These posts/lists were originally published at The New American Dad (www.BloggyDad.net) in June, 2013…
Part I – TV: Sunday is Father’s Day, my very first as I expect our baby girl to arrive any moment now. I felt like I had to do something special with my blog to mark this occasion. It should be something unique, powerful and moving, that will stay with readers for days… maybe even weeks! Then I wound up doing a “Best TV Dads” list. I know, it is the exact opposite. There are already a million lists out there ranking the fathers of the small screen. Well, now there are one million and one. What can I say? It is fun to think about, fun to debate, and a stroll down memory lane. Therefore, without further ado, I present my list of the top 5 TV dads:
5) Howard Cunningham – Happy Days: The show was a little before my time but I watched it often enough to have it stuck in my mind. One of the prevailing images? The patriarch, Mr. C, watching over all the kids. He was always there for them, offering advice without being too controlling. He supported them without spoiling them too much. He was loving and protective but firm when he needed to be. His fatherly love was not limited to his own children, either, as he showed a fatherly concern for Fonzie as the series progressed and they grew closer. He certainly had his limits and weaker moments, but this made him human and real. Through it all, his devotion to his family was a constant in the show.
4) Phillip Drummond – Diff’rent Strokes: As a very young child, I did not have many friends who were adopted. My first exposure to parents who adopted came when I watched Diff’rent Strokes. Fictional? Yes. It was still very formative, though. I saw a man who loved his two adopted sons as much as his biological daughter. He was a man who accepted these boys as his own in spite of racial, social, or cultural differences. He embraced and nurtured their background, too, rather than try and change it. Mr. Drummond proudly showed this love in public as well as in private. He was an early lesson that a family can come in any style, shape, or color. I loved the show and know the Drummond family had a positive impression on my broad understanding of fatherhood.
3) Martin Crane – Frasier: One, I love Martin Crane’s character because I thought he was hysterical. I loved the presence of his cantankerous, sarcastic personality on the show. I also think he is a wonderful example of a father’s love, though. His boys do not share a whole lot with him. They drink prized wines, he drinks his beer from the can. They enjoy opera, he likes whatever is playing in the pool hall. They buy fine leather furniture, he is glued to his recliner held together by duct tape. No matter these differences, though, he loves his boys and he is proud of them. Even before birth, I think many fathers form dreams of who their children will be and what they will do. Martin Crane shows us that a father’s love is unconditional and sincere, even when their interests stray from our own or they follow a path we did not expect.
2) Tony Micelli – Who’s The Boss?: The jock, the tough guy, the macho Italian stud… stays home to care for the kids and maintain the home. Sure, it is not his own home per se, but his role is still very much that of stay-at-home Dad. We know that he will do anything to improve the life of his daughter, Samantha. He is determined to protect her and maintain her happiness. In numerous episodes, we see him put his personal interest, gain, or desire aside because his role as father always comes first. This is a level of care he also extends to Jonathan, the son of Angela, his “employer”. Eventually he and Angela grow closer, and he takes an even stronger fatherly role in Jonathan’s life. As the number of stay-at-home dads rises each year, I look back at Tony Micelli as an early example of how well men can handle that role. It is clear that he was far more than a “housekeeper” to everyone who knew him.
1) Heathcliff Huxtable – The Cosby Show: My number one pick was an easy and obvious one. Cliff Huxtable was a weekly model of so many qualities we see in great fathers. Genuinely loving and caring, but clear on his expectations and consequences for not meeting them. Funny, silly, and playful but also stern and focused when the situation called for it. While he was clearly upset and disappointed with his children at times, we rarely saw him yell at them. He balanced a demanding professional career with the needs of his family. Even while he joked about older children staying in the house too long, he always made sure they got the support they needed. I have a laundry list of favorite “Dad” moments from Cliff Huxtable. This video clip is just one of them:
Honorable Mention: Carl Winslow – Family Matters; Alan Matthews – Boy Meets World; Danny Tanner – Full House; Tim Taylor – Home Improvement; Steven Keaton – Family Ties; Mike Brady – Brady Bunch; Jason Seaver – Growing Pains
Note that this list is based on my own TV viewing habits. I know there are many great TV Dads from earlier shows, but I probably didn’t watch them enough to put them on the list. Likewise, I have very little time to watch any TV series these days, so great examples from modern shows had a hard time making my list.
