In honor of my wonderful dad, and in honor of fathers everywhere, I present the top ten best and worst dads from television. This isn’t a criticism of their ability to entertain, but their ability as a parent. Even some of the “worst” fathers on television are great characters from extremely good television shows. But fathers on the worst list are fathers you would not want to emulate while raising your own kids, while the best fathers are ones that real dads everywhere could learn a thing or two from watching.
10. Bill Miller from Still Standing (Mark Addy)
The premise of the show was of a family in which the parents are kids who never grew up, and Bill certainly is that. He is frequently shown to be more immature than his own children. He loves his family, but he constantly goes about things the wrong way and is a horrible example for his children. He is fairly lazy and tends to promote irresponsible behavior to his kids. When it comes to discipline, he usually tries to get out of making his kids do anything unpleasant or punish them, or he tries to push the job of disciplining them onto his wife (who is as bad at it as he is.) He’s also very inconsistent and hypocritical in his parenting style: the very essence of the “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy.
9. Fred Sanford from Sanford & Son (Redd Foxx)
Fred is irritable and a bit selfish. He lives with his adult son, Lamont, and constantly belittles him throughout the show, referring to him as a “big dummy.” He is always on the lookout for get-rich-quick schemes. When he doesn’t get his way, he fakes a heart attack to play on Lamont’s sympathies.
8. Arthur Spooner from King of Queens (Jerry Stiller)
It’s possible the man is partially insane. He is annoyingly eccentric, frequently loses his temper, and generally makes life difficult for his daughter Carrie and her husband Doug, who allow him to live rent-free with them. Despite this, he is never grateful to them, rather, he is constantly demanding things from them. When Doug & Carrie don’t do what he wants, he lays a guilt trip on them or makes himself annoying until they give in. Arthur is extremely selfish to the point of being infantile. On top of his own behavior, his daughter Carrie is also very self-centered, and prone to lying, being deceptive, and generally doing despicable things for the littlest reason. She’s an all-around terrible human being, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if a lot of this comes from being raised by Arthur.
7. Ray & Frank Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond (Ray Romano & Peter Boyle)
Like father, like son. Ray is the epitome of an incompetent father. While he loves his children, Ray doesn’t seem to like them that much. He tries to get out of anything involving them at all times, whether it is discipline, having heart-to-heart talks with them, or simply playing with them. You get the idea he would rather be golfing, watching TV, or just about anything than have to hang out with his kids (or his wife.) And when he actually does have to deal with his kids? He has no idea how to relate to them or discipline them, so he does so in the most awkward and ineffective way possible. He’s a wuss who is tied to his mother’s apron, has no clue how to cook, clean house, perform household maintenance, or do pretty much anything required of a father.
Ray obviously got much of his parenting skill from his father Frank. Though you get the idea Frank actually might dislike his children. He didn’t just try to avoid dealing with his kids, he actually didn’t deal with them at all. He was the classic distant father who works, comes home, eats, watches TV, and goes to bed, wholly ignoring his kids. And it shows, because he and his wife raised two of the most screwed up adult sons. The Barone family is three generations of dysfunction.
6. Ross Geller from Friends (David Schwimmer)
In a lot of ways, Ross is very similar to Ray Barone with the added bonus of being whiny, chronically-depressed, annoying, and an absentee father. He had three failed marriages, and fathered two children. His eldest, Ben, was born in the first season yet Ross rarely ever spent any time with him. I guess Ross preferred hanging out with his fiends and unsuccessfully dating women than raising his own son. He apparently thought the boy could be better raised by his lesbian ex-wife and her lover. Looking at Ross…well, that might not be a totally bad thing.
5. Michael “Meathead” Stivic from All in the Family/Archie Bunker’s Place/Gloria (Rob Reiner)
Sure, Michael was a liberal and a leftist, he sponged off his parents-in-law for nearly ten years while he was a career student. But none of this makes him a particularly bad father. No, it’s actually a behind-the-scenes reason. In the last couple years of the show’s run, actor Rob Reiner was getting tired of playing Michael. In order to write him out, he and Gloria began having marital problems. When the short-lived spin-off show Gloria started, the couple had split up for good, and Gloria was left to fend for herself as a single mother. The reason he left her? Because the Meathead had run off with some young hippie girl and was living on a commune!
