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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Write Back Weekend "Papa Can You Hear Me?"

Unless you've been living in a cave the last ten years, surely you have noticed that television's representation of family just isn't what it used to be. Every fall, we used to get a new crop of shows, all with different premises, but most complete with strong family units, whether they were lead by single parents or remarried spouses.

But as time has marched on, television seems to be moving further away from the traditional, "sit down dinner" type families, as are many real life families are moving away from this as well. In fact, I'd say that since Seventh Heaven is yes, officially ending this year, with it marks the end of the traditional family representation as we know it. While I was never a big fan of the show, I am still sad to see it go. It was like Seventh Heaven was like an old TV cliche dinosaur, still roaming the Neilsen Ratings-ridden Earth.

Years ago, TV was saturated with melodramatic moments of parental/child bonding. The music would swell, "the lesson" would kick it would all get wrapped together in a nice, freeze framed bow. We laughed about it then, but we took it for granted, too. If we were watching a sitcom, we knew the problem would be solved by the end of 22 minutes. If we were watching a drama, the crisis would be averted just shy of an hour or so. Only in "very special episodes" would the issue carry over to part two, or even rarer, part three. Those were the ones that took a few more hugs, tough talks and freeze frames to make everything better, but they always did.

With another Father's Day come and gone, it was a week late and a few ideas short that I asked you this TITMT question... Who are your favorite TV dads of all time and why? When I went to work on my list, I realized that my picks weren't going to be completely conventional. I didn't view this question as the "best" in the sense of they always did the right thing. Some of the men on this list fit that description, while others are here mainly because they were TV dads that entertain me above anything else. The dads that managed to be both entertaining and constructive are really the "best" dads of all.

1. Peter Griffin: Family Guy- A less conventional choice, Peter Griffin is here strictly for the entertainment piece I just mentioned. He is the head of the Griffin clan, tolerating his three children named Meg, Chris and baby Stewie. The voice of reason though is really his wife, Lois. Most of the time Peter manages to do the right thing, but it's actually much funnier when he does the wrong thing a bunch of times first.

2. Jason Seaver: Growing Pains- Alan Thicke's portrayal of dad Jason Seaver was always one of the tv dad's I most admired. This was probably because his on screen parenting coincided with my own "growing pains". Jason prided himself on being a rational, level headed parent. He was a psychiatrist by profession, and would love to reason with his four children: Mike, Carol, Ben and Chrissy as much as possible. Most of the time his talks would backfire before they'd work, especially when it came to the rebellious Mike.

What I loved most of all about Jason Seaver though was his carefully thought out pep talks and punishments. He always had really good reasoning for what he was doing and why he did it, and he'd level with the kids about it, too. In the Seaver household you knew you were going to get grounded for doing the wrong thing regardless, but at least you knew where you stood.

3. Mike Brady: The Brady Bunch- Ok, so here's the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls. They meet a man named Brady who was busy with three boys of his own. So one day the lady met the fellow and well, the rest was history...together they decide to share the love and there you have the Brady Bunch. From the beginning, you'd never know that Mike Brady wasn't the real dad of Marsha, Jan or Cindy. What made Mike Brady one of the greatest dads of his time though was his far out philosophical speeches, brilliantly spoofed in the Brady movies. He was always out there with his reasoning, but it was the seventies so he was entitled to a little spaciness I suppose.

4. Michael Bluth: Arrested Development- Michael Bluth always tried to do right by his son, George Michael. Mainly Michael wanted to work hard to be a better parent than his own set of parents ever were. That being said, his first mistake was of course, naming him George Michael, but I digress. In his efforts to be a good dad to his son though, he more often than not managed to screw it up. My favorite was his efforts to guide George Michael's love life. Still George Michael, a relatively normal kid, all things considered, admired his dad for his efforts and still looked up to him. When you're coming of age in an age where dad's don't seem so "picture perfect" anymore, that's no easy feat.

5. Joey Harris and Michael Taylor- My Two Dads; Nick Russo-Blossom; and Danny Tanner- Full House: What do Joey, Michael, Nick and Danny all have in common? Well they're all suddenly single dads of course! In the late eighties, Mr. Mom type parenting became hip. No longer were we just seeing single women raising their kids, we realized that dads could do it, too.

