Father's Day is this coming Sunday, so there's no better time to come up with a selection of the top ten fathers on television. The tube has generally moved away from depicting family life, but dads have always made their mark in prime time, especially in the sitcom world. Apologies for not including Homer Simpson -- a tough cut, but all those night at Moe's when he should have been reading bedtime stories disqualified him.
10. Red Forman, That '70s Show (Kurtwood Smith): I imagine this will be my most controversial selection, as Red's primary contribution to parenting, as near as we could tell, was continually referring to his son Eric as a "dumbass." But for a middle-aged man who had seen the world change quite a bit in his time and whose job always seemed to be under threat, he held up pretty well. I do have to dock him a couple of spots for being way too ignorant of all the pot smoking going on under his nose.
9. Dan Conner, Roseanne (John Goodman): Yes, the show was named after his wife. But Roseanne could never have been what it was without the contribution of the stolid Dan, and this became horrifically clear when the show carried on without him in its disastrous last season. It isn't easy to hold a family together in hard times, but Dan never let things get completely out of control. Anyone who thought the Conners were a pure matriarchy didn't pay very close attention.
8. Ben Cartwright, Bonanza (Lorne Greene): One might not think of him primarily as a parent because his sons were grown, but Bonanza was always more of a family show than most westerns, and Ben Cartwright was its strong, silent center. It could not have been easy managing three headstrong sons, one of who was named Hoss and another who just moseyed off in the middle of the series. Bonus points for providing a fatherly example that Michael Landon put to excellent use on his next job.
7. Jason Seaver, Growing Pains (Alan Thicke): Why this guy instead of his ABC sitcom contemporary, Danny Tanner of Full House? Look what became of the kids. Kirk Cameron is now the biggest star of Christian cinema. By contrast, the Full House alumni include one reformed meth user, and the incredible spectacle of one character producing two tabloid legends. Is it fair to blame Bob Saget's fictional character for the real life antics of the now adult Full House kids? On Father's Day, absolutely!
6. Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights (Kyle Chandler): He's most often thought of as a surrogate father to the Dillon Panthers, but Coach is also a wise and stable parent for teenage Julie and the baby whose name we can never recall. Taylor manages to let you know he cares while still using very few words. Who can forget the brilliant scene when Julie comes home drunk for the first time: "Damn, Julie ... damn." There were a few more words, most of them stronger than damn, when this happened in my own life.
5. Andy Taylor, The Andy Griffith Show (Griffith): Single parents of young children are nothing special on television today, but in the 1960s they were rare. Andy not only provided a stable home to Opie, but provided him with one of the few examples of male success in all of Mayberry. My goodness, look at the alternative role models in that town. Barney Fife? Gomer Pyle? Otis the drunk? Goober? Howard Sprague, who clearly died a virgin? Only his father stood in the way of Opie growing up to be a total disaster.
4. Charles "Pa" Ingalls, Little House on the Prairie (Michael Landon): Landon wasn't the greatest actor in the world -- his character always seemed like he had entered the 19th century Midwest direct from Venice Beach. But even though the show was built around the memories of daughter Laura, her Pa stood at the center of life on the prairie, building a new life in an uncertain environment and still finding time to be a loving parent. Docked a couple of spots for never teaching his youngest daughter how to talk.
3. Mike Brady, The Brady Bunch (Robert Reed): Few things are harder than managing a blended family, especially when six children are being blended. Brady handled it all with ease, while still holding down a demanding job as an architect. He was someone you could always come to with an issue, not that his kids ever got in more trouble than getting beaten up after saying "Groovy!" ten years after the word went out of style. I might have put him #1, except that he went and bought a house with an Astroturf yard and one bathroom. What's up with that?
2. Cliff Huxtable, The Cosby Show (Bill Cosby): Unlike most sitcom parents, Cliff gave off the appearance of being legitimately stern. He was someone you definitely did not want to disappoint. But the flipside was that no one was a more appreciative father when one of his children had a little triumph. In an era when sitcom dads became increasingly incompetent in the interests of humor, Huxtable was a patriarch who still managed to seem like a hip guy. Cosby gets primary credit for making the Huxtables everyone's ideal family.
1. Jim Anderson, Father Knows Best (Robert Young): Just look at the name of the series -- who else was I going to pick? The 1950s have been deconstructed time and again, and this show is often given as an example of how unrealistic early television was in dealing with the American family. This is no doubt true, but for Father's Day there's nothing wrong with preferring a fantasy world where Daddy never loses his temper no matter how much his kids screw up, and always knows the right thing to say.