By: The Grouch on the Couch
Well, I made a list of fictional moms, so it only seems fair to do a list of fictional dads. Just like before, I picked a number, in this case 6, then picked 4 at random from a list of fictional fathers. These aren’t the “best” fathers, but they’re the ones I remember.
THE “CHANGE-OF-LIFE DAD” AWARD
George Banks (Steve Martin in Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride Part II)
We only see George Banks at two points in his life. First, when he finds out that his 22-year-old daughter is going to marry a man she only has known for six months. Despite the fact that George doesn’t particularly like his new potential son-in-law, it becomes obvious that he just always loved her being “daddy’s girl” and doesn’t want that to change. Still, by the end of the first movie, he’s accepted that it’s part of life that your kids will leave, but that they’ll still love him. The second time we see George, it’s as he becomes a grandfather and, at the same time, a father again. Managing to panic simultaneously about being too young to be a grandfather and too old to be a father, George really embodies two natural fears of most men at the same time.
Steve Martin’s performance in these films always managed to be hilarious while not being disingenuous. The things that George is feeling are the things that many people in his position would feel. Despite that, he is a loving, caring father and a decent husband, though his wife, Nina (Diane Keaton), is pretty much better than him at dealing with anything. George isn’t perfect, but he’s pretty real. Also, every scene of him bonding with his kids over basketball is gold.
THE “DAD YOU LEAST WANT TO MESS WITH” AWARD
William Munny (Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven)
Unforgiven is one of the best Westerns ever made, because it’s the anti-Western. Everything that always seemed noble and idealistic about the Western Genre is run through a blender and mixed in with heavy doses of reality. The central bounty in the movie, for example, is offered by a group of prostitutes after a man disfigures one of them for laughing at the size of his genitals. Not something I remember from Roy Rogers.
The main character of the film, William Munny, is a retired gunman who is convinced to take up the bounty because otherwise he’ll lose the farm and his children’s future. In order to spare his kids from ever having to do what he’s done, Munny tracks down the cowboys. However, at the end of the film, he has to face down an entirely different posse to ensure his family’s safety and to avenge a fallen comrade. The movie, which up until this point has gone out of the way to say that there is no “cowboy who rides into town and faces down a posse without dying” then proceeds to show Munny doing EXACTLY THAT. He kills a dozen men brutally all by himself, then returns home to his family, where he, again, swears off killing.
THE “BEST DAD, WORST HUSBAND” AWARD
Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire)
Daniel Hillard isn’t the best husband. He basically dumps every responsibility in the marriage on his wife and it really isn’t that surprising when she can’t take it anymore. Due to his instability, he’s only allowed limited time with his children, something that doesn’t sit well with him, but that anyone in social work would probably agree with. But, rather than, you know, working on getting a better job or making a better home environment for his kids, he decides to A) gaslight the hell out of his now-ex-wife and B) dress up as a 60-year-old English woman and be the children’s nanny. These are not the responses of a person who you want watching over kids, something the movie flat-out tells you when a judge restricts his custody further after he’s exposed.
There’s no doubt that Daniel loves his kids. At one point he compares them to air, because he can’t live without them. And that’s really the biggest redeeming thing in the movie. As Daniel says, he can only admit that his actions were crazy because he could not live in a world where he didn’t see his kids more and, being a creative person rather than a logical one, this was the best solution he could come up with. With almost any other actor, I think this movie would fail, but Robin Williams never wavers on this being a man doing what he thinks is right. So, yeah, he went overboard, but he’s still a pretty good father, especially by the end of the movie, where he’s finally taking more responsibility for his parenting.
THE “DAD WHO DEFINED OVERBOARD” AWARD
Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase in the Vacation Films)
Clark W. Griswold dreams big. Everything he does has to be big and bright and extreme, but it’s all because that’s how he thinks family’s bond. Credit to him, by the end of every film, the family does seem to be pretty tightly-knit, although his kids are usually recast by the next movie. From amusement parks to Europe to Vegas, Clark takes his family on wild adventures that often result in some form of legal trouble and marital strife, and it’s almost always directly his fault. And when they stay home for Christmas, well, as his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) notes “we’re all in hell.”
However, the best thing about Clark, for me, will always be his rants. Usually, at some point in the movie, something will go wrong that isn’t Clark’s fault, and Clark will snap. These are typically so hilarious that even the cast has trouble pretending to be scared by Clark’s conduct, rather than laughing their asses off. I end this entry with a quote from the best one: “Hallelujah! Holy Shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”
THE “CUTEST PAIR OF POPS” AWARD
Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Modern Family)
Cam and Mitchell are adorable. Mitch is an uptight, introverted, worrywart who is overly focused on work and his father’s approval while Cam is the free-spirit who loves to go out and make friends. Hell, any photo of the two of them kind of makes it obvious. Mitch usually wears something conservative while Cam’s outfit’s a little more flamboyant. I love the hell out of Cam’s shirts, too. Despite this, Mitchell is often the more sensitive when dealing with confrontation while Cam, who is a former football player for University of Illinois, is more blunt and willing to use his intimidating size. However, as cute as they are in their “opposites attract” marriage, they’re better as parents.
Cam and Mitch adopt their Vietnamese daughter, Lily, at the beginning of the series, and from then on are two loving fathers, constantly doting on their little bundle of joy. While Lily didn’t speak for the first two seasons, after she starts verbalizing, she quickly starts to pick up the funniest parts of both of her fathers: Cam’s over-the-top drama queen emoting and Mitch’s sarcasm and wit. The two often run into conflicts over how they want to raise their daughter, with Cam being more experimental and Mitch being more traditional, but they ultimately manage to give their daughter the best of both worlds.
