TV Dads: the good, the bad, and the ugly

I thought I'd take a break from encouragement and theological stuff for a minute and ponder the important question of TV dads. LOL :)

How men have been presented to us via the television broadcast is an important topic, because satan has co-opted Hollywood and TV and seeks to instill discontent, present a skewed version of the Godly family, and generally to wreak havoc.

TV is a way to present reality back to the society and when we watch enough of it, even the most outlandish presentation will seem to become normative.

I bring this up because TVLand has begun showing The Cosby Show reruns. I'm old enough to remember the show when it first came on. I had forgotten how wholesome it is. Bill Cosby is married to his first love, he works, he loves his children, he goes to church, he prays, and he is affectionate. He is not made to look like a doofus, or stupid or non-essential. He is undeniably the final arbiter of decision-making in the show.

It was a rare oasis in the midst of the inevitable decline in the institution of fatherhood as shown on television.

Below are some thoughts, and certainly are not comprehensive. I did not mention all the families on tv at the decade listed, of course. Maybe some of your faves were left out. I just want to give an overview of the progression of how fatherhood is presented and remind us of what the bible expects from dads.

50s Father Knows Best: (1949-1960). This show is representative of the best kind of family entertainment. The dad was "a thoughtful father who offered sage advice whenever one (or more) of his children had a problem." (Wiki). He was a professional man, and his stay at home wife was common-sense and supportive. Today, would tv producers even allow the show's title?

60s My Three Sons (widower), Bonanza (widower), Andy Griffith (widower), Courtship of Eddie's Father (widower). Bachelor Father (single, raising his orphaned niece). This decade began a troublesome trope in television: the motherless family. Was this due to feminism's appearance? Societal discontent that was bubbling under the surface which exploded in the latter part of the decade in the sexual revolution? In Andy Griffith's world spinster Aunt Bee helped raise the son and in My Three Sons, the grandfather and then the Dad's brother helped in the household. However, despite the lack of a mom in the household the father was presented as solid, loving, manly, involved, and in charge.

70s Brady Bunch, 1969-1974. Mike Brady is shown as an involved dad, respected community member, and successful professional. In one episode he was named Father of the Year after his step-daughter submitted an essay. Mike Brady is considered the best TV dad of that decade, but his family situation differed from the earlier nuclear family of the fifties such as Ozzie & Harriet and Leave it to Beaver. We now have a blended family, three of the children are his and three are his second wife's. Carol Brady was originally intended to be a divorcee, but the network objected, and in a compromise of sorts, they never mentioned why her first marriage ended. Remarriage was now presented as a norm.

Good Times: 1974-1979. This was the first show to depict an inner-city apartment dwelling impoverished black family. The family was nuclear, though (but the neighbor was a divorced single mom with an adopted daughter). The dad of the household was James Evans and worked at whatever he had to in order to provide for his family. He loved his wife and was warm and loving toward her as he was to his children. Both the series' main characters, John Amos as the dad and Esther Rolle as the mom, initially approved of the show's direction because it had a strong father figure and a loving nuclear family. However as the show's eldest son's character became more stereotypical (bufoonish, illiterate, and lazy) and both actors became vocal about the negative direction, first the dad was written out of the series and then the mom. Despite the loss of both parents, the show continued to do well in the ratings. The next door divorcee became the main parent.

70s All in the Family (1971-1979). Opposite Mike Brady's successful handling of his home and professional life, tv dad Archie Bunker is presented as a bumbling, gruff, bigoted, ignorant dad the family must suffer through living with. His advice was always wrong, and his ways were always out of step. He berated his wife in front of his child and in front of others by telling her to stifle herself and calling her a dingbat. I remember this being the first tv dad I would not want as my dad. During its initial run the show was a huge success and after its cancellation it was listed as one of the 'greatest tv shows of all time". Part of the set is now in the Smithsonian Institution. In my opinion this character began the decline of the tv dad. It was shown that it was OK to make the dad an ignorant buffoon and the show would still be highly rated. The rest is history: dad's authority vanished.

80s Cosby (1984-1992) vs Roseanne. (1988-1997) This was the decade of the rise of the subverted patriarchal authority. Either overtly or covertly, women took over. Cosby Show's Cliff Huxtable was an exception, but other dads such as Dan in Roseanne, Homer Simpson in The Simpsons, cede territory to the wife where the bible clearly says is the husband's/dad's. And Homer is just dim-witted and lazy.

In Who's The Boss (no more 'father knows best', now we're not so sure...) a retired major league baseball player named Tony Micelli relocates to Fairfield, Connecticut to work as a live-in housekeeper for a divorced advertising executive who was the household's sole breadwinner. Talk about patriarchal authority's diminishment! And not surprisingly the show was one of the most popular sitcoms of the mid-to-late-1980s, consistently placing in the top ten throughout most if its run. To be fair, the reason for the dad's decision to become a live-in housekeeper was to provide a better environment for his daughter after the mom died, but to take a job as a housekeeper was consistent with the 80s push for men to be presented as subservient to the woman of the house. The blended family in this case included the mom's mother as a slut. (Oops, sorry a "sexually progressive older woman.")

