Where Have All the Good TV Dads Gone?


By Josh Axelrod

It’s easy to spot the worst dads on TV. They’re usually pretty in your face with their awful parenting techniques.

Let’s see, we have…

  • Tywin Lannister, who spawned three children that hate his guts. Two of his children started hooking up, which is frowned upon even in Westeros. Tywin also mercilessly berated poor Tyrion until he snapped and *Spoiler Alert* pumped a couple arrows into his father’s chest.
  • Don Draper, who only acted like a parent when he didn’t have a choice. He scarred poor Sally for life when she walked in on him screwing the neighbor’s wife.
  • Ted Mosby, who spent NINE YEARS telling his kids the story of how he met their mother, only to turn around and ask out their “Aunt” Robin. He wins my Creeper of the Year award.
  • Nicholas Brody, who brought death and destruction back with him from Afghanistan. To be fair, he might have been Father of the Year before he left for the Middle East, but, like Walter White, his actions since “Homeland” began leave much to be desired

Photo courtesy of We Know Memes

And those are just off the top of my head. But when I sat down to think of “good” TV dads, it took a lot more effort. Which begs the question: are we in an era of “bad” TV dads?

The golden age of the TV dad has long since passed. I can’t think of anyone in the current TV landscape who comes close to the heights reached by the likes of Andy Griffith, Bill Cosby, Danny Tanner and even Ray Romano.

My theory: the success of shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” spelled doom for the modern TV dad. With the exception of Ross Geller (who by all accounts was a mostly absentee father to both Ben and Emma), these were shows about youngish, single friends free from the bonds of parenthood. They spawned a billion copycats, none of which were particularly concerned with depicting the trials and tribulations of parenthood (umm, “Parenthood” notwithstanding).

GIF courtesy of Imgur

And this trend coincided with the rise of the TV “anti-hero,” like the aforementioned Don Draper and Walter White. They were meant to be complicated characters with dark inclinations, which guaranteed they would have some problems in the parenting department.

So between the half-hour sitcoms more interested in young singles than parents and the dramas veering in less black-and-white directions, there just don’t seem to be many traditionally “good” TV parents. But if you look hard enough, you’ll find some fantastic parents in strange places.

GIF courtesy of Brooklyn Nine-Nine Insider

Oddly enough, the first great TV dad to come to mind was Terry Jeffords of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Besides being the Nine-Nine’s resident voice of reason, he is also the father of two young daughters who he clearly loves more than anything. He loved them so much that he hesitated to get back into field for fear of getting hurt, which would put his family in jeopardy. Now that’s a devoted parent.

Then there’s Rick Grimes on “The Walking Dead,” whose every decision is based on a simple, primal urge to protect his family. His wife, Lori, was one of television’s worst mothers (pitting two best friends against each other for her affection) before she died giving birth to Judith “Little Asskicker” Grimes. That left a psychologically fragile Rick to take care of two children, and to his credit, they’re both still alive. In the Season 4 finale, he even kills a man by biting THROUGH HIS NECK in order to protect his son, Carl, from a band of thugs and rapists. Say what you will about the Ricktatorship, but he’s one hell of a father.

More traditionally, there’s the four dads on “Modern Family.” Their parenting styles are unique (that’s putting it nicely), but their families are all intact and their kids appear to all be relatively well-adjusted members of society. I would argue that of the four, Phil Dunphy is by far the best of the bunch. Take a look at him laying down the law with his daughter on the verge of being kicked out of college:

If you look a little bit more off the beaten path, you’ll find Tenzin on “The Legend of Korra.” One of the most interesting things about the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” spinoff has been finding out that Aang and Katara, based on how their three children turned out, weren’t the world’s greatest parents. Katara clearly favored Kaya, Aang Tenzin, and Boomi…well he was there. But Tenzin is nothing but a loving, caring father. Sure, he’s a bit of a hard-ass. And he’ll probably never approve of Kai dating Jinora (or Jinora getting tattoos for that matter). But he’s fiercely protective of his family, and only has their best interests at heart.

Finally, there’s a good chance Ben Wyatt of “Parks and Recreation” is about to join the pantheon of TV’s best dads. He and Leslie already have what is by far TV’s cutest relationship, and they just had triplets. With the exception of what are sure to be a few blueberry wine-induced drunken nights, I expect Ben to be nothing but a model father. Hopefully he can be at least half the father that Ron Swanson and Terry (aka Larry aka Jerry aka Gary) are.

Jerry Gingrich and his perfect family. Photo courtesy of Shelf3d.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few, and I can only assume there are some great dads on shows I don’t watch. Which TV dads do you think would be considered “good” parents? Let us know in the comments!

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