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TV Dads in American History

In a fascinating article, writer Tim Grierson walks us through the history of the TV dad and shows how each dad reflects the values in America at that time. Below you will see the summary of each era of TV dad.

  • Mid 1950s - Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best): Father Knows Best preached a wholesome, slightly square domestic normalcy that placed the dad at the top. His job is to go to work and make a living, enduring his little tots when he comes home at night. Everything's perfect, and nobody has any major problems.
  • The 1960s - Steve Douglas (My Three Sons): Steve Douglas was the friendly, noble single dad to three growing boys. What was mildly edgy about the show was that his character was a widower, allowing Americans to see a nontraditional family dynamic on TV. My Three Sons at least started to reveal the cracks in the idealized American portrait of father-mother-and-cute-kids.
  • 1970s - Archie Bunker (All in the Family): This was a father who definitely didn't know best—more accurately, he represented an outdated worldview that was quickly being shoved aside by a new (and, for him, frightening) order.
  • Late 1980s - Dan Conner (Roseanne): Dan was a new kind of father: vulnerable and sweet, henpecked by his bossy wife but still hopelessly devoted to her. Dan was a man constantly ashamed of his inability to give his family a better life, but always trying to compensate by being as good a guy as possible.
  • 1990s - Homer Simpson (The Simpsons): In Homer, The Simpsons found what is, to this day, the perfect modern-day TV father: drunken, well-intentioned, utterly worthless, prone to anger, always at a loss for the right thing to do or say.
  • 2000s - Tony Soprano (The Sopranos): Tony Soprano is the prototypical breadwinner and head of the household; except he's so hobbled by inner turmoil and “business” concerns that he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
  • 2010s - Bob Belcher (Bob's Burgers): In Bob we see the overextended modern dad in all his rumpled glory, just trying to keep his head above water in all aspects of his life.


Tim Grierson, “The Tv Dad Is American History,” Mel Magazine (2016)

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