We’ve all seen that cliche image from times past – a father, back relaxed in an easy chair, legs propped up on a footrest. Perhaps he’s wearing a robe, smoking a pipe, and even wearing slippers. Or at the very least maybe the family dog is bringing the slippers or paper to him.
I don’t want to talk about those guys.
I want to talk about a few other fictional fathers of the screen that aren’t that stereotype of 1950s America so often thought of when reflecting on old TV shows of the past. I want to talk about a few fellas who, whether the present or the past, have, for the most part (they all have off days or an idea that’s a bit out of touch now and then, but we’ll forgive them) are solid foundations of fatherhood, and examples that those of us living outside the screen can look to for a little inspiration and example as to what it means to not just be a father, but to be a dad.
Judge James Hardy
Putting aside the one initial appearance of Lionel Barrymore, Judge James Hardy is most commonly known as being depicted by actor Lewis Stone in the plethora of films within the Andy Hardy series from MGM Studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. With themes of themes of honor, integrity, courage in the face of scandal, and maturity, the sixteen films revolving around the Hardy Family were an idealized vision of what America could be, if everyone treated each other the right way and stood by a core set of values and honor.
While the films over time took their focus to young Andy Hardy, at the center of those themes and values was James Hardy – father, husband, member of the community, and never too busy for his family. While some onscreen fathers of the time were distant, driven by work, no time for distraction, Judge Hardy always had the time to recognize how crucial wife Emily was to the family and he, to lend an ear to son Andy or daughter Marion, and took the time to listen to their troubles and emotions. Often referred to as ‘man-to-man talks,’ James rarely ordered his children around, instead offering the guidance and wisdom that allowed them to come to their own revelations and decisions of character, that laid the foundation for good, honest people of the next generation.
(Sadly, hard as I try, I couldn’t find a classic Hardy ‘man-to-man’ talk online to post)
Good-natured, goofy, but absolutely neurotic, Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke in the aptly titled The Dick Van Dyke Show, seemed to have a dream life, despite the sitcom hijinks. A loving wife who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and difference of opinion, a son with many questions for the ever-worrying dad, and a dream job as a comedy writer for the sketch comedy show – The Alan Brady Show. Rob had a good heart, even if he did trip over himself at times in trying to be the good dad and husband he wanted to be, and it made he, and the entire Petrie family, all the more human.
The Dick Van Dyke Show, still today, ranks among one of the best sitcoms of all time. 50 years later. And it’s just as enjoyable for audiences. Whereas some shows of decades past feel dated, out of touch, it’s never the case with the Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob, Laura, Richie, or any of the characters. Because the brilliant Carl Reiner (who created the show) was making a show about real people. And though times may change, human emotions do not. It’s because of that brilliant writing that Rob is just as great an example of a person, co-worker, husband, and father today that he was five decades ago.
A farmer from Kansas traveling with his wife when they find a baby, abandoned in a field. Oh, and that baby’s inside a spaceship that obviously just fell from outer space.
Jonathan and Martha Kent had no idea what that baby was or what he would become. But they knew, before them, stood a child with no one other than they to help him make this planet his home. Saving him from the government containment, dissection, or weaponization that could possibly follow upon finding an alien, the Kents, salt of the Earth, good, virtuous people, decided to take this baby into their home and their lives, and raise him as their own.
When little Clark Kent grew up, the Kents had no idea who or what he would be or represent. But they knew they had the task to raise a good boy, who cared about others, and one who, as he started to show special talents and gifts beyond those of mortal men, would use those powers to help the world, to save lives, to be a beacon of hope.
That spaceship could have landed anywhere on Earth. And who knows what type of person baby Kal-El of the planet Krypton would have grown up to be? Fortunately for humanity in the pages of comics, novels, cartoons, television, and films, he landed in a corn field and was found by the Kents, whose salt of the Earth personalities, and lives of good morality laid the foundation for the hard-working, virtuous, optimistic, and all-around good person Superman is today. (in most interpretations lately. I hear it varies in recent years)
So he may not be anyone’s top pick, and that’s okay. He wasn’t necessarily mine either. However, there was something about the way Daniel Tiger’s dad, seen multiple days a week on PBS Kids Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, quietly, gently handles fatherhood. At times he may seem like a figure that fades into the surroundings, but it could easily be because he and Mrs Tiger are such equal partners.
Sometimes he’s silly, sometimes he’s childlike, rolling around on the floor or crawling through pillow and sheet tunnels with Daniel, understanding and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a child alongside Daniel and baby Margaret.
And he works in a clock factory that’s shaped like a giant grandfather clock. Tell me you wouldn’t want to show up to work at a building that looked like that everyday.
There’s a bit of him, and the entire show that for those of us old enough to remember, hearkens back to the soft-spoken, big-hearted, watch-wearing tiger cat on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood that inspired this entirely new generation of lessons in what it means to be a good person.
