Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Evolution of Prime Time Dads: Ahead or Behind the Times?

Peter Griffin: "But where are those good old fashioned values...?" 

As Father's Day returns, it's a good time to acknowledge the archetypes that have been perpetuated over the years. The number one purveyor of the fatherhood archetype has been television. 

We know the traditional roles that father's have played - the breadwinner, wise man, the emotionally stable head of household. 

Shows that defined these types are Father Knows Best, Bonanza, My Three Sons and the Danny Thomas Show.

Fred MacMurray: the stable, pipe-smoking Dad of "My Three Sons."

Program's like The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Family Affair and even Lost in Space maintained the father as archetype of strength and wisdom despite standing outside the conventional arrangement. The Brady Bunch was quick to follow, as Mike Brady convinced me that my father, too, could invite celebrity guests to the house. Can you guess who I asked my Dad to have over?

It wasn't until Sanford and Son, Good Times, and All in the Family that another side of fatherhood was presented to viewers. John Amos regularly threatened physical harm to J.J., Fred Sanford was expected to insult Lamont and Aunt Esther, and Archie Bunker started his brand of bigotry from the comfort of his home easy chair.

Guy Williams protected his family from aliens, but his toughest job
was keeping Dr. Smith away from Billy Mumy. 

We could always find comfort in Mr. C. on Happy Days. He was not as authoritarian as the previous dads, nor valued for his sage-like advice as much as for his tolerance. As head of household, he was not as serious as the dads in real life seemed.

Jimmie Walker met his match in John Amos,
the world's most "Dyn-O-Mite" Pop. 

Fatherhood became a joke with the bad parenting of Homer Simpson, Family Guy's Peter Griffin, Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond and others. Almost every contemporary sitcom over the last twenty years has portrayed Dad as an overgrown kid who reinforces bad behavior with his own. 

Modern Family: "Closet? You'll Love It!"

Today, the archetypes for fatherhood and even family structure are continually challenged. Modern Family is a perfect example, with 3 different types of family structures, including same sex fathers, a geeky professional dad and an emotionally challenged grandfather married to a young goddess.

I wear my share of hats and love every minute with these two beauties.
TV has shown us the gamut of hats worn by fathers. Yet nothing Hollywood presents compares with my own experience of fatherhood. The best role I have ever played is the one where I am called "Dad." 

Happy Father's Day. 

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