It's Father's Day Weekend!
While my wife keeps telling me I am not allowed to stretch it into an entire weekend, it's my blog so I say yes. And as part of that, I'm celebrating with a special post about sitcom dads. I'm a big believer that, outside of your own family, pop culture can have the biggest impact on how you approach parenting. Think about it - how many situations have new parents faced that they would have never seen before outside of a television show? And sure, there are drama series dads, but let's hope you aren't taking parenting advice from Walter White. (Coach Taylor or Jack Pearson? That would be fine.)
Let me introduce you to my blog partner for today. John Saeger is a blogger and freelance writer. He is a suburban Philadelphia cat dad who lives in Narberth, PA with his wife Janet. He has written the Philadelphia pop-culture blog www.flatcircleblog.com since April 2017. You can follow the Flat Circle on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
John has a great perspective on pop culture, and I thought it would be interesting to hear about what a guy who doesn't have kids thinks of sitcom dads versus how I might view them. It turns out that funny is funny is funny. While this is by no means comprehensive or ranked, it is a highlight of who has made a lasting impression on us. See who we love below, and then leave a comment about what sitcom dad has always been your favorite!
Honorable mentions to Philip Banks, Carl Winslow, and Frank Lambert. And a million others. We didn't even try to touch cartoon dads.
Phil Dunphy - Modern Family
Andy: Here’s what I love about Phil Dunphy. He just loves his family. A lot. His character’s entire POV is that he would do anything for them, but that he’s also a klutz and scatterbrained, so things don’t always work out. I can completely empathize! It’s refreshing to see a dad like him on TV that is cherished for wanting to be a more involved dad, and that, while he rides a Segway and owns a magic shop, he isn’t your traditional goofy dad like that can’t take care of his own kids. He’s big on providing for them, on finding new ways to hang out with them, and on soaking up every moment of childhood. Honestly, it’s unattainable! But cool to see, and hilarious to watch.
John: It’s interesting that the character of Phil Dunphy is in the same series as Ed O’Neill, who probably portrayed the worst TV Dad of all-time in Married With Children. Within a generation, O’Neill went from a series that showed a trainwreck, salt of the earth family to a show that depicts an anti-nuclear family. A raunchy series like Married With Children probably would not be on network television today. That series ran from 1987 to 1997. Modern Family would not have seen the light of day on a big four network in 1997, which was also the same year that Ellen Degeneres came out on television.
Tim Taylor - Home Improvement
John: Tim Taylor was always the dad who tried too hard. There was always too much power, but all of his efforts came from a place of love. He wanted to provide the best, biggest thing for his family (often to his own detriment).
A consistent formula of Home Improvement was that Tim Taylor would run into a situation from an unthinking, too-masculine perspective. Eventually, his misdeed would lead to a conversation with his neighbor, Wilson. Tim would think about it, grunt, and try to correct his mistake through compromise. Sometimes the plot would be reversed and Jill Taylor (played by Patricia Richardson) would find herself in a similar situation.
While those stories are exaggerated, I find this to be a very real portrayal of family growth. It is so easy to be wrapped up in your own perspective without taking someone else’s into consideration. One storyline that I find to be interesting is Tim’s struggles with Jill’s transition into becoming a psychologist. Even though he does not react well, a change in a partner’s status can be a very real thing that threatens relationships. Neither Tim nor Jill is perfect or idealized and I find that to be refreshing.
Andy: I’m really glad you picked Tim Taylor, as I grew up watching this show and it was one sitcom my whole family enjoyed. I agree with what you’re saying here: Tim often came in stubborn and even sexist when he was faced with a situation, and he’d need an outside reminder. Jill trying to be a mom and hold down a career is a perfect example, and in hindsight, what a great storyline to put out there. They didn’t try to make it seem like Jill was in the wrong. Or that Tim would just automatically go for it. That's not to mention when Randy had that cancer scare and Tim had to let his guard down so that his son could feel OK being scared. Or a classic clip like the one above when he's trying to pass on his knowledge to his son, which was his way of showing affection. Now, in recent years, Tim Allen’s brand of comedy has veered much harder into the conservative/Republican territory. Maybe that was him all along. But when it came this show, all were welcome to grunt along.
Jesse Katsopolis - Full House
Andy: You’d think I’d want to talk about Danny Tanner. But I have a tougher time to relating to him - he was a widow with three daughters (and a childhood friend who, um, lived with him into his 40s?). Jesse? I get him. He has twins, like me. He has a beautiful, talented wife, like me. And he was trying to balance being a dad, making money, and finding time for music. In my case, I find time for doing comedy. Jesse represented a different kind of dad. A father who may not love the idea of, say, changing diapers, but still jumps right in. A guy who, as an uncle, held a birthday party in a mechanic’s garage for his niece. A guy who spent one entire episode trying to get his infant twins to say “Today is Mother’s Day” because he wanted Becky’s first Mother’s Day to be special. Sure, he messed up a lot, and sometimes had tunnel vision without thinking of consequences. But he did have a great head of hair!