On My Two Dads, Joey and Michael were polar opposites, forced to come together to raise their maybe daughter, Nicole. Nicole's mom died and with her death, she took the knowledge of whose Nicole's dad really was. In the end, they almost reveal who the real dad is, but they rip the papers up. This is when they realize that real parenting happens in the heart, not by blood.

Teenager Blossom Russo was another charming teen, raised by her single dad, Nick. Nick was a struggling musician, tending to one grown boy, Anthony, who kicked a drug habit, one teenage boy, Joey, who was dumb as rocks and Blossom, the quirky, level-headed teen who helped dad navigate through it all. Nick was a sensitive dad, but stern when he needed to be.

Finally we have Danny Tanner of Full House. When Danny's wife dies suddenly, it looks like he'll have to take care of their three young girls, DJ, Stephanie and Michelle all on his own. That's when Uncle Jessi and best friend Joey decide to pitch in. In reality, all three men raise all three girls together. It was the OCD Danny though, that stood out for his end of the episode pep talks and bear hugs. It also is the most ironic considering the real Bob Saget who played the conservative Danny is anything but.

6. Dr. Cliff Huxtable- The Cosby Show: Not only was Bill Cosby's portrayal of Cliff Huxtable perfect, it was also ground breaking. The Cosby Show was one of the first on screen portrayals of a well educated and well to do, African American family. Cliff was father to five children, Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy. The first two, Sondra and Denise, were grown and for the most part, living on their own. That didn't mean they still didn't need wise old dad's advice from time to time though. The other three kids, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy, lived under the Huxtable roof and were subjected to the majority of dad's craziest parenting skills. He was always kooky, but he was also always fair.

7. Jack Arnold- Wonder Years: The Wonder Years was narrated through the eyes of now grown Kevin Arnold. What made this perspective so great was that as a grown man, Kevin was able to remember when his parents were furious, but also could understand in retrospect why they felt the way they did. Many episodes focused on the efforts of dad, Jack's struggle to raise his kids Kevin, Wayne and Karen ad mist the backdrop of the turbulent sixties. Dan Lauria's portrayal of Jack Arnold was the best of exhibiting quiet anger and disappointment. You always knew when he was about to blow his top, but that didn't make the pay off any less rewarding. In the end, grown Kevin, and the audience, knew he did it in the name of love though.

8. Jim Anderson- Father Knows Best: When I was growing up, I dabbled from time to time in the old school sitcoms. In large part, I'd laugh at how different they were from the shows of my time, but some of them still managed to stick with me all these years. One show I watched a lot was Father Knows Best. Robert Young reminded me of my own grandfather, so I suppose that's what sparked my initial interest. Jim was one of the first and best examples of a great tv father to his three children: Betty, Bud and Kathy. Although it was a different time period, there were some similarities in the way the kids interacted with their father, and of course...there was always the classic pep talk to keep things status quo. It was a show that was built around the premise after all that father, does indeed, know best.

9. Eric Taylor- Friday Night Lights: Recently I started watching the greatly under appreciated Friday Night Lights. It's the story of a working class family that lives in the heart of small town America, Dillon, Texas. There we grow to know and love the small town folks with big dreams. In a town like Dillon, only one thing is just as important as family and that's football. Coach Taylor manages to juggle both, being a father figure to the Dillon High School Panthers, and being an overprotective dad to his daughter, Julie. He's my most favorite recent additions to the TV dads because he's stern when he needs to be, but a softy at heart. He also has a great dynamic with his on screen wife. I just hope he's around to "coach" for a few more seasons.

10. Steven Keaton- Family Ties: Although all of the dads were brought to you in no particular order, I'm ending with my favorite tv dad of all time. That dad was Steven Keaton of Family Ties. I loved the dichotomy of Steven Keaton's character. On one hand he was a bleeding heart liberal who spent his youth fighting for what was right. Fifteen years later, he's trying to instill that same rebellious spirit into his children; Alex, Mallory, Jennifer and Andy who for the most part, have no interest. Particularly fun was his interaction with Alex, his flesh and blood, but otherwise his polar opposite in every way. What I loved the most about Michael Gross and his portrayal was the times when he would get "manic". He really did the crazed dad thing better than anyone else. Funny. Fair. Stern when he needed to be. Good at parenting, with or without a beard. That's what makes Steven Keaton the best tv dad in my book.



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