Father’s Day is Sunday, in case you needed a reminder to get out there and find your dad a tie, a dumb card, or some other form of give-up, half thought-out gift that your dad probably doesn’t care about. This will be my fourth Father’s Day as an actual father and let me tell you, it’s not too shabby. Sleep in, brunch at a greasy spoon, some kind of low-key activity that requires no energy, nap, etc. In the past I’ve written very serious parenting advice for Father’s Day (http://briandgill.com/parenting/ if you care though seriously I don’t know why you would) but all of that pales in comparison to the question I intend to answer here: Who are the best TV dads? This is very serious stuff, you guys. Studies (probably) show we tend to model the parenting behavior we personally witness and since we all watch too much TV, it stands to reason that TV dads will have some impact on the way we (read: “I”) parent. So which TV dads should we be looking to for parental guidance? I polled our listeners on Twitter and got hundreds of suggestions to help me sort through the plethora of options.
NOTE: The best TV dad of all-time is Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. This should go without saying. Unfortunately, the legacy of Dr. Huxtable has been irreparably damaged thanks to Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes. Maybe you can watch The Cosby Show without feeling uncomfortable but I can’t so, Dr. Huxtable is out.
Let’s start with a few TV dads who are actually the worst.
Al Bundy, Married with Children
As a (potentially?) good father, I believe there is never been a “stronger” personification of awful fathering, and all the stereotypes that go with it, than Al Bundy. In the words of MacGruber, “I learned a lot from you. Mostly what not to do but that’s important, too.” You suck, Al.
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
I’m of the opinion that you can learn a lot from The Simpsons; it’s always been a deceptively deep show. What you cannot learn from The Simpsons, however, is proper parenting. In Homer’s defense, he tries, sometimes harder than others, to be a good dad and perhaps he’s doing the best he can. But his track record is sketchy and he’s almost murdered his son hundreds of times. Also, he doesn’t seem to realize his children never age. Neglectful.
Jax Teller, Sons of Anarchy
I think Jax Teller would tell you he IS a good father. He writes journals to his kids on the regular, he tries to get them away from the life he leads, etc. But in reality, Jax perpetually makes decisions that put his kids directly in the line of fire and one of them literally gets abducted by the Catholic church. Not great, Jax.
Ross Geller, Friends
Ross illustrates the difference between loving your child and actually being a good parent. I have no doubt that Ross loves Ben (and I assume Emma, too, though that’s never really established if we’re being honest) but if you catch Ross when he’s had a few margaritas, he definitely admits he’s basically an absentee father. Ben’s therapy bills are going to be substantial.
Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother
Let me tell you something, Ted Mosby. Giving your kids a longwinded story about how great their now-deceased mother was only to pull the rug out from under them by admitting she was trash compared to your best friend’s ex-wife is about the most egregiously bad parenting I have ever seen on screen. You’re the worst, Ted Mosby, and you didn’t deserve Tracy McConnell.
Now, on to the better TV dads. It should be noted that since this is my list, it is beholden to shows I have actually seen. So, if you’re a TV dad from a show I haven’t seen most or all of (Bob’s Burgers, The Wonder Years, Malcolm in the Middle, etc.), you’re out of the running by default with my apologies. You can pick up your ceremonial tie on the way out.
20. Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
Whoa, we’re right out the gate with a controversial father choice! Can a mob boss be a good father? Turns out, yeah, he can, as long as your name is Meadow and not AJ. Tony botched it with AJ, no question, (in his defense, AJ was a beating and I might not try too hard with him, either) but he tries hard with Meadow to mostly positive results (though we’ll choose to ignore the time he strangled a man while on a college visitation).
19. Jack Bauer, 24
Few TV dads go to the lengths to protect his children like Jack did. Were the results always positive? Uhhhhh, no, not at all. Would the show have been better if Kim Bauer would’ve been eaten by a cougar in season two? Absolutely, without question. But it doesn’t change Jack’s efforts.
18. Lawrence Fletcher, Phineas and Ferb
Pro-tip for new or future dads: Phineas and Ferb is the greatest kid’s show of all-time. I would watch it even if I didn’t have a kid. Total lifesaver in the kid’s TV world. Lawrence is relatively oblivious but on the occasions that he is in on his son’s shenanigans, he’s incredibly supportive and encouraging.