John: It’s funny that you picked Jesse Katspolis. I probably haven’t watched Full House in 20-25 years and I always think of him as an uncle instead of a father. I think some of my perceptions are from John Stamos coming off as someone who relishes the bachelor lifestyle. I have a weird lasting image of Full House. There was an episode where the Tanner family was invited to be on stage with the Beach Boys at the Rose Bowl. Even at the time, I remember thinking that if I was at the concert I would be thinking “Why is this family on stage with the Beach Boys?” For some reason, that episode has stuck with me as being one of the oddest things that I have seen on television.
Louis Huang - Fresh Off The Boat
John: I love how Louis Huang tries to bond with his kids. He may be the most caring father on television right now. He wants the world for his children. Louis yearns to be the cool dad who is best friends with his children as they grow up.
Louis wields unwavering optimism, which is a stark contrast to his wife. From a television perspective, his character’s dynamic with Jessica Huand is interesting.
Both Louis Huang and Murray Goldberg (from fellow ABC comedy The Goldbergs) are reversals of the typical sitcom dad. In both instances, The Goldbergs and Fresh Off The Boat cater to the mother as being the more outlandish character. Even though Jessica’s storylines can be tiring, the approach remains refreshing. The dynamic of the mother being the primary originator of comedy is an unusual approach that we may see more of over time as sitcoms become more balanced.
Andy: I haven’t had the chance to watch this one, but I do appreciate that ABC is making a commitment to show different points of view and different family structures. Won’t it be interesting in 10-15 years when teens who are watching these shows with their parents now eventually become parents themselves? Because beyond your own parents, pop culture is what you lean on for references. The more variety, the better.
Andre Johnson - Black-ish
Andy: I had never seen a dad like Andre Johnson before, which I guess is the point — there aren’t a lot of black dads on sitcoms throughout television history. You’ve got your Cosbys, your Banks, your Winslows, sure, but the fact that you can probably name them all speaks to how little representation there is. I only recently got into Black-ish, and I’m so glad I did. It’s hilarious! Andre is constantly trying to remind his kids of their culture, which is not something you see on sitcoms too often — a POV about the importance of showing your kids where they came from, with frank conversations about race woven into slapstick comedy and pop culture throwaway lines.
Basically, every episode has some angle on what it means to be a dad in the modern world! And in his case, I love that they are realistic. He’s involved and loves his family, but his flaw is that he often tries to swoop in and solve everything (sounds like most guys, right?) without thinking things through. They don’t have his wife nag him like you often see in a sitcom. They are equal partners in parenting, just with very different methods.
John: ABC has a block of family sitcoms (Fresh Off The Boat, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, and Black-ish) that depict a diverse group of families. Black-ish is a unique show for the reasons you mentioned. Of those series, Black-ish brings political and social discussions into its scripts most often. Dre is definitely an overbearing Dad who frequently has to learn to take a step back every now and then. The show does a very good job of balancing those moments between himself and the mother, which is very real. Instead of the same parent constantly reining in the other, both have their moments where they have to do a little mutual evaluation.
Andy Griffith - The Andy Griffith Show
John: The Andy Griffith Show is dated when you compare it with television in 2018. While The Dick Van Dyke Show challenged the status quo on multiple levels, Mayberry, North Carolina is milquetoast and ignored many cultural shifts of the time. The Andy Griffith Show’s premise was based on nostalgia and depicts the whitewashed television I tend to associate more with an earlier period, yet the series ran until 1968.
Andy Taylor, however, is a unique character relative to his contemporaries. He was a single father trying to raise a young boy. While Taylor was the smartest guy in town, his status as a single dad allowed him to avoid the “man of the house” parenting narrative that so often beleaguered family sitcoms of the time.
One recurring theme of The Andy Griffith Show was an emphasis on knowing right from wrong. Taylor consistently wielded a strong moral compass as a police officer and father. He also avoided the slapstick Dad routines that frequent family sitcoms. That fell to his deputy, played by Don Knotts.
Andy: I had no idea that series ran til 1968! I think Andy Griffith is the quintessential sitcom dad when it comes to “dads who teach moral lessons.” That’s who you think of. I wonder how a show like that would do today. Compared to Andre Johnson from “Black-ish” - aside from the fact that “Black-ish” would NEVER have been made 60 years ago - both are focused on dads who are big on teaching moral lessons. But the style is dramatically different.
Thanks for reading our list! Leave a comment below about what we missed, and please make sure to share this post! Special thanks to John for putting this together with me - give him a follow on Twitter. Also, if you haven't yet, make sure you take a look at the sneak preview for my upcoming book, The New Mom's Guide to New Dads.