Most Americans would argue that although they love television, they recognize that not all of the images and words portrayed through their flat screen are good for the soul.
We appropriately respond with disgust when a minority group is misrepresented, but what about dad’s. As Father’s Day approaches, it is an opportunity for us to consider how father’s are depicted in television and in our culture.
If you are a young, developing teenage boy and you look to television for a role model, the messages are troublesome.
Begin with the character Homer Simpson of The Simpsons. Since 1987 when Homer and company premiered as a short on The Tracey Ullman Show, Homer has impacted generations of young men who in time became and are becoming dads.
From screwing up everything he touched, to disappointing his wife and children; Homer spends his evenings in a depressing Moe’s Tavern in place of being home. Homer sets the bar low for fatherhood.
Animation, in time, would give Homer competition in Peter Griffin of Family Guy. Peter can go drink for drink with The Simpsons’ dad, but Peter manages to be more vulgar, more inappropriate and more troublesome than Homer Simpson.
Television sitcoms have truly moved away from the high standards of Father Knows Best, Family Ties, the Cosby Show and Growing Pains, where the father, although at times facing difficulties in the 30 minute plot, are strong, smart, reliable and dependable. Unfortunately for the Cosby Show, one of the most respectable father’s in tv history is tainted by the accusations and present court case against actor Bill Cosby.
In the 90s, the leading dad was Tim “The Toolman” Taylor of Home Improvement. A number one show for most of the 1990s, Tim provided us with grunts, electrical fires, and insensitive decisions that led him to an apology each week.
During this time, Al Bundy made Homer and Tim look like Father of the Year on Married with Children. While the shoe salesman, women obsessed father would eventually evolve to the level-headed father and grandfather on Modern Family, he continues to set a dangerous expectation.
In Modern Family, last year’s best comedy, Ed O’Neil plays the wisdom figure Jay Pritchet who just happened to remarry a women young enough to be his daughter. His son-in-law, Phil Dunphy, is as goofy as a father could be depicted, connecting more with his 11-year old son than his wife, Claire.
Over the last twenty years, consider the dad’s who are serving as role models for the young boys watching through the glass.
Ray Barone (Everyone Loves Raymond), Alan Harper (Two and a Half Men), Tony Soprano (Sopranos), Ross Geller (Friends).
Televisions also gave us other men who either wanted to be dads or were too young for that “commitment.” These “men” include: Michael Scott (The Office), Doug Heffernan (King of Queens), Joey Tribbiani (Friends), Charlie Harper and Walden Schmidt (Two and a Half Men), Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza (Seinfeld), and Quagmire (Family Guy), to name a few.
The natural argument is that boys and men shouldn’t be looking to fictional characters who are created for a laugh, to serve as an influence.
For young, impressionable boys, can they distinguish what is real and what is not?
Television teaches them, during their bachelor years, to go from women to women, expected to make poor choices and to get away with them.
When they meet “the one,” they are expected to continue to make bad choices, to serve as selfish, undependable and immature.
When the television turns off, this would all be far less alarming if boys always had a father figure who can correct assumptions and expectations. Unfortunately, many boys do not have a father to turn to, while others turn to a dad who they strive to not be like or turns out to have quite a lot in common with Homer, Peter and Ray.
What you are left with is generations of men looking for a role model, an identity worth replicating.
They end up finding it in a parade of characters that are making us laugh until we realize that all of this is no laughing matter.
As a new dad, I am humbled by how difficult it is. There are no days off, no breaks. A child, especially a newborn, takes you down the most amazing but challenging road.
I find many of the fictional characters listed above entertaining. I do not intend to mimic the Dana Carvey character of Church Lady from SNL by casting a large shadow on what is enjoyable.
Instead, I believe we need to do a better job celebrating fatherhood and motherhood. It goes beyond the traditional roles, as the role of dad and mom can be filled by family, friends, educators and mentors.
Tomorrow, there are countless dad’s who will wake-up and do their best for their families. This is the story we need to tell, the role model to put in front of our young men (and women).
May we approach this Father’s Day with appreciation of those men in our life who are worth modeling. Be sure to express your gratitude to them. Finally, pay tribute to their lives by living a similar one.