Part II – Film: On Friday, I kicked off my first Father’s Day by revealing my top 5 Dads from television. Today, I enjoyed a day at the movies with my own amazing father and my brother. We took in Man of Steel, a movie marked by the sacrifice of not one, but TWO fathers. First, Superman’s father on Krypton surrenders his own life and his own desires to give his son a chance in a new world. Then, the human father who took him in chooses this same sacrifice to protect Superman’s identity and safety.
Therefore, to wrap up this first Father’s Day as a parent, I present my top 5 Dads from the silver screen:
5) Chris Gardner – The Pursuit of Happyness: Throughout this movie, Chris Gardner doesn’t have a whole lot of luxury to share with his son. In fact, he is homeless. He does succeed in giving his son something priceless, however. He teaches him to relentlessly pursue your dreams and never quit. He tells him he can be anything he wants in life and then he lives that mantra. He hands his son a moral compass and work ethic that can serve him well the rest of his life. The film is a great example of how being a great father depends more on what you have within you, not what you own.
4) Mufasa – The Lion King: It doesn’t get much more fictional and unrealistic than Mufasa, but I had to include him since he embodies many of the qualities fathers aspire to, or should aspire to. He is playful, wrestling with his son in the African grasslands. He is fiercely protective, confronting any and all dangers to his child with strength and power. He is loving, teaching young Simba with a caring, tender tone. He even makes the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his life to rescue Simba from the stampede! So, while he may be entirely fake, Mufasa is a father we can still learn a lot from.
3) George Banks – Father of the Bride I & II: George has two children he loves dearly and that love is the fuel behind all his antics in these films. He has that special bond with his young son, seeing him as the “little man” in the household. Most of the time, however, the movies focus on his relationship with his daughter. His desire to protect her, make her happy, and turn her dreams into reality generates a solid foundation for two wonderful movies. His decisions make us laugh, put a smile on our face, and occasionally make us cringe. The audience feels his internal tug-of-war between seeing his daughter as his sweet little girl versus respecting the independent woman she is becoming. The depth of his devotion and his struggles make him a Dad we can relate to, sympathize with, and appreciate.
2) George Bailey – It’s A Wonderful Life: In this movie, we get to meet George as a young boy with big dreams. As he grows older, his dreams only grow bigger. He is a man ready to take on the world. He is needed back home in Bedford Falls, however, and his dreams are put on hold. Soon he is married, and then kids come along, and he continues to put his dreams on hold. His willingness to repeatedly put his own aspirations on hold for the sake of his family is admirable. He is the embodiment of “family first” in this film, whether it is protecting his father’s business and reputation or helping a sick daughter feel better. Yes, he nearly throws it all away, but even that nearly disastrous decision is driven by a desire to provide for his family. In the end, he realizes that his life as husband and father really is a dream come true.
1) Clark W. Griswold – National Lampoon’s Films: How can a father who causes so much damage, confusion, and chaos be #1 on my list? Easy… because he lives to make his family happy. He is determined to give his wife and kids the perfect vacation to Walley World. When they get to travel to Europe, he vows to make it a memorable, enriching experience for all. He tries to create the perfect family Christmas at his home. When he plans to renew his vows with the wife he loves in Vegas, he tries to make it a lasting memory for the whole family. Of course, every attempt goes completely wrong, but he refuses to let a string of disasters stand in the way of his hopes for his family. Clark reminds us that being a great Dad is all about devotion to your kids, and it is okay if it doesn’t always work out the way he had it planned. In the end, the love will still be there and it will keep the family together… ready for the next comedy of errors. My one caveat is he could probably do a better job watching his language around the kids. =)
Honorable Mention: Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, Marlin in Finding Nemo, Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, and Mac Maguff in Juno. Cases were made for Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingburd, but I could not comment on them since I have not seen them.