In the 80s the pace picked up of moms who were absent from the show, many of whom unlike in the 50s and 60s were not depicted dead, but had abandoned their kids. Diff'rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, My Two Dads, Gimme a Break, Silver Spoons, Full House, Who's the Boss?, Blossom, Empty Nest are just a few examples. The disruption of the family as presented to society via television was in full swing. What was happening in society at that time: No-fault divorce.

Dan Conner in Roseanne often battled wills with his forceful and outspoken wife (I'm being generous here). Dan was often unemployed while his wife was the sole breadwinner, and later he was depicted as an adulterer.

90s Everybody Loves Raymond, (1996-2005). Father Ray Barone was dominated by his stay at home wife, and dominated worse by his mother- who lived across the street. He was shown as a mama's boy caving in to his mother's demands while often throwing his wife's needs under the bus, often in front of the family or in public. He was selfish as a husband and a dad and was never shown as sacrificing for his family or wife. The family dynamic was depicted as political one-upsmanship, gamesmanship, or conspiratorial ploys to get one's way. The wife was not supported or nurtured but was someone to either have sex with or serve dinner-both of which he often complained about the lack thereof. The dad was shown as working for a living and providing a nice home for his family but at the same time disparaging his wife's contribution to the house as stay at home mom. The dad was shown as lazy and uninvolved, even ignorant of having fatherly abilities. (Books were given, classes were taken).

2000s Family Guy (1999–2002, 2005–2010). I have never seen this show and I never will. Wikipedia describes it: "The show revolves around the adventures of the family of Peter Griffin, a bumbling blue-collar worker. Peter is an Irish-American Catholic with a prominent Rhode Island and Eastern Massachusetts accent. He is married to Lois, a stay-at-home mother and piano teacher who, as member of the Pewterschmidt family of wealthy socialites, has a distinct New England accent. Peter and Lois have three children: Meg, their teenage daughter, who is awkward and does not fit in at school, and is constantly ridiculed and ignored by the family; Chris, their teenage son, who is overweight, unintelligent and a younger version of his father in many respects; and Stewie, their diabolical infant son of ambiguous sexual orientation who has adult mannerisms and uses stereotypical archvillain phrases. Living with the family is Brian, the family dog, who is highly anthropomorphized, drinks martinis, and engages in human conversation, though he is still considered a pet in many respects." It has been nominated for 13 Emmy Awards and has won four.

I have no words. We went from Father Knows Best to father knows nothing.

I bring this up because in watching the Cosby Show last night, there was a scene of great tenderness. Cliff comes down the stairs in the middle of the night, searching for his wife who is absent from the bed. He finds her at the desk, working. He gently asks her if anything is the matter, and she says she couldn't sleep and decided to work. He asks if he has been snoring again and she admits he was. "Why didn't you turn me over?" he asks, and she laughs and said she had turned him every which way but his snoring didn't abate, so she came downstairs. Cliff asks her to come back to bed and she says she wants to work a while longer. He looks lovingly at her for a moment and then gently picks her up and dances with her up the stairs. Her low laughter echoes in the room as the light is turned off.

This scene remained with me because it is tender. Where is the tender, selfless care by tv fathers and dads these days? Husbandly and fatherly tenderness is absent from tv today. I am not speaking of a tenderness that is effeminate, but of a strong, loving, tenderness. Most of the time today we see that if a husband (or lover) awoke in bed alone he'd smile and grab all the covers, never mind actually get up to see if his bride was all right.

The bible says a husband/father is to leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife. (Genesis 2:24). That leaves Ray Barone out.

Husbands are to have authority over their wives. (1 Corinthians 11:3). That leaves Dan Conner out.

Husbands are to respect their wives. (1 Peter 3:7). That leaves Archie Bunker out. In one Everybody Loves Raymond episode, Ray calls his wife Debra a "smelly tramp."

Husbands are to consult with their wives. (Genesis 31:4-7). That leaves Ray Barone out.

Husbands are to love them. (Ephesians 5:25-33). That leaves Dan Conner out.

Fathers are to love their children. (Psalm 103:13). That leaves Family Guy out.

Fathers are to discipline their children. (Hebrews 12:7). That leaves Ray Barone & Homer Simpson out.

