Published January 13, 2015
He took you fishing. He told you all about the birds and the bees. He was there to lend a sympathetic ear when you didn't make the pom-pom squad — Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
Thank goodness for the boob tube. This Father's Day, let's give thanks to the dads who really taught us everything we know: the ones on television.
"You're honest and expect others to be. That's a good philosophy, but don't always depend on it."
—Jim Anderson, "Father Knows Best" (1954 to 1960)
If there were ever a template for the sitcom family, it was the Andersons. A well-coiffed insurance agent by day, Jim Anderson traded his suit for a sweater and slacks to dispense moral lessons to his two kids along with his hotter-than-he-deserved wife by night.
Although the simple moralistic truths he spouted could have come straight out of Hallmark cards, actor Robert Young's quick wit and wry delivery kept Jim from sounding like a substitute Sunday school teacher.
When originally broadcast on the radio, the show was titled "Father Knows Best?" By the time it made it to the newfangled television set in the mid-'50s, the producers decided that the question mark was unnecessary.
"All of you who do not have a job, raise your hands. And while you have your hands up, I want you to look down. Because for guys who aren't working, I'm seeing expensive sneakers."
—Cliff Huxtable, "The Cosby Show" (1984 to 1992)
Of all the sins of '80s clothing — leg warmers, shoulder pads, acid-washed jeans — where, oh, where did Cliff Huxtable manage to conjure up that endless stream of tacky sweaters?
If Cliff's fashion sense was lacking, he more than made up for it in common sense. Despite the daily exhaustion of dealing with his five children, Cliff was always there to point them in the right direction with a well-timed wisecrack.
Bill Cosby had an extraordinary amount of creative control over the show and his political views, especially his advocacy of higher education, were always front and center. Those messages resonated with viewers, and the Huxtables enjoyed five seasons as the top-rated show on network TV.
"You're never too old to do goofy stuff."
—Ward Cleaver, "Leave It to Beaver" (1957 to 1961)
Despite a popular recollection of Ward Cleaver as being the patron saint of fatherhood, the Beav's old man was not quite the superdad he is cracked up to be.
Ward was often distant, sometimes gave out poor advice — remember when he encouraged the Beav to get into a fight with a girl? — and was known to lose his temper.
What makes Ward Cleaver the dad of all dads, however, is his ability to see his own faults and laugh at them.
"I want to share something with you: the three sentences that will get you through life. No. 1: 'Cover for me.' No. 2: 'Oh, good idea, boss.' No. 3: 'It was like that when I got here.''"
—Homer J. Simpson, "The Simpsons" (1989 to present)
Once bemoaned by President George H.W. Bush as a symbol of decaying family values, Homer has bumbled his way into America's heart — or maybe the definition of satire finally made it into the White House dictionary.
Despite being a beer-swilling, half-witted tub of lard, Homer is completely devoted to his family and is always there for them. He would literally sell his soul to save his family — or was that a box of donuts?
"I ain't got no respect for no religion where the head guy claims he can't make no mistakes. Like he's — whaddya call it — inflammable."
—Archie Bunker, "All in the Family" (1971 to 1979)
"All in the Family" was morally outrageous before being morally outrageous was cool. Archie Bunker may have been the most racist, homophobic blasphemer to grace the small screen until Eric Cartman was doodled into "South Park."
Unlike the rotten-to-the-core Al Bundy of "Married With Children," Archie evolved over the course of the show. By the time "All in the Family" went off the air, Archie had taken a Jewish girl into his home, hired a black housekeeper and even tried to stop a cross-burning.
Instead of being just an example of what not to do, Archie Bunker serves as an example of how even the most hard-hearted can be redeemed.
"Those who want respect, give respect."
—Tony Soprano, "The Sopranos" (1999 to 2007)
Morality might not have been the big guy's strong point, but Tony Soprano knew how to run a tight ship. And learning how to put your foot down is a delicate art, whether you are dealing with greasy extortionists with no respect for the law or two teenagers.
Tony was also fond of the maxim: "A wrong decision is better than indecision." On the surface, it's counterintuitive, but a leader who doesn't lead is, well, not much of a leader at all.
"If you can't fight 'em and they won't let you join 'em, best get out of the country."
—Pappy Maverick, "Maverick" (1957 to 1962)
OK, the father of the slickest family of card sharks in the Wild West only actually appeared in one episode, but as much as he was quoted, he may as well have been in every one.
Pappy's aphorisms were at once side-splittingly hilarious and mind-bogglingly poignant. To wit: "Never cry over spilt milk; it could have been whiskey."
"What would be love? Well, Rich, let's just say that one little part of love would be that you think more of what's good for the one you love than for yourself."
—Rob Petrie, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961 to 1966)
Rob and Laura may have slept in separate beds, but the Petries weren't afraid to address hot-button issues like race, religion and infidelity.
Unlike the morally cocksure patriarch of "Father Knows Best," Rob Petrie is a thoughtful dad who strived to build a better home through rational dialogue with his family.
"When a man carries a gun all the time, the respect he thinks he's getting might actually be fear. So I don't carry a gun because I don't want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I'd rather they respect me."
—Andy Taylor, "The Andy Griffin Show" (1960 to 1968)
There's never been a place quite as wholesome as Mayberry, which appears to be wholly the work of Sheriff Andy Taylor.
As one of TV's first single dads, Andy spent a good portion of his time having heart-to-heart talks with his son, Opie, and anybody else who crossed his path via a charming (if slightly irritating) Socratic method.
"If you're going to do something, you've got to give it all you've got."
Mike Brady, "The Brady Bunch" (1969 to 1974)
One of TV Land's strictest disciplinarians, Mike Brady is also one of the fairest. Even his kids thought so — remember when Marcia won him the father of the year contest? Although Mike takes a firm hand with his kids, he is even-tempered and compassionate.
But just because Mike is a stickler for the rules doesn't mean he can't have a "groovy time" — after all, how many fathers of six are down to sport a perm?
Of course, none of these TV dads could exist without real dads to imitate. So, don't forget to thank your flesh-and-blood papa this Father's Day. After all, he might not be an actor, but he plays your dad in real life.