THE “DAD EVERYONE SHOULD TRY TO BE” AWARD
Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show)
Mayberry isn’t real, and neither is someone as almost unfailingly good as Sheriff Andy Taylor, but they weren’t supposed to be. Andy Taylor was a single father whose wife died shortly after childbirth and set out to raise his son, Opie (Ron Howard), with the help of the woman who raised him, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier). Throughout the series, Andy always tends to be seen as folksy and naïve, but with a deep font of wisdom and virtue beneath, and those are the values he tries to pass on to his son. There’s already an entry on this site about one of the best examples of Andy’s parenting, but any given episode is likely to show an example.
It’s pretty telling that one of the most famous images of father-son bonding is the opening to the show, of Andy and Opie heading out to go fishing, Opie running ahead and playing with the rocks while Andy watches over him with a steady stride.
THE “DAD YOU SHOULD PROBABLY NOT BE” AWARD
Hal Wilkerson (Bryan Cranston in Malcolm in the Middle)
Malcolm in the Middle was a show about people who were pretty much failures. The eldest son, Francis (Christopher Masterson), is such a problem that he ended up dropping out of military school to go to Alaska, all in the name of spiting his mother. The next son, Reese (Justin Berfield), is a criminal to the extent that he has a regular cell at the jail and refuses any scholastic endeavors, intentionally failing to graduate once. Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), despite being a supergenius, is constantly in trouble and jeopardizing his future by trying to keep up with his two older brothers. The youngest son, for most of the series, Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan), is also extremely intelligent and talented, but is typically the victim of his big brothers’ antics. The kids are so misbehaved that it pretty much takes the iron will of their mother, Lois (Jane Kaczmerak), to keep them in line. And that’s because Hal doesn’t really step up much.
Hal’s not much of a disciplinarian, he often joins his kids in troublemaking, and he often gets so caught up in fads and obsessions that he ignores his family. Moreover, it’s all because he loves banging his wife. No, really, in one episode, Hal and Lois can’t have sex for 2 weeks and become successful parents and people. But, Hal’s not a “bad” dad. He loves his kids, even though they drive him nuts, and he does try to help them when they’re in trouble. At the end of the series, though, it’s revealed that everything he and Lois do is part of Lois’s master plan to have Malcolm become the best president in US History, which… makes it better, maybe?
THE “BEST ADOPTED DAD” AWARD
“Uncle” Philip Banks (James Avery on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Philip Banks was a rebel in his youth. He was a civil rights activist in Selma in 1965, he heard Malcolm X speak, and he was the first black child to use a white toilet in North Carolina during segregation. Then, he got a scholarship to Princeton, then went to Harvard Law, and became super wealthy with a mansion in Bel-Air. He has three kids of his own, and then agrees to take in his wife’s nephew, Will (Will Smith), with whom he constantly spars. Will thinks that Phil is a sellout, while Phil says Will doesn’t show him enough respect for all the work he put in helping to advance race relations. This isn’t helped by Phil’s son Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), who acts like a stereotypical WASP. However, as the series goes on, Will slowly becomes a part of the family.
Then, there is the episode where Will’s dad, Lou (Ben Vereen), comes back. Now, up until this point, they hadn’t really addressed what happened with Will’s dad, but it turns out that he just abandoned his family after Will was born. He comes back, trying to bond with Will, who quickly grows close to him, before trying to leave again. Phil angrily confronts Lou about shirking his responsibilities as a father, which Lou quickly just says he “didn’t want.” Lou then leaves Will again, leading Will to tell him off in one of the most emotional scenes on TV, before finally hugging Phil, with Phil finally being the father Will never had.
THE “BEST DAD IN FILM” AWARD
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird)
Atticus Finch will consistently top any list of best fictional lawyers, but I also have to put him on here as a great father. Atticus is one of the few people in fiction to really try to teach his children the lesson that it doesn’t matter what people think of you as long as you can look inside and know that you’re doing the right thing and that it’s never worth fighting someone just over name calling. In both the movie and the book, we’re shown how much it hurts his daughter Scout to think of her father as a coward, though she later realizes that’s the last adjective to put on him.
At the end of the film/book, Atticus has proven that he is the best man within the town, but, rather than ending with the trial or the departure of Boo Radley, the book ends with Atticus calmly holding his daughter before carrying her in to bed. That’s the real triumph, that, after the events of the story, Atticus returns to just being a normal father, devoted to his children from the beginning to the end.
I’m not considering the “sequel” book when making this determination, just the film. In Go Set a Watchman, people felt betrayed by Atticus Finch now being an advocate for segregation. What’s interesting is that, apparently, this may be because it was written first and Atticus Finch was based on Harper Lee’s father, who originally favored segregation before later supporting integration by the time Lee re-wrote the book into To Kill a Mockingbird. So, it’s possible that Atticus’s reversed opinions is based on the order of authorship being reversed. Still, at the end of that book, the message is that Scout still loves her father because her father loves her and has always been supportive of her even when they disagreed, so he’s still a pretty great dad.
I dedicate this to my own father, to whom I am a perpetual disappointment, but who I respect above all other men.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews. If you want more from the Grouch on the Couch, check out his rants here, and wait a few weeks for another big entry.
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