Fathers are to train their children in the way they should go. (Proverbs 22:6; Eph 6:4). In the one episode in Everybody Loves Raymond I saw that showed some kind of faith, Debra asked Ray why he didn't go to church, and his response was typically selfish. He was pressured into going and then spent the entire episode envying his father and brother's 'escape' into the vestibule to count the offering money, when he wasn't daydreaming or nodding off, that is. Except in the Cosby Show, I never have seen positive portrayal of prayer, church or the Lord mentioned on a sitcom. (above, Ray in bathrobe eating cereal out of the box while his nicely dressed family leaves for church)

One show that I do enjoy for presenting Godly men in Christian households is Duck Dynasty. Every episode ends with a prayer (though editors chop out the part where they say "In Jesus's name"). The men are caring, involved, patriarchs, Godly men who do not swear, love their wives and run their households according to biblical standards. When the son was wrestling with a big decision he had to make his father offered the following advice: "Anytime I make a decision, I take a walk in the woods and talk to the Almighty." Satan must hate this show.

Brethren, please consult your bible to see how fathers and husbands are shown and try to keep your children from watching shows that are contrary to it. If you do watch shows or movies that vary with the biblical presentation of dads, then talk to your older children about the difference, and emphasize what the bible expects from men in those roles. It makes a difference what we show to our kids. Even better, strive to BE that husband and father that God enables you through the Spirit to be.

If you know of some good and Godly shows where the men are presented biblically, please do share.

Above, patriarch Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty prays over the family before dinner


  1. Nice post about how fathers are portrayed on TV. How about Tom Selleck as the Police Commissioner in Blue Bloods? His family has a meal together at the end of the show and they pray together. I believe I have heard them say the name of Jesus. I agree with you about TV. I block quite a few channels on our TV, and we still must discuss what is appropriate and what is not and why.

  2. I enjoyed this article Elizabeth. I loved (and still watch) the Cosby show. Cliff's love for Claire (and vice versa) was a joy to watch. The whole family's love for each other was great. My favorite show, that I am glad I can still watch today thanks to the Hallmark Channel is Little House on the Prairie. Talk about a man of the house; no one does it better than Charles Ingalls. The family prayed together, laughed and loved together.
    I will have to make a point to check out Duck Dynasty and you are right, Satan probably does hate the show lol.


    1. Hi Marrell,

      Thanks! I thought about including Charles Ingalls but decided not to because his show was a historically based show and men of the 1800s were supposed to behave that way I enjoy that there is so much syndication of it, because his character was a Godly man and a family man.

      In the season 2 opener of Duck Dynasty the grandkid asked the patriarch-grandpa if he could use hsi boat to take his date out. He said sure...then said he would come along, lol. The kids said "Uhm Grandpa, I think I got this..." but grandpa ignored it. He was going to be a chaperone no matter what. He ended up teaching them both about courting and how a man treats his lady. ("no touching below the neck until you sign on the dotted line")

      In the other sub plot, the CEO of the Duck company, Willie, was teaching his daughter how to drive. She was a terrible driver. The uncle tried. Then the great-uncle. All failed. When it came time to take her to her driving test the girl said, "I'm not ready. I am a terrible driver." How many teenagers are that responsible?! What a good thing for kids to see on TV!

      The family says they know they are holding hands with the devil to enter the fray of broadcast reality television. They bristle that their faith is 99% chopped out. Only once did they complain though: the producers added in a bleep noise when they hadn't cursed. The objected, saying "We don' cuss!". They said that they plan to get around the deliberate omission of their faith when, during their cross country bus tour to promote the show, they will evangelize and make it a revival. You notice on the bio listings two employees who were not saved when they came to work there, but are saved now. Phil Robertson is a relentless witness for Christ.

      What you see on the show beneath the silliness the producers like to play up, is a God-fearing family, courtesy, respect, and biblical roles for parents and kids. Last season there were 13 episodes. I hope this season's 20-something planned episodes doesn't start down the slippery slope ...

    2. Wow! You have encouraged me to really want to check out that show Elizabeth. It is a shame that so much is being done to hinder their beliefs, but being that it is Hollywood, it is expected. I hope that the show continues to be a success. It sounds like the breath of fresh air that is needed.

      Also good point about Charles Ingalls; men were supposed to act that way back then. I am glad that it is in syndication as well. I think I will be turning to re-runs and my DVD's a whole lot more in the future


  3. Could have discussed Family Ties. A basically functional family with children going astray and being brought back by their parents. The father, Steven, was not an archetypal authority figure but his uncertainties were at least portrayed with reasonable realism and sensitivity. Surely the parents loved each other and were always there for their kids. In real life, the show's breakout star Michael J. Fox and his wife have so far done nearly everything right: stayed together despite their profession's notorious marriages of convenience; raised their children in a wholesome environment far from the destructive influences of Hollywood; and have refused to let their personal lives become fodder for paparazzi while always being accessible professionally.

    1. thanks Anonymous. That certainly is a good one! I appreciate the input. :)


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