With the sad passing of Tom Bosley (Mr Cunningham from Happy Days) this week, there’s been a lot of talk about the plethora of paternal examples the televisual baby sitter has given us over the years. There’s been many.
It started with the perfect, altruistic Dads. Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) from Leave It To Beaver; Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) from The Andy Griffith Show; Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon) from Little House on the Prairie; Grandpa (Will Geer) & John Walton (Ralph Waite) from The Waltons; Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) from Bonanza; Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) from I Love Lucy; Dave Sullivan (Paul Cronin) from The Sullivans. All of them were strong, a little emotionally distant, disciplinary, & loving. Everything we were told a Dad should be. What was surprising was even in the 50’s & 60’s there were a couple of single Dads in the mix already, although they tended to find a wife by season 2. What surprised me the most was how few of the actors listed above I had to look up – perhaps that’s an indication of their impact on my early TV years?
Following these examples, we started to get the sitcom Dads, with Tom Bosley as Howard Cunningham leading the way. Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) from Diff’rent Strokes; Mike Brady (Robert Reed) from The Brady Bunch; Gomez Addams (John Astin) from The Addams Family; Danny, Jesse, Joey (Bob Saget, John Stamos, Dave Coulier) from Full House; Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) from The Cosby Show; Stephen Keaton (Michael Gross) from Family Ties; Mork (Robin Williams) from Mork & Mindy. These Dads allowed us to laugh at them & with them, & in turn our own Dads. From daggy Cliff to bizarre Mork to reliable Mike this batch still could sort out the fights and teach us the lessons we needed to learn from the mistakes we’d made. Our 30 minute morals were being shaped and formed. No problem was too big for them to solve, no ending too sugary.
The knee-jerk reaction to these Dads was to show the gritty, real side of fatherhood. Dads with a mortgage and bills and problems kids couldn’t understand. Dads who had to do things they maybe didn’t like to help their family make it. Dan Connor (John Goodman) from Roseanne. Jim Robinson (Alan Dale) from Neighbours. Alf ‘flamin’ Stewart (Ray Meagher) from Home & Away. Jim Walsh (James Eckhouse) from Beverly Hills 90210. These Dads still tried to help, but they didn’t have all the answers all the time. Sometimes they weren’t even there.
Now, dysfunctional Dad (loveable or otherwise) are de rigeur. Homer (Dan Castellanetta) & Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer) from The Simpsons. Don Draper (John Hamm) from Mad Men (among others). Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) & Mitchell Pritchett (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) from Modern Family. Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) from The Sopranos. Frank Gallagher (David Threlfall) from Shameless. Dave Rafter (Erik Thomsen) from Packed To The Rafters. They make us laugh, cry & freak us out. They disappoint us the same as our own Dads & they surprise us with their insight to our problems they’d never understand. We haven’t quite come full circle but we’re as close as we’re gonna get.
Tom Bosley’s “Mr C” set the standard for the consummate TV Dads, and no one has surpassed him yet (or likely will). He was consistent, honest & direct. Every dad wanted to be like him; every kid wanted him as their dad. He wore a fez. Mr C was the one who tamed the Fonz. Everybody loved Mr C. Even Ralph Malph & Pottsie (did anyone else think it was weird when Richie left that Pottsie would still hang around with the Cunninghams? I think he had a thing for Mrs C. Creepy…)
Who are your favourite TV Dads? What makes them so special or memorable? Who have I missed?
Image Source: Smig.net