17. Louis Huang, Fresh Off the Boat
Louis is the personification of the Dorky Dad, a classic TV dad trope. Is he a bit lame? Sure. Does he understand his son’s obsession with hip hop and Shaquille O’neal? Nah, not really. But that doesn’t keep him from trying his hardest to connect and carve out a great life for his family.
16. Ray Barone, Everybody Loves Raymond
I didn’t truly appreciate Ray until my son started walking. Suddenly, I understood why he was so beaten down all the time. Dude is just trying to get some work done in his home office and he’s constantly being interrupted by his lovely family. Let the man get some work done, Debra and Kids!!!
15. Terry Jeffords, Brooklyn 9-9
When Brooklyn 9-9 is inevitably cancelled because too many idiots didn’t watch it, I hope Mike Schur just spins off Terry Jeffords into his own show. No “Girl Dad” goes to the comedic lengths to keep his girls happy like Terry does. You’re an inspiration to us all, Terry.
14. Red Forman, That 70’s Show
Red is the classic “There When You Need Him Dad.” Super gruff and rough around the edges, constantly calls you a mean name I can’t type here, doesn’t understand your weird fashion choices, etc. But when the stuff hits the fan, Red is there, man. And on top of that, he’s gonna be there for your ne’er-do-well buddies.
13. Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
The only reason Ron doesn’t rank out in the top five is the infrequency with which we got to see him parent. A later-in-life parent, Ron’s no-nonsense style served him incredibly well both with his stepdaughters and his newborn son. How many TV dads have ever shot down a drone on their front yard in the interest of protecting their child’s privacy? Only Ron (bleeping) Swanson.
12. Ned Stark, Game of Thrones
Ned is a tough love kind of dad but he’s a bang-up father to all of his legitimate kids and his (fake) bastard, teaching them the ways of the world while still doting on them appropriately. But then he dies because he’s too stubbornly attached to his principles and his entire family gets thrown to the lions, as it were. Good dad in life but pretty miserable dad in death if we’re being honest.
11. Walter White, Breaking Bad
Okay, now hear me out. Was Walter White a good person? Absolutely not. A drug dealer, a murder, a child poisoner, a purveyor of Pontiac Aztecs…these are all major flaws in Walter White’s character and by the end of the show, he was irredeemable. All of these things are factually true. But…was he a good father? I would make the case that while his measures were jumbled and twisted, his motive was pure. At the end of the day, he was a terminally ill man who just wanted provide support for his family. Best of intentions and what not.
10. Joe West, The Flash
There is literally no flaw in Joe’s dad game. Raised a successful daughter all by himself: Check. Raised a surrogate son when his parents abandoned him: Check. Had an unknown-and-fully-grown son dropped on his plate out of nowhere and immediately stepped in to parent: Check. Joe West is a dad hero.
9. Steve Keaton, Family Ties
With apologies to Jason Seaver and Jack Arnold, Steve Keaton is THE dad of the 80’s. He worked hard at a job that made a difference in the world, he raised three very successful children and Andy (who probably wound up in jail, I think we can all agree), and he supported Alex in spite of his utter betrayal of the family’s lifestyle and commitment to the Raegan administration. He even helped Uncle Ned get clean. Flawless.
8. Murray Goldberg, The Goldbergs
I didn’t have a single listener suggest Murray Goldberg which suggests that either no one watches the Goldbergs (likely) or none of you can see through Murray’s shouting and general crankiness to the heart of gold within. Much like Red Forman, Murray is a “There When You Need Him Most” kind of dad. Unlike Red, Murray is quicker to rise to the occasion and fills his role more out of love and less out of a sense of responsibility. Repeatedly mocking your kids and spending most of your time in your recliner can’t hide your gentle spirit forever, Murray.
7. Phil Dunphy, Modern Family
Modern Family has always been a bit overrated but somehow Phil Dunphy has remained underrated despite two Emmy’s and five nominations. He is earnest, he is hilarious (usually unintentionally, but still), and he loves his kids with zero qualifications. In a perfect (very dark) world, Claire would’ve died (tragically but with dignity) after, like, season three and Phil would’ve be spun off into his own show called Phil’s-o-sophy with just him and the kids before Ariel Winter and Nolan Gould got annoying. I would watch that for ten seasons.