The Man in the Yellow Hat
It takes a lot of patience to be a father-figure to a precocious monkey. But somehow, The Man in the Yellow Hat seems to have the endless patience I can only wish for. Whether it’s a trashed apartment, a lost portfolio, or a stampede of pumpkins causing chaos and scattering crowds in a small town, there’s usually a monkey with the curiosity of a preschooler behind it, and the understanding Man in the Yellow Hat to explain it without losing his top.
While preschoolers can see the world through the relatable eyes of George and his wonder of the world, the level of fear, over-protection, and sheer joy with every uttered “oh boy” or “be a good little monkey” is the parental heart of the series for us grown ups and makes the Man in the Yellow Hat a source of joy, wonder, guidance and learning, and fun for George that I hope we could all be for our own kids.
Of course, this list is by no means conclusive. Merely a sampling of some of my own favorites of fictional dads that I think help set the bar.
What about you? What on-screen dad examples have you ever looked at with a feeling of inspiration?
Shave set – safety razor, badger brush, shave soap. If you’ve got the time and the money, you can either piece a set together yourself, finding a nice metal safety razor, a badger brush (less harsh on the skin) and some shave soap to create that lather. If you’d rather let someone else do the work, check out artofshaving.com and all the various gift sets they make for the stubbly dad.
If you’re in a pinch and it’s last minute, don’t fret; you can still pull this one off. Head to your local drug store or supermarket and head to the grooming aisle. Many carry a small boxed set with razor, brush, soap and a small dish for your soap, and it’s all very inexpensive. Just a note about those in the grocery or drug store – the brush will likely be boar’s hair, which may not be as great as badger hair, but it will still seem mighty impressive when dad unwraps it.
A nice book – this can be of any genre, topic, whatever may interest dear old dad. Whether it’s a nice-looking reprint of a Dickens’ novel, a freshly printed copy of Hamlet for the theatrical dad, a crime or war novel, or just a nice, bound collection of comics for the super-heroic dad, this is a great gift. Books look good on Dad’s shelf, be they at home or in the office, and can offer a nice escape throughout the year. I often tell people you can’t go wrong getting me a book or graphic novel when asked about gifts.
The experience gift – whether it be tickets to a sports game, a massage at the end of a busy work schedule, or a hot air balloon ride, these are usually the types of things you can find at a company’s website and print off right on your home computer, making them easy and convenient to get hold of at the last minute.
Anything handmade – If the children haven’t come up with anything to give dear old dad yet, sit them down and brainstorm some ideas of what they would like to make for him. It could be as simple as a hand-scribbled or fingerpainted card from the little ones to a popsicle stick box for dad’s watch and wallet, or a bit more extensive with a trip to a craft store to decoupage a plain item or frame some kid photography to add some decoration to dad’s office.
And these are just a few, quick suggestions in the hopes it may help someone out, somewhere. Just remember that not matter what you choose to do, there is truth in the old adage that it is the thought behind it that counts. The thought behind whatever you give or express to your father, as long as it’s true, as long as it was thought about, that will be as cherished as anything he receives.
It’s been a pretty cool first Father’s Day weekend.
Yesterday, Meg and I took the little guy to a public market (sort of like a farmer’s market, but with additional things like crafts and other vendors alongside the farm stands). and since it’s held outside in the courtyard of a train station, we got to enjoy the beautiful sunny day to the utmost.
Then, we ran some errands that included me finally getting a new pair of sneakers and jeans. You see, I hate spending money on clothes. I really do. I often end up getting updates to my wardrobe at Christmas because I just don’t buy any during the year. I like to see just how long I can make something last, including articles of clothing. It’s just the kind of thing I don’t put much thought to throughout the year, to be quite honest.
With that said, I’ve had the same pair of sneakers for several years, wearing them down to pretty much nothing. I tend to do the same with my jeans, which is why, for the longest time, I had one good pair of jeans and the rest had holes in the knees and became relegated to housework or lounging at home. So, it was pretty momentous to walk out of the store with a pair of sneakers AND a pair of jeans, not to mention a polo shirt, which my wife insisted on paying for as part of Father’s Day, which was incredibly nice of her.
Pretty crazy, for me at least. Though I think Meg just thinks I’m plain crazy.
We ran a few more errands throughout the afternoon before meeting up with my parents for an early Father’s Day dinner for my dad. We gave him a framed picture of the little guy for his desk at work along with some fun smoking accessories for his grill.
I had to duck out late in the evening to fill-in on a partial shift at work, but came home, hit the sheets and actually slept in for a change.
When I awoke, it was to some both funny and touching Father’s Day cards from my wife, my little guy, and yes, our kitties. A big breakfast of French Toast, eggs and hash browns and I have been completely and utterly spoiled.
It’s been wonderful, it’s been more than generous, but honestly, the fact that I get to celebrate Father’s Day is certainly enough for me. Having them all in my life is worth more than any card, gift or breakfast. Not that I’m not thankful for the creativity and generosity, I’m just so incredibly thankful for all of them.
Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, fathers-to-be and someday fathers. 🙂