Father's Day is a time to honor the men responsible for teaching us those valuable life lessons when we were growing up, but we think the holiday should extend to those fictional dads in our lives as well. From a mill worker to a police officer, a stay-at-home dad and a Bel-Air judge, here are our picks for the Greatest TV Dads of All Time.
If we've missed your favorite, let us know in the comments!
The iconic 70s TV series that centered on a family living in a rural Virginia community just wouldn’t be the same without its patriarch, John Walton, Sr. The leader of the Walton clan, John Sr., played by Ralph Waite, labored tirelessly as a mill worker in order to put food on the table for John Boy, Elizabeth and his five other children, all while the family suffered through hardships caused by war and the Great Depression. But through it all, John Sr.’s love for his family and his faith never wavered.
Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor wasn’t that handy at being a handyman. (There’s a good reason he was on a first-name basis with the local hospital staff and why his TV show partner Al had a bigger fan base than he did.) While Tim (played by Tim Allen) didn’t do a good job of fixing things, his parenting skills fared a bit better – thanks in part to some sage over-the-fence advice from neighbor Wilson. Tim also understood the cardinal rule of being the “man of the house” – namely, when it comes to fighting with your wife, admit defeat, apologize and move on.
Charles Ingalls or “Pa” as Little House fans know him, could always be counted on for a bit of sage advice and for a lively tune strung on his trusty fiddle. Ingalls, played by Michael Landon, took care of his family – which was no easy feat considering he was outnumbered by women on that tiny homestead – and let’s be honest, we all secretly wish our own dads had given us a cute nickname like “half-pint” when we were young.
Howard Cunningham was meant to be the All-American dad. Played by Tom Bosley, Cunningham was a wise, business owner in Middle America who liked to play golf. He loved his family and even put up with The Fonz – everyone’s favorite street greaser with a heart of gold. But the real reason he makes this list is because he managed to make the Leopard Lodge Fez look cool again.
We were only treated to five seasons of My Wife and Kids but that was enough to make us wish our own dads were as gut-bustingly funny as Michael Kyle was. Damon Wayans played Kyle, head of the Kyle family and the inventor of a new modern style of parenting known as "Michael Kyle Signature Moments" – which was basically Kyle tricking his three children into thinking they had done wrong in order to teach them a valuable life lesson.
Full House is responsible for gifting us with many treasures. It's where we first met the Olsen twins. It gave us a leather jacket-wearing John Stamos, and we won't even mention all of the various catchphrases that have stood the test of time, but the best thing Full House gave us was a look at what being a good dad truly meant. Danny Tanner, played by Bob Saget, was a widower with three young girls when the show first aired. Sure, he had his loveable schnook of a best-friend and his irresponsible brother-in-law to help him out, but watching Danny take on the responsibility of being a single-parent to his kids wasn't something we had seen often on TV before the show came around, which is why Saget's character gets a spot on our list.
The Cleavers were the idyllic family of the 1950s, so it goes without saying that Ward Cleaver, the patriarch of the clan, would make our list of greatest TV dads. The white collar World War II vet played by Hugh Beaumont had all of your typical dad interests: reading the newspaper every evening, playing golf at the country club, driving a Ford four-door sedan and imparting some words of wisdom to his two (sometimes troublesome) boys.
Philip Banks, best known as "Uncle Phil," was a successful Bel-Air lawyer, a respected judge, a lover of James Brown, classical music and Soul Train – but most of all, he loved his family, including his nephew, Will Smith, whom Phil took into his home to help keep Will safe from boys making trouble in Will's West Philadelphia neighborhood. Uncle Phil, played by James Avery, was a tough disciplinarian and a big softie and one of the greatest fatherly figures to ever grace our TV screens.
Jason Seaver was a trend-setter. He was a stay-at-home dad before it was cool to be a stay-at-home dad. While Dr. Seaver, played by Alan Thicke, looked after the kids -- ladies-man Mike, bookworm Carol and unruly Ben -- his wife was able to return to her work as a reporter. His experience of trying to balance work and family life was and still is a relevant struggle and his ability to manage any crisis that popped up in the Seaver home is why he lands on this list.
We can't talk about TV dads without talking about George Lopez. The stand-up comedian portrayed a fictionalized version of himself on The George Lopez Show and even though the series ended eight years ago, we're still laughing through the reruns. What was great about George was his love for his family and a determination to be the father he didn't have growing up. He didn't know what he was doing half the time but that was okay because what parent does? His funny mishaps and punchy jokes more than made up for it and he still managed to teach us a thing or two along the way.
Veronica Mars was an instant cult classic when it debuted on UPN. If you aren't familar with the show, it centered on a teenage private investigator trying to solve the mysterious death of her best friend, all while graduating high school, dealing with boy troubles and manning the phones at her father's P.I. office. (It's very Nancy Drew noir and it's some of the best written television around.) What really made the show special though was the relationship between Veronica and her dad, Keith Mars, played by Enrico Colantoni, another single parent trying to raise his teenage daughter and keep her out of trouble. Keith was the cool dad, the one to make corny jokes, be okay with Veronica staying out late – she was probably staking out a perp's home instead of partying, anyway – and he was always there to bail her out of trouble.
Phil Dunphy is a doofus dad, which may just be the best compliment anyone could ever recieve. Besides being a real estate broker, a former college cheerleader and a lover of magic tricks, Phil Dunphy, played by Ty Burrell, is also an expert in peerenting – a term he coined when he decided to parent by being friends with his three kids. Does it always work? Definitely not, but it always brings the laughs which is why Phil Dunphy makes our list of greatest TV dads.
When you think of Family Matters, you probably think of Steve Urkel and a pair of high-waisted suspenders and a set of oversized spectacles. But the standout of the series wasn't the loveable nerd who could constantly be heard uttering "Did I do that?" everytime something went wrong in the Winslow household – it was the man responsible for keeping it running, Carl Winslow. Played by Reginald VelJohnson, the self-proclaimed "Big Kahuna" was a Chicago P.D. officer who fell into a bit of a cop stereotype with his doughnut addiction but who was always there to save the day, solve a problem and, most of the time, kick Steve Urkel out of his castle.
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