It Ain't Easy Being a TV Dad

In our December issue, we wrote about new backlash to the age-old problem of TV dads being portrayed dunces. There is hope, we wrote, with a spate of new shows that are showing fathers not as oafish buffoons or lionized saints, but as actual, real people. Here’s the reasoning behind our Father Figures graphic, which ranked TV dads from worst to best, Al Bundy to Cliff Huxtable.

Al Bundy, Married with Children
Apathy to the point of contempt for his brood and wife, Peggy. Sure, Al was around on a lot watching TV, hand in pants, but there is no dad on this list who could care less.

Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
It’s obvious that Homer loves his sometimes unlovable children, and even that he actively tries to be an attentive (if comedically oafish) parents. Can’t overlook that serial strangulation thing he does to Bart, though.

Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
Juggling organized crime, therapy, and a tumultuous family life, it’d be easy to give Tony Soprano a pass on parenting. While he’s every part the authoritarian, he tries to keep his kids out of trouble and on the right track–even if he can barely hide his animosity for their friends. Also, he killed Christopher.

Dan Conner, Roseanne
Cynical? Yes. Sarcastic? Definitely. But Dan Conner also was a turns tender and trusting with his kids. He didn’t sugarcoat how difficult things can be, and if his kids weren’t TV characters, they’d probably have grown to be like him.

Carl Winslow, Family Matters
Like Dan Conner, the other blue-collar dad, Carl Winslow was first and foremost the provider. As a cop, he tried to keep his kids in line and while neighorhood kid Steve Urkel got on his nerves, he managed to mostly control himself. Plus, people learned heartfelt lessons on the show, even if it was cliche.

Cameron Tucker, Modern Family
The list’s only dad in a same-sex relationship, Cameron displays all the traits of a good dad for a baby: the constant worry, the attentiveness to the point of neurosis. But he’s prone to high drama (hey, it’s a comedy) and he often overlooks his partner’s needs.

Chris Brinkley, Up All Night
Here we enter the realistic/idealized part of the list. Chris gave up a career as a powerful corporate lawyer to be a stay-at-home dad, and while he has brief spells of nostalgia for his old self, he’s happy with, and comfortable in his role as care provider for his daughter. He’s also open and honest about his needs and expectations from his partner. Up All Night is so relateable to 30somethings it’s almost like Pam and Jim from The Office got a parenting spin-off.

Adam Braverman, Parenthood
Life and relationships may be endlessly complicated, but Adam makes it look easy…sometimes. He shares everything with his partner and talks to his children like they’re adults capable of rational, cognitive thought.

Cliff Huxtable, The Cosby Show
If the rest of the men on the list are humans, Cliff Huxtable is an archangel. Everything that happened was never so bad as it seemed, and more importantly, it was a moment for this dr. dad to expound on the virtues of staying together, or something else profound. While Cliff’s parenting offered us escape, maybe it wasn’t super realistic. Either way, no men on this list cared more deeply or more consistently or more often did the right thing that Cliff.