4. Lionel Luthor from Smallville (John Glover)
Machiavelli and Sun Tzu are not generally considered good parenting books, but that’s how Lionel raised his son Lex. He always saw Lex as a weakling and was constantly testing him and refining him, in an attempt to make him as much of a ruthless businessman as he himself. He succeeded, and Lex became just like his father, perhaps even worse. Their relationship was always strained, Lex seeing his father as more of an opponent than a family member. Lionel also fathered an illegitimate daughter, Tess Mercer, who he never did acknowledge as his.
3. Alan Harper from 2 ½ Men (Jon Cryer)
At times you almost think Alan is trying to be a good dad to his son Jake. But he portrays the few good things he tries to teach his kid (doing homework, being kind to others, and trying new things) as being incredibly boring, stupid, or useless. He’s a horrible wimp with no spine and emotional problems of his own. He is unassertive, so ends up letting even worse people than he is influence Jake: such as his alcoholic, womanizing brother and their narcissistic sociopath of a mother. They ridicule Alan in front of his son and contradict his few words of good advice. Alan also lets his ex-wife push him around in front of Jake. On top of that, he has allowed many of his brother’s bad habits rub off on him, namely girlfriend-hopping. He has had a string of women (mostly one-night stands) sleeping with him…with Jake in the next room. The result is a lazy kid with no good role models who has no respect for his own father. I would hate to see what Jake will look like as an adult.
2. Al Bundy from Married: With Children (Ed O’Neill)
Al was loser who hated his life, and was pretty well indifferent about his children. He worked in a dead-end job as a shoe salesman, but didn’t seem to have any ambition to do anything else, despite being deep in debt. His hobbies include drinking beer while vegging in front of the TV, looking at dirty magazines, and taking the occasional trip to the “nudie bar” with his equally-loser friends. He constantly criticized his family, but not in a good way. His wife and kids didn’t respect him and the entire family exchanged insults constantly. Al really didn’t seem to have any interest in raising his kids to be productive adults, and of course they didn’t.
1. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos (James Gandolfini)
Who didn’t see this coming? There’s not much to say about a father who is a mob boss. Sure, being a professional criminal allowed him to provide for his family, but when your job involves murder and vice, you run your business out of a strip club, and you frequent prostitutes…well, you’re not going to win any father of the year awards! Tony tended to use the same methods for keeping his henchmen in line on his children. He bullied and intimidated them, and even murders his daughter’s boyfriend.
10. Tim Taylor from Home Improvement (Tim Allen)
He’s not perfect, and you certainly wouldn’t want to take shop class from the guy, but Tim Taylor did try his best with his kids. Quite often he went about things the wrong way at first, but he talked to and listened to his kids, and communicated with and respected his wife. The Taylors didn’t shy away from discipline or praise when necessary. Tim wasn’t the smartest man in the world and realized his limitations, often going to his wise next door neighbor Wilson for advice. One of the best things about Tim is he wasn’t one of those feminized fathers who doesn’t teach their kids what it means to be a man. He might go a bit over the top on the testosterone, but at least there is some testosterone.
9. James Evans, Sr. from Good Times (John Amos)
James wasn’t a rich man and could only afford to live in the projects, but he did his utmost to provide for his kids. He worked long, hard hours at sometimes two jobs just to pay the rent and feed his family. He insisted on doing things on his own, and didn’t take handouts.
When things were particularly tough, he would even hustle pool for money. The downside was that with all the hours he worked, he was rarely home to help raise the kids. Though, he was a smart enough man to marry a woman who could handle most of that herself. When he was around, he didn’t put up with much nonsense from the kids. He didn’t have time for it. When they needed discipline, he got after them. When he put his foot down, that was the end of the discussion.
8. Jonathan Kent from Smallville (John Schneider)
In direct parallel to Lionel Luthor, Jonathan Kent was the man who raised Superman. He instilled in his son all the best qualities of a hero. He was a hard worker, an honest, self-sufficient farmer who wouldn’t take charity, and certainly wouldn’t be bribed. He stood up for others and refused to back down from his ideals. He expected his son to do his best, and exhibit all these qualities. He often gave Clark fatherly advice or stern lectures, whichever the boy needed.
