Caring, hardworking, sometimes quirky, and always there for his family. These are qualities that make a great dad, and by extension, a great TV dad.
While many series have had their share of awful fathers (Clay Morrow from Sons of Anarchy, we’re looking at you) several, particularly in the sitcom genre, show us that fictional fathers can demonstrate some wonderful traits worth emulating in real life.
For Mother’s Day, we highlighted some of the best TV moms ever to have graced the small screen from the ‘50s to the present. So it was only fitting that we’d bestow the same honor on television dads, in celebration of their own big day.
1950s: Ward Cleaver, Leave it to Beaver
If June Cleaver set the gold standard for what it means to be a ’50s mom, Ward was equally the archetypal father of his TV landscape. Played by Hugh Beaumont, Ward was a steady rock of good advice (and often frustrated bemusement), always assuring his sons Wally and Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver followed the right path. That included delivering a moral lecture at the end of each episode, so we all learned something. Ward was hardworking, caring, and focused on disciplining his kids when they misbehaved — which, in Beaver’s case, was pretty often.
1960s: Steve Douglas, My Three Sons
An aeronautical engineer by trade, Steve (Fred MacMurray) was also a widower with three sons to manage. Though he had help from his live-in father-in-law, Steve was the primary caregiver to his boys, responsible for guiding them through daily life. But he went far beyond just his own three sons. When Steve’s eldest son got married, he gained a daughter-in-law and adopted another child. And when he finally remarried, Steve assumed responsibility for his wife’s five-year-old daughter as well. He was a fearless father, ready to take on any challenge thrown his way. We’ll add Sheriff Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show as an honorable mention here, as he also took on the role of attentive, sole parent.
1970s: Mike Brady, The Brady Bunch
Carol Brady was named on our best TV moms list, so it’s no surprise that Mike Brady (Robert Reed) is one of our best TV dads. He remarried the mother of three girls, doubling his kid count to six as they joined his own three boys to make the perfectly blended family. As head of the household, he worked hard as an architect and father – his stepdaughter Marcia even submitted an essay to a local newspaper to name him Father of the Year. He had a strong sense of morals and ethics, and tried to pass these lessons on to his now six kids, loving each of them equally. An honorable mention goes to Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten) from Eight is Enough. Tom, based on a real-life CIA official and newspaper columnist, raised way too many kids following the death of his wife Joan.
1980s: Dr. Jason Seaver, Growing Pains
When his wife Maggie decided to return to work, psychiatrist Jason (the late Alan Thicke) moved his practice home to help tend to their three kids. His professional background and warm demeanor helped him raise his three very different children, including troublemaker Mike, bookworm Carol, and youngest Ben (in later seasons, they had a fourth child Chrissy, and adopted a homeless teen Luke, played by Leonardo DiCaprio). He was the glue that held the constantly bickering, but always loving family together. The ’80s were loaded with good TV dads, and honorable mentions go to Tony Micelli (Tony Danza) Who’s the Boss’ manly house-keeper with a big heart, and Family Ties’ Steve Keaton (Michael Gross), who accepted his kids — even Alex — for whatever they were.
1990s: Tim Taylor, Home Improvement
Tim “The Toolman” Taylor (Tim Allen) claimed to know it all about home improvement projects on his show Tool Time, but he was shockingly clumsy and accident-prone, leading to hijinks galore. He was the family comedian, always making his kids (and wife) laugh, but still managing to offer great advice. And while he relied heavily on his neighbor Wilson (Earl Hindman) for said advice, Tim always did right by his kids. Honorable mention goes to Full House’s Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a widower with three children who always made time for a mushy heart-to-heart.
2000s: Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights
As head coach of the Dillon High School football team, Eric (Kyle Chandler) was father not only to his two daughters, but also to his entire team. He was tough and firm, but in the end, only wanted what was best for everyone. And while his relationship with his eldest daughter Julie was often strained, he was always a loving father and husband. Our honorable mention here goes to Glee’s Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), the consummate “guy’s guy” who openly accept his gay teenage son.
2010s: Phil Dunphy, Modern Family
Any fan of this multi-Emmy-winning series will cite Phil (Ty Burrell) as one of their favorite characters. Always trying to be cool, Phil never is. With an intense love for tech and magic, Phil is as nerdy as he is endearing, particularly when he unwittingly delivers double entendres. He’s the dad most likely to embarrass his family with goofy actions and cheesy jokes, but they wouldn’t have him any other way. Our final honorable mention goes to Bob’s Burgers’ Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), who loves his weirdo kids unceasingly, even in two dimensions.