TV moms and dads often make parenting look so easy, and, sure, they have a lot of help with the fact that what’s going on is, well, TV and not real life.
Still, if you’re looking for parenting tips, you can definitely learn a lot from TV dads (and certainly TV moms, but, you know, Father’s Day is coming up… The TV Professor launched shortly before Mother’s Day and wasn’t organized enough back then to come up with a Mother’s Day-themed post… The TV Professor is barely organized now...).
So with that in mind, I thought I’d offer up some parental guidance from some of the TV dads out there. This is just scratching the surface, by the way. I’m sure The TV Professor will revisit this topic again and again.
Good parenting means being there for your kids. Like, a lot.
In the Happy Days episode, “Bringing Up Spike,” the Fonz tries to take care of his nephew, Spike, and things don’t go well. Nothing too serious. Spike just, uh, does steals money from Arnold’s. Yeah, not good.
So the Fonz urges Howard Cunningham to work some magic with an amazing fatherly speech, so Spike can be set straight and head down a better path.
“Oh, come on, Fonzie,” Howard says. “It doesn’t work that way. I mean, I don't have any ready-made, ‘Don't you know it's wrong to rob a drive-in?’ speeches.”
“All right, well, listen, just give him any speech, all right,” the Fonz says. “Uh, just as long as it sounds a little Robert Young-ish.”
(As viewers knew then and some of you reading this know, Robert Young starred in Father Knows Best.)
Howard waves that idea off. “The whole point is that I do not have a big magical bag of speeches,” he says.
“Oh, yeah, then how come Richie is so clean-cut?” the Fonz asks.
“Well, it's not from an occasional pep talk,” Howard replies. “No, it comes from years of living with him. Being an example. Building up a long-lasting relationship.”
It’s simple, obvious advice, and quick and short, as advice tends to be on sitcoms. But Tom Bosley really sells it, and Howard Cunningham is correct.
Good parenting means knowing how to be supportive.
By the way, I’m not counseling anyone being supportive in every single parenting situation before anybody says anything. Obviously, boundaries are important, of course.
But in just about every Oscar acceptance speech, the winners are thanking their parents for being supportive, so it’s clearly an important component of parenting.
Burt Hummel in Glee (2009-2015) was an excellent example of the type of father any kid would be lucky to have. As fans of Glee know, Kurt Hummel was gay, and he sometimes ran into homophobia, and, well, his father was a textbook example of how to be supportive.
In the fourth season of Glee, the father and son had an especially warm moment before Kurt moved to New York to pursue a career in theater. Kurt made it clear that he didn’t necessarily need to move so soon to the big city, given how expensive it was going to be.
Burt, however, would have none of that, telling his son that he should go “because it’s an adventure."
"Look, all great artists need a little struggle in their lives," Burt says. "Didn't you tell me that Julia Roberts sold shoes in New York before she made it? Good enough for Pretty Woman, good enough for Kurt Hummel. You scared?”
“Terrified,” Kurt said.
“New York is gonna be a breeze compared to Lima. Think about all the crap you've been putting up with the last couple years. You know the difference between this place and New York?”
“New York is filled with people like you. People who aren't afraid to be different. You're gonna feel at home there. And if you're not scared, it just means you're not sticking out your neck far enough.”
I love that last line. So much that I’ll repeat it for emphasis: If you’re not scared, it just means you’re not sticking out your neck far enough.
Excellent advice for anybody.
Kurt must have loved the nugget of wisdom, too, because he then said, “You truly are the world's greatest dad.”
“I know,” Burt replies. “It’s written on the coffee mug you got me for Father's Day. Now get out of here. You're gonna miss your flight.”
After they hug, Kurt says, “I'm gonna miss you, Dad.”
“You can always come back,” Burt says, adding a quiet aside to himself: “But you won’t.”
“I love you,” the son says.
“I love you, too,” the father says.
Good parenting is sharing your values with your kids
Granted, it depends what your values are. If you steal cars for a living, and you want your kids to be in the family business, you're not really being a top-notch parent.
Anyway, crazy as it may sound, if we were handing out awards for TV dads doling out fatherly wisdom, it just may have to go to The Munsters for some advice Herman Munster imparts to his son in the episode, “Eddie’s Nickname.”
During the summer of 2020, this little speech of Herman Munster’s actually went viral on YouTube, as people saw The Munsters speech as an anti-racism lesson. Eddie, you see, looks a bit like a werewolf, and because of that, he has been getting an earful from his classmates. And so Herman gives his son a tender pep talk at the dinner table.
“The lesson I want you to learn is that it doesn’t matter what you look like. You could be tall or short, or fat or thin, or ugly — or handsome, like your father — or you can be black or yellow or white, it doesn’t matter. But what does matter is the size of your heart and the strength of your character.”Herman Munster
There's a lot more good advice from television dads out there. I know I haven’t talked about the phenomenal parenting of Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. Mike Brady, of course, is up there in the pantheon of TV dads. Steven Keaton on Family Ties is a father a lot of dads might want to aspire to be like. Philip Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the type of dad you'd want in your corner. Danny Tanner on Full House. Carl Winslow on Family Matters.
Tim Taylor on Home Improvement could probably offer some good parenting lessons, though if you remember the show well, you’d want to make sure you were fully insured before discussing parenting with him. Maybe your role model is Steve Douglas on My Three Sons. Or good ol' Pa on Little House on the Prairie. There are so many wonderful TV dads (and, again, TV moms) worth emulating that it’s impossible to give them all their due in one post. Next Father's Day, for sure.
It's a lot harder to be a dad or mom in real life than on TV. But if I can offer a parenting tip, I'd probably just say that we should all keep trying to be a good parent -- and then try a little harder tomorrow than you did today.
And, of course, it probably should be said that when it comes to having a TV dad as a role model, not every TV dad is worth emulating.
I mean, The Simpsons is a wonderful show, and Homer Simpson is arguably a good father. He means well, and he loves his children. But he is one of the worst TV characters you could model yourself after. I’m thinking, for instance, of some advice he offered up in a 1994 episode: “Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”
Where you can watch these shows (at the time of this writing) for parenting tips: Happy Days is on weeknights on the cable channel, Me TV, as is The Munsters. Glee is on Netflix. The Simpsons, all 32 seasons, can be found on Hulu.com and DisneyPlus (season 33 begins this fall, airing on the network, Fox).
The TV Professor articles similar to this parenting tips one: Hmmm. It doesn’t feel like there’s much. If you’re looking for dads to model yourself after, you may find some parenting tips from Julius in Everybody Hates Chris, who we discuss in television’s cheapest TV characters.