird, show and one of the dynamics that I enjoy the most is Louie’s relationship with his daughters Jane and Lilly. Even with all the other stuff that happens on the show, the one thing that comes shining through is Louie’s love of his children; they are always his priority and watching single dad Louie navigate slumber parties and interactions with other parents provides a lot of funny moments for the show. Louie is exasperated by fatherhood, but he also clearly loves it. He really wants his daughters to grow up to be decent people and tries to instill in them the values that will prevent them from becoming a**holes (that’s how Louie would probably phrase it). Louie provides perhaps the most modern view of fatherhood; the reality is that a lot of dads today only get to see their kids part time and have to make the most of the timeshare arrangement.
Bob Belcher (Bob’s Burgers)
Bob is probably the best of all the animated fathers (Homer Simpson’s heart is in the right place, but he’s a moron); he is able to navigate his children’s, shall we say, unique personalities and make them all feel loved and validated. He’s usually the voice of reason in his family, but he’s also proven a willingness to go above and beyond for his children. Financial necessity means that he is also his children’s employer at the restaurant, but he tries to make sure that they have some semblance of a work/life balance. Bob knows that his kids are a little weird, but he loves them regardless and just as importantly, he understands them. He doesn’t try to make them something that they are not while still trying to guide them into making the best choices. Not always an easy task when your children are Tina, Gene and Louise or when they are goaded on by the unbridled enthusiasm of their mother Linda. Bob is the glue that holds the Belcher family together and grounds them.
Your turn – who would get your vote for best television father? Nominate your favorite TV dad in the comments below. Hope everyone has a wonderful Father’s Day!