7. John Walton, Sr. from The Waltons (Ralph Waite)
Probably the best thing you can say about the man is that he brought up seven children during the Great Depression and they never went hungry and barely knew they were poor. He was a hard-working man who ran his own lumber mill. He wasn’t a church-going man, preferring to commune with God on his own time and in his own place. Still, he respected his wife’s decision to take the family to church on Sundays. He was good-natured and quiet, slow to anger, but ready to take a stand when necessary. And he never turned away a stranger in need. Despite having seven children, he always made sure to spend time with each of them and make them feel special. He also encouraged his kids to nurture their interests, whether it was reading, writing, sports, music, or something else altogether.
6. Ben Cartwright from Bonanza (Lorne Greene)
By the time we saw him, most of Ben Cartwright’s major days as a father were behind him since his three boys were grown men at the beginning of the series. But judging by how his sons turned out, the three-time widower who raised them almost entirely by himself did a good job. Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe Cartwright were some of the best, most honest, and heroic men in television history. The elder Cartwright must have done something right. Despite this collection of manly men, you always knew who was the big dog on the Ponderosa. His grown sons still respected their father and looked up to him.
5. Ward Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver (Hugh Beaumont)
Ward was the idealized, stereotypical 1950s dad. He was a serious businessman, but that didn’t keep him from spending time with his family. He rarely raised his voice when disciplining his sons, but they always listened to what he had to say, and he was smart enough to use almost any situation to teach the boys a life lesson. Wally and Beaver obviously respected their father and came to him for advice. Occasionally he would make mistakes, and he was not above admitting so. He expected the boys to do their best and always act ethically. Based on conversations in the show, Ward spanked his kids when they were younger, but apparently the boys were well-enough behaved by the time they were 6 or 7 that spankings were no longer necessary.
4. Lucas McCain from The Rifleman (Chuck Connors)
Since McCain was a single frontier father who many times had to leave his son on his own, he made sure Mark was a responsible young man who could take care of himself. He raised his son with a kind word and set an amazing example. He didn’t balk at spanking his son when necessary (all off-screen) but knew the difference between discipline and abuse. Throughout the show, Mark showed a definite understanding of right and wrong, even more than many of the adults in the show.
3. Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show (Bill Cosby)
Cliff was a successful doctor and good husband, but his real success was in raising his five demanding kids. Whether it was the nightmares of a small child, dramatic boy problems of a teenage girl, or the rambunctiousness of a teenage boy, Cliff always knew how to handle it. His method of discipline was a mix of comedic psychology, common sense advice, and stern but fair punishment. Dr. Huxtable taught his children personal responsibility while making them (and us) laugh. The greatest thing was that when dealing with the children, he and his wife Claire always backed each other up. After successfully raising his own kids, he went on to be one of the most fun grandfathers that several grandchildren could ever have, as well as letting a troubled teenage niece move in.
2. Andy Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show (Andy Griffith)
As a single dad, Andy Taylor had a tough job raising his son Opie alone while being Sheriff of Mayberry (and dealing with the antics of his deputy Barney.) Andy taught his son to always do the right thing in every situation and tried to impart life lessons to the boy whenever possible. Whether it was a matter of honesty, cowardice, friendship, fighting, or learning about life and death, Andy always knew what it was his son needed to hear. Sheriff Taylor also spent plenty of time teaching his son to enjoy life in the great outdoors with a little fishing and hunting, and finished off many a night with a guitar and a song on the front porch.
1. Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie (Michael Landon)
In a lot of ways, Pa Ingalls is a combination of all the best qualities of the other fathers on the list. He was extremely patient with his children like Andy Taylor and Ward Cleaver. He was a manly man with a lot of frontier skills like Lucas McCain and Ben Cartwright. He would do anything, work any job, in order to support his family like James Evans. He was a farmer, hunted for food, worked in a lumber mill, and did odd jobs around town, but when times were tough he even traveled to work on the railroad and in a rock quarry. The man was a firm but loving father who always gave his daughter words of wisdom with a knowing smile. He was one of the few dads in all of television who was a regular church-goer. He was a faithful man, but didn’t tolerate religious hypocrisy or people who use religion for show or gain. He was friendly and fair in his dealings with others, though he could be stern when crossed. He was unafraid of showing his emotions, whether justified anger, loud laughter, teary grief, or misty-eyed happiness. In addition to his own four daughters and one son who died in infancy, he and his wife adopted three more children. And if any of his family were in trouble, he would go as far as he had to help them.