Family & Friends · Film & Television

Mike Brady—Small-Screen Father, Big-Time Dad

Circa 1972: The Brady family, from the television series The Brady Bunch.

Like many of my contemporaries, I enjoy Facebook. (Women over 50 are one of the fastest-growing social media demographics.) Mainly I use it to connect with old classmates, friends, and colleagues. Sometimes, if I’m bored or procrastinating, I’ll take one of those silly quizzes. “Which literary heroine are you?” Or “Who were you in a past life?” Or even “What mental disorder do you have?” Most recently, it was “How well do you know The Brady Bunch?”

I earned an A+, getting 12 out of 12 questions right.

Back in fourth grade, I couldn’t wait for Fridays. Not because I disliked school (I loved it) or because I had big weekend plans (I didn’t), but because the Friday night ABC lineup included The Brady Bunch. Even though The Partridge Family had edgier plots and groovier clothes and David Cassidy (audible sigh), there was something special about the Bradys. When I introduced both shows to my millennial daughter several years ago, it was The Brady Bunch that stuck (I think we wore out the DVDs). After 40 years, The Partridge Family just didn’t hold up.

What did the Bradys have that the Partridges didn’t? A dad.

Most of us who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s remember Mike and Carol, Greg and Marcia, Peter and Jan, Bobby and Cindy, and, of course, Alice. To revisit The Brady Bunch now is to find the sets and costumes, attitudes and dialogue desperately dated. “Cool” is still cool, but phrases like, “Far out!” . . . well, not so much. I cringe when I see the short, short dresses on the Brady girls (Cindy’s bloomers peeking out from under her skirts certainly wouldn’t fly today). Or Greg and Peter’s endless pursuit of “chicks.” And Mike’s white-man-afro and Carol’s shag? Wow. But, despite the hairdos and bell-bottoms, the show gave us an ideal family that evolved out of less than ideal circumstances.

And the head of that family was architect and über-dad Mike Brady.

The Bradys are often held up as impossibly idealized, and yet they were a patchwork of steps: stepmom, stepdad, stepbrothers, stepsisters. Mike was their fearless leader. Thanks to his wisdom and benevolence, each 30-minute episode had a happy ending. What was particularly reassuring to a young viewer in 1969 was the fact that Mike loved his brood even when they weren’t perfect. They had their share of petty jealousies, major rivalries, and even filial disobedience. Still, Mike was always loving and wise, despite some rather poor choices made by his bunch of Bradys. He and Carol never completely lost it, as my husband and I have been known to do and as our parents did before us. Parenting Mike Brady’s way was always something to aspire to.

With his wife, Mike was handsome and romantic. The show raised many eyebrows by putting Mr. and Mrs. Brady in the same bed, and they clearly enjoyed each other’s company. Who didn’t fantasize about moms and dads who never fought?

In creating these special parents, I think creator Sherwood Schwartz hit on something basic and universal and timeless. Despite all the silliness, The Brady Bunch was innovative for its time. It addressed the evolving nature of the American household. It was a reassuring message in a changing time: Where there’s love, there’s family. In an interview, Schwartz once recounted that the idea for The Brady Bunch came to him when he heard a statistic that 29 percent of marriages included a child (or children) from a previous marriage. This new idea of family and how it might work was his inspiration for one of the most beloved shows of all time.

With Father’s Day approaching, one Brady episode in particular stands above the rest. It was early on in the series, and Carol’s girls were still getting used to their new dad. Marcia nominates Mike for “Father of the Year.” She risks not getting to go on the family ski trip when she sneaks out to mail her nomination before the contest deadline. It was an endearing storyline with a powerful, timely lesson. Mike was Marcia’s father because of their day-to-day relationship, not their DNA. Think how many permutations of families have appeared on the small screen since.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.