Family & Friends · Film & Television

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

Over the years, television has served up a colorful smorgasbord of fathers. With every nature of families tuning in, they became our role models, cautionary tales, and comic relief. Depending on when you watched, your definition of dad might have been shaped by the earnest patriarchs of the ’50s and ’60s: Ward Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver; Sheriff Andy Taylor of The Andy Griffith Show; Steve Douglas of My Three Sons; or, of course, Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best.

The ’70s brought us Howard Cunningham (or “Mr. C,” according to the Fonz) from Happy Days; Pa Ingalls and Pa Walton from, respectively, Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons; racist Archie Bunker from All in the Family; his nemesis George Jefferson from The Jeffersons; and Tom Bradford of Eight Is Enough.

Youngsters of the ’80s and ’90s grew up with Steven Keaton from Family Ties; Jason Seaver of Growing Pains; and male nanny (or “manny”) Tony Micelli in Who’s the Boss. The ’80s also brought us more comedic paters Al Bundy and Dan Connor from Married . . . with Children and Roseanne. They were bumbling, but they loved their kids. Of course, at the top of many “Best Dad” lists is Dr. Huxtable from The Cosby Show. It’s our very real connection to these fictitious fathers that contributes to the disbelief and outrage we all feel as Cosby stands accused by so many women of drugging and raping them. We were similarly shocked and saddened when Robert Reed died in 1992. If Mike Brady could have contracted H.I.V., maybe AIDS was something we all needed to pay attention to.

After the year 2000, more and more TV dads became less traditional, mirroring the growing number of non-traditional families. From gay dads Mitch Pritchett and Cameron Tucker in Modern Family and co-parenting brothers Charlie and Alan Harper in Two and a Half Men; to CTU agent Jack Bauer in 24; and anti-hero dads The Sopranos’  Tony and Mad Men’s Don Draper. These fathers may not know best, but they certainly provide our children and grandchildren with a greater variety of father figures.

Classics, cartoons, mobsters, and mannies, six decades of TV fathers have made us laugh, cry, and shake our heads in disbelief. But for me (and countless other women age 50+ on Facebook and elsewhere), Mike Brady will always be Father of the Year.


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