6. Sandy Cohen, The OC
I had Sandy off my list originally because I quit on The OC after season two. But so many of our listeners suggested him that I had to revisit my appreciation for this man and by golly, this is a good dad. So here he is. Sandy works hard at his job, he supports his son’s weird quirks, he surfs (!!!), and he took in Ryan Atwood and his myriad facial expressions when no one else would. AND!!! He eats a nutritious breakfast with his family EVERY SINGLE MORNING like a champ. Most mornings I just give my kid a cold Pop-Tart and drink my coffee on the way to the office. I’m in awe of Sandy Cohen.
5. Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights
Okay, exclusively as a father, Coach Taylor’s track record is a little spotty. Julie Taylor lives a sketchy life in Dillon, Texas and Eric is at least partially responsible for Gracie Belle’s forehead, genetically speaking. But I’m a sucker for and a big proponent of the Surrogate Father and Coach Taylor is one of the all-time greats in this category. Coach Taylor will give my beloved Tim Riggins a room to crash in, he’ll console Matt Seracen when his father dies, and he will absolutely fight JT McCoy’s dad in an Applebee’s parking lot. If you’re a mildly talented high school football player in West Texas in need of a father figure, you can do no better than Eric Taylor.
4. Uncle Phil Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Here’s my big question for Philip Banks pre-Fresh Prince: At what point did he become an involved father? Because he clearly punted on Hilary and Carlton, right? Hilary is just a slightly scaled down version of Mona Lisa Saperstein and Carlton…honestly, it’s a miracle Carlton didn’t die of a wedgie. But Uncle Phil seems to have gotten it right with Ashley and he NAILS the Surrogate Father stuff with Will. He gave Will a place to live and moreover, treated him as one of his own despite all of Will’s endless shenanigans. Phil didn’t even seem to notice when his wife got a face lift midrun. A true class act, that Uncle Phil.
3. Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, Home Improvement
*Extended grunt that I can’t figure out how to spell appropriately* Who doesn’t love the Toolman? Probably Al. Al probably doesn’t love the Toolman. But you know what, Al, back off! No one wants to watch Tool Time with Al Borland. More like “Bore Time” with Al Borland. (Very bad dad joke, I’m sorry.) In all seriousness: Tim Taylor is very important to the advancement of better fathering. Tim Taylor is the first TV dad I can remember who was both a “man’s man” AND a consistently loving, caring father with his sons. Before Tim Taylor, most good TV dads were “manly” men who softened in times of need (Red Forman types), gentler men whose everyday persona was more passive (Steve Keaton), or guys who were softer with their daughters but harder on their sons (Heathcliff Huxtable). Nothing wrong with ANY of those characters or their tropes. But Tim Taylor got his hands dirty doing manly work then came home and hugged his sons. He was a very progressive character on this front and I think that played a part in changing the expectations for good dads. *Grunt grunt grunt*
2. Michael Scott, The Office
I’m playing the Surrogate Father card big time here but make no mistake, Michael Scott is the father of Dunder Mifflin Scranton and he deserves all the accolades we can give him. He led his family bravely even when he didn’t know what he was doing (the Scranton branch always outperformed other branches/families), he handled squabbles and infighting (Jim and Dwight prank wars only got out of hand after he’d left the show), he made jokes his “kids” hated (a major part of being a dad), he even walked one of his “daughters” down the aisle at her wedding (even if he did get shown up by Albert Lapin, that attention whore in a wheelchair *pfft*). More to the point, even if (at times) the Dunder Mifflin crew didn’t think of Michael as their father, Michael ALWAYS believed he was just that, even stating so (in the most awkward, Michael Scott fashion imaginable) at Dwight and Angela’s wedding. So…he’s a father in my book.
1. Alan Matthews, Boy Meets World
I’ve made some jokes here today but truthfully, if you suddenly became a father and had no other fatherly influence from which to draw on, if you just copied Alan Matthews, you’d do all right. My dude works HARD at a job he hates because it’s what he has to do to put food the table. He wakes his kid up in the middle of the night to watch a no hitter on the West Coast. He gives his kids responsibility and expects them to do as they’re told but he’ll go to bat for them if he feels their teacher is being too hard on them. He gives advice but still leaves room for his kids to make their own decisions. He stands in as the Surrogate Father for a kid who DESPERATELY needs it. There is no flaw to be found in Alan Matthews. Get Alan Matthews some Father of the Year awards, a cold drink, and a nap. He’s earned some time off.