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The 5 best TV dads of all time

TV dads are a staple of every TV show genre, from sitcoms to dramas, comedies to thrillers. They come in all types and forms, but when it comes to the best TV dads, these are usually the dads that appear in sitcoms. More dramatic and thrilling shows tend to include dads doing bad things, while sitcoms feature wholesome, funny, caring fathers that make you feel like you’re part of the family.

The best TV dads of all time run the gamut from the strict to the goofy the traditional to the non-traditional. This Father’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of the best TV dads of all time.

Philip Banks (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)

A father looks at his son and wife in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
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Philips Banks (the late James Avery) from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was not the type of dad you could pull one over on. He was strict and rigid, rarely seen with a smile, and always up for scolding. When he found himself having to care for not only his own three children but also his troublemaking teenage nephew Will, his patience was put to the test.

But time and time again, Phil not only put Will in line, but he was also there to offer sage advice. He might have raised his voice a time or two, but there was always a passion and care behind his tough love. One of the most memorable and impactful scenes of the show is when Will and Carlton are arrested for seemingly no other reason than their race. Phil shows up at the police station and delivers a scathing speech to the officers who racially profiled the young men simply because they were driving an expensive car.

Phil Dunphy (Modern Family)

Phil Dunphy’s funniest moments season 3 modern family

Goofy and childlike, Phil (Ty Burrell) from Modern Family is the dad who honestly believes he’s “hip” and “cool” and can hang with the kids. They often roll their eyes at him and act embarrassed. But the truth is that they love their father and appreciate how positive, funny, and sometimes even clueless he is. He is kind of cool, but they’ll never admit it.

A passionate lover of everything tech, an honest worker in real estate, and a man who is always there for his kids and his wife, Phil might let double entendres fly right over his head and he has an endless supply of corny dad jokes. But there’s something charming and endearing about him that makes Phil Dunphy the type of dad any child would love to have.

Ward Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver)

A father reads the paper in Leave it to Beaver.
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Often cited among lists of the best TV dads, Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) from Leave it to Beaver is one of the more traditional dads on the list given that the series was set in the 1950s. A farmer’s son and college graduate, he’s a highly educated white-collar man who works hard to provide for his family.

He loves his sons and while he is often strict with them, he loves them deeply. He’s the typical ‘50s dad with a suit and briefcase, working, reading the paper, spending time in his home office/den, and mastering the outdoor grill. When you picture baby boomer parents and the picture-perfect nuclear family, Ward is the archetype of the man sitting at the head of the table.

Danny Tanner (Full House)

Danny Tanner talks to his three daughters in Full House.
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The most non-traditional family unit on the list, Full House followed Danny Tanner (the late Bob Saget) struggling to parent his three daughters following the untimely death of his wife. He enlists the help of his brother-in-law and best friend who end up moving in permanently to co-parent the kids.

While Joey (Dave Coulier) is the goofy one and Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) is the less strict “cool” uncle, Danny is the dad who is there to tell the kids everything is going to be OK. He handles cleaning the house, cooking, and delivering advice and moral lessons at the end of every episode. While Danny isn’t a perfect father by any means, the way he managed to raise three girls while grieving his wife was admirable.

Dr. Jason Seaver (Growing Pains)

A father talks to his son in Growing Pains.
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A father who agrees to be a stay-at-home dad so his wife can go back to work is common nowadays. But in the ‘80s, that was not the case. But this is exactly what Dr. Jason Seaver (the late Alan Thicke) did for his wife. He still worked but set up his psychiatry practice from the house so he could be there for his kids between appointments.

This isn’t the only reason Dr. Jason Seaver from Growing Pains became everyone’s dad, however, for the seven years the character graced primetime TV screens in the ‘80s. He handled all three of his children beautifully, with a firm yet understanding approach to their unique quirks. From his mischievous teenage son to his bookworm daughter, rambunctious young son, and eventually in later seasons, precocious daughter, he was the perfect mix of stern and cool. He even took in a homeless teen and became like a father to him, a character played by the now-A-list Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio (Killers of the Flower Moon).

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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