You can always tell when the new television season begins from the return of the tried and true TV character: stupid dad.
It didn’t used to be that way. The television of black and white images and only three channels boasted a plethora of wise fathers. Chances are you didn’t know what they did for a living, but did it really matter when Wally or Kitty had a problem? Everything was solved with a trip to Dad’s study, where he sat puffing his pipe or smoking his Camels, donning his sweater or jacket with the patches on the elbows. If Opie was pondering the meaning of life, good old Daddy Andy would find an answer while eating a piece of Aunt Bea’s pie or walking to the fishin’ hole.
These days, all you have to do is flip the channel to see stupid dad in action. Let’s start in the world of syndication, where the successful “tool man” is outsmarted by his wife and sons. Or how about the champion of all stupid dads, the sports writer who “everybody loves?” This guy is portrayed as a hapless loser, whose own wife continually calls an idiot.
Now I’ve known quite a few sports writers, and I can honestly say that not one of them could be labeled an idiot. In fact, sports writers are often the most thoughtful and informed people I’ve met at news organizations. But that doesn’t matter to the medium, who keeps giving viewers the negative message.
It doesn’t get any better in the world of animation. Which dad is worse, the one who drinks too much and embarrasses himself, or the one who… oh right, that’s the norm.
The new season brings us the return of the old crowd, and a new crop. There’s the dad who wants to be a pal instead of a father and fails completely, the dad who marries a young girl and alienates his family and the gay father who becomes paranoid every time he goes to a parenting group. And that’s just on one show.
Nobody expects the television family to go back to the artificial world, where every parent is right all the time and every child grows up as perfect as a piece of Wonder Bread. But wouldn’t it be nice to turn on the TV and see a modern father who has it together? Or at least one who has some of the answers.
The tube is teeming with career women who go home and raise the kids, but I dare you to name one television dad who is portrayed as an equal partner who does his fair share. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but why can’t they be a little more real? Even if it is fiction, that’s the kind of “reality” television that I’d like to see.