Dads or duds, TV fathers don't know best

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

With more than three decades as a father on my resume of life, I long ago realized it's the toughest job I'll ever have.

While my occupation requires me to make a series of decisions on a daily basis, none of them has the impact of the decisions you have to make as a parent, or more precisely, as a father.

Now working alongside a couple of young fathers in Jared and Caine, I smile and laugh and nod my head a lot as they share tales of their fatherly moments. Our profession often keeps us on the go, so we have to cherish the moments we get with our kids when we get them.

Sure, I'm the kind of dad who high-fives his youngest daughter leaving the altar at her wedding. The kind of dad who passes on his Chicago Cubs baseball addiction to both girls, being strangely proud of the oldest for wearing anti-Cardinal shirts to Cubs-Cards games in St. Louis.

And granted, most of us tend to fit the fatherly stereotype: We love to grill out. We like to watch sports on TV. And most of us would put off real work for fun and games anytime.

But trust me, there's no template for fatherhood. My dad was more fishing buddy and ballgame companion than stern disciplinarian. Of course, he and TV fathers Andy Griffith (who names his son Opie?) and Hugh Beaumont (or call his son "The Beaver"?) were about all I had as role models in those days.

One thing that bugs me about being a dad, however, is how the television depiction of fathers has distorted our whole image.

From Ozzie Nelson to Ozzy Osbourne, TV fathers generally have come off as some silly, scattered-brained ninny who would rather spend his time at the corner bar or his buddy's garage than tend to his family's needs. Think Al Bundy.

Granted there have been a few straight-laced dads come into the TV picture. Robert Young as Jim Anderson on "Father Knows Best" was certainly the personification of 1950s decorum and parental wisdom. Stern old Ward Cleaver (Beaumont) rarely loosened his tie on "Leave It to Beaver" but he always managed to provide that moral compass for Wally and The Beaver.

And in the 1980s ands early 1990s, Bill Cosby made us think all he needed was some crazy-patterned sweater to keep his kids from pulling one over on him as he dispensed fatherly Cliff Huxtable wisdom like "I brought you into this world; I can take you out!"

Animation has even made dad more of a cartoon character. Can you say fat and stupid?

Homer Simpson? Doh! Peter of "Family Guy"? Way overdrawn. Fred Flintstone? Heck, he can't even manage his own life without hollering to wife Wilma for help. Darned if old Hank Hill, the propane king, isn't about as close to an animated father figure as we've got.

The current wave of TV fathers hasn't done us any favors either.

Jon Cryer on "Two and a Half Men" is a wimp. Neil Flynn as Mike Heck on "The Middle" is an Indianapolis Colts' fan and an Indiana quarry worker who loves to avoid both confrontation and doling out discipline at home.

And on the hysterical "Modern Family" sitcom -- probably the single favorite show in our household -- we get the full spectrum of 2011 television fatherhood.

Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill, known best as TV's Al Bundy) is married to a much younger Latin woman and now has a stepson to deal with along with his grown children. Phil (Ty Burrell) is Jay's son-in-law and has three children of his own who are infinitely more mature at times than their father.

And then there are Cameron and Mitchell (not to be confused with late actor Cameron Mitchell), a gay couple who have an adopted Vietnamese daughter.

Fatherhood ... you've come a long way, baby!

So as you prepare to celebrate your dad on Father's Day this Sunday, take it from this dad: We love you. And we are proud of you. We just can't help it that sometimes -- doh! -- we do act a little too much like Homer Simpson.