Examples of Fatherhood From TV Dads

TV’s representations of fatherhood span from earnest idealizations of the 50s to cautionary tales and postmodern blends of modern times. TV dads, while fictitious, serve as de facto models of what it means to be a father. Here are some examples of the most impactful and memorable TV dads.

Ward Cleaver

“Leave it to Beaver” gave us the 50s version of perfect fatherhood with Ward Cleaver – the serious, honorable disciplinarian. He was the archetypal teacher, educating his sons about life and offering classic moral guidance. Perhaps too idealized for modern audiences, at the time he was the example of what fatherhood should be.

Andy Taylor

On “The Andy Griffith Show,” single father Andy Taylor continued the idealized father from the 50s into the 60s. Andy was the strong, honorable father out to teach his son to do the right thing. He became the iconic teacher, passing on important life lessons and serving as problem-solver to all those around him.

Mike Brady

Unusually, “The Brady Bunch” showed the process of integrating a blended family, more realistic to the cultural climate of the late 60s and early 70s, even if still a bit idealized. Mike Brady was the perfect 50s dad with slight alterations for the changing times. He was still the disciplinarian, but he sympathized with the challenges the children faced. He had a home office and often returned home at the same time as the kids, providing a slightly different example of work/life balance.

Archie Bunker

“All in the Family” broke boundaries in the 70s with Archie Bunker, the most bigoted, hateful man in TV history. He was the deconstruction of every perfect father that preceded him. While he spat racial epithets, harangued his daughter and son-in-law, and resented anything different, audiences were meant to laugh at him, not with him. The show represented the generational clash between Baby Boomers and their parents and undermined the very notion of the good father.

Heathcliff Huxtable

Even after Archie Bunker, the 80s were defined by “The Cosby Show,” which had far-reaching impact. The show was ground-breaking in its portrayal of African-American families. It held universal appeal with its combination of common-sense wisdom and laugh-out-loud quips. And it cemented star Bill Cosby as a cultural icon of the good father. Dr. Huxtable was the familiar fatherly teacher, but with comedic flair, hilariously advocating personal responsibility while also holding his kids to unwavering, rigorous standards. Even years after the series ended, people still wish Dr. Huxtable was their dad.

Tony Soprano

One hardly looks to the world of mobsters in “The Sopranos” for a model of fatherhood, but Tony Soprano can serve as a cautionary tale. He was an authoritarian who tried to control his kids’ lives, cheated on his wife, and raised children who became emotionally unstable adults. His thuggish ways extended from his work to his family and while his intent may have been the sincere desire to be a good father, everyone suffered for it.

Homer Simpson

Animated and still going after more than 20 years, “The Simpsons” has continued to appeal to viewers young and old alike. Homer Simpson is hardly the ideal father; like many modern representations, he’s often clueless and bumbling, the complete opposite of the perfect 50s father. But he does love his children and even though he often leads them astray, he’ll do anything for them. Like many modern fathers, he does the best he can and people love him for it.

Eric Taylor

As proof that representations of good fatherhood are not lost forever, NBC’s currently-airing “Friday Night Lights” shows what it means to be a good father trying to balance family and ambition in small-town America. As coach of a high school football team, Taylor serves as surrogate father to his players, constantly conflicted by doing the right thing versus doing what will win the game. He rises to the challenges facing modern fathers, not always perfectly, but more realistically than in previous representations.

Richard Castle

Eponymous lead of ABC’s currently-airing drama “Castle,” Richard Castle shows the many roles a man assumes, but most refreshing is that of father to his teenage daughter. Oftentimes he’s more childlike than she is, but during difficulties he reveals a strong, dependable father that would do any 50s idealization proud. Castle is a thoroughly modern father, moving seamlessly between teacher, friend, and child in funny and compelling ways.