Dad Files: The Best and Worst TV Dads

Cliff Huxtable, Ray Barone, Dan Conner—which kind of dad will Steve become?

The few times Eli and Jack have caught sight of a moving image on a TV screen, they went full zombie: emotionless expressions, lax muscle tone, eyes gone rheumy too soon. My wife demanded we adopt a strict policy: No TV around the children.

I agreed. Research suggests it is best for our boys, nine-and-a-half month old fraternal twins, to avoid the brain zapping properties of the TV till they are about three. Still, I look forward to the more easeful times the four of us will spend together, snuggled on the couch or floor, watching children’s shows that will allow my wife and I to stare at our children, for long minutes at a time, undetected.

Recently, however, I decided to bring a little TV to them. I’ve long hoped to be a Cosby-like dad, always ready with a story or a joke and some wisdom. But the television father is a sit-com staple and examples of dads we might aspire to be range from the buffoonish “King of Queens” to the saintly “Father Knows Best So,” over the last few weeks, I’ve done my best to imitate various television dads for the boys, figuring the exercise might at least keep us all engaged during another round of drop that rattle and snag dad’s eyeglasses right off his face.

The Candidates:

• Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show): arguably TV’s greatest dad and a big favorite with me—witty and boss.

• Alex P. Keaton’s dad (Family Ties): C’mon, does anyone really remember the name of the character Michael Gross played? I can only guess that his last name was “Keaton” but other than that I’m lost. That said, I included him because his wry, put-out demeanor strikes me as the antidote to my more impatient personality.

• Ray Barone (Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond): whiny, pessimistic, dark. Frankly, I may already be Ray Romano.

• Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke on The Dick Van Dyke Show): What a clown! What a loon!

• Dan Conner (John Goodman on Roseanne): Funny and well meaning, with an uneven temper. And fat. Frankly, I may already be Dan Conner/John Goodman. (My weight has, in fact, inched up to 221 pounds).

The Results:

• Cliff Huxtable: I came sweeping into the room, wearing a loud sweater, and said “Brazzen frazzen racket in the mazzle! Mmm Hmmm!” I smiled only with my lips and rolled my eyes back in my head. The surprise here is that the act quickly morphed into something closer to the Swedish Chef, from the Muppets. Horndy Forndy in the flue! Bork! Bork! Bork!

>> The Kids: During Cosby, the boys smiled faintly and kept looking at me, waiting to see what I might do next. When I started doing the Chef, they giggled or babbled.

• Alex P. Keaton’s dad: What, again, did he do?

>> The Kids: They treated me like their straight man, babbling and playing while I sat idly by, wishing I was important.

• Ray Barone: I ignored my children entirely, and engaged in a prolonged and bitter fight with my family.

>> The Kids: Cried.

• Rob Petrie: I fell over repeatedly, ate their toes and acted like a wild monkey. Ooh ooh! Aah-aah! I shouted, scratching my head and my underarms as I walked around bow legged.

>> The Kids: Jack laughed immediately. Eli smiled thinly before giggling the third time I rolled through the routine.

• Dan Conner: I drank a beer, ate too much and faked a heart attack.

>> The Kids: Cried.

The Rankings:

6. Dan Conner—much love and respect for big John, but beer is to be imbibed less regularly and I really do need to take off the pounds.

5. Ray Barone—Hey, I love Raymond. But a model of fatherhood he is not. My boys need me on the floor with them—not stalking around in other rooms, storming through long, nasal monologues.

4. Alex P. Keaton’s dad—For now, there just seems no place in my boys’ hearts for a man who delivers liberal orthodoxy in warm, mild tones.

3. Cliff Huxtable—I can only dream of being so funny, and my boys aren’t yet ready for the verbal fireworks shows. For now, the ‘Cos will remain a sometime thing in the Volk house.

2. Rob Petrie—Wait a second? Did he even have kids? Ah, who cares? A laugh riot! A stunning hit! I will deliver Van Dyke-ian pratfalls and crazy faced antics on the regular to get Eli and Jack to laugh. Arguably, the model dad for the under one crowd.

1. The Swedish Chef—I never intended to pull the Chef into this and I’m pretty sure he isn’t a father. But part of being a good dad will be raising the boys to be good to their mom.  And my preparing dinner for us, as I do, keeps her happy. Plus, those Bork-bork-borks! raised the roof for my kids and if the Chef can ever catch and kill that chicken I’m betting he’s not a half bad cook.


Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood on Be Well Philly. Read the series from the beginning.