Father’s Day is Sunday and it got me thinking about television dads.
There are dads and there are dads. My wife says I’m a cross between Archie Bunker and Ray Barone. Please explain, I say. Well, like Archie, I’m quick to fly off the handle, and when I’m not being unreasonably hot-headed, then everything that should be important becomes one big joke, just like Raymond. And Raymond writes for a newspaper.
Now, I don’t intentionally pattern my life after television dads, but I see myself in a few of them. For instance, Dan Conner, Roseanne’s fictional husband, was an easy-going guy on the surface but harbored deep-rooted feelings about things. He tried his best to be a guide for his two teenage daughters and young son, but he had to deal with Roseanne and that couldn’t have been easy, whether in the land of make-believe or in real life.
Paul Hennessy (John Ritter) had two daughters and a son named Rory on 8 Simple Rules (For Dating My Daughter.) Hennessy was a good dad who knew that his kids were playing him like a deck of cards, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was helpless. Yup, that’s me. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to keep up.
Like Ward Cleaver, I catch myself beginning sentences with, “When I was your age.”
Some TV dads are nothing more than punching bags and do a disservice to dads everywhere. Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Frank Barone and Frank Costanza are all the butt of a big joke that even they don’t get. I don’t ever want to be there and thankfully, I’ve gained the respect of my wife and children and I don’t think I’ll ever get there. Another dad who didn’t get respect from his wife or his three boys was Tim Taylor on Home Improvement . He was routinely portrayed as a good-hearted well-intentioned buffoon. No thanks. I have no desire to emulate him.
Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights , on the other hand, had a remarkable relationship with his teenage daughter, Julie. He and his wife, Tami, showed audiences what a true partnership looks like. When it came to Julie, they would have a game plan ready. They’d give her just enough rope to tangle herself in and then she would cry for help and they would jump right in. Some important lessons were taught and learned.
I’d like to think that my approach to raising kids is authoritative, not authoritarian. Let them fly out of the nest. If they plummet to the ground, I’ll go down and pick them up. Buddy Garrity is another dad on Friday Night Lights. He’s the perfect example of how not to raise kids.
The Cosby Show ’s Cliff Huxtable placed great importance on a college education. Jed Bartlet also had mature, well-balanced kids, all of whom were college educated. Bartlet, after all, was the president of the United States for six years on The West Wing . Great dad.
Back in the 1960s, it seemed that there was an inordinate amount of single dads — Andy Taylor, Steven Douglas, Lucas McCain, Ben Cartwright,
Andy Taylor did a good job in raising Opie. He was television’s first single dad, as far as I remember. He had the help of Aunt Bee. Opie grew up to be a good boy, went on to play Richie Cunningham on Happy Days , and then on to direct movies. I’ve heard Ron Howard say that Andy Griffith had a great impact on his life, both on camera and behind the camera.
Another single dad in those bygone television days is Ben Cartwright. Cartwright had three sons — Adam, Hoss and Little Joe — from three wives. I don’t know their names, but I remember that one wife got shot by an Indian, one fell off a horse and banged her head and the third died at childbirth. All three sons were grown men, but Ben gave them chores to do and, as Hoss would say, “Dagnabit, they better git done.”
I’m fond of some other TV dads as well. I’m also very fond of some real life dads whose example I try to emulate. My friend Jon, an attorney, has never raised his voice with them and he and his wife have raised four wonderful children. Same thing with my friend Jack. I can’t even imagine him raising his voice. Me? Yeah, I’ve been known to raise my voice on occasion. So has Cliff Huxtable.
Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail is dshaughnessey@low ell sun.com.