Dads get too good a rap.
There are wicked stepmothers, stage mothers, not to mention those moms in Toddlers & Tiaras, but dads are almost always portrayed as kindly givers of treats, whose biggest crime is wanting to put their feet up and read the paper before dispensing top-flight parental advice.
Now, most dads are just fine, but let’s not kid ourselves that all dads are paragons of virtue. Searching the pop-culture landscape, we’ve found a few examples that prove it’s not all Cliff Huxtables out there, so maybe this Father’s Day, spring for a slightly nicer tie to thank Dad for being one of the good ones.
The Movie Dad: There’s lecherous dads (like Bill & Ted’s fathers, who both marry the kids’ former classmate, Missy) but you can’t really top the all-in-one absentee, workaholic, and drunken dad in 1979’s The Great Santini. Robert Duvall plays the title role of an ace Marine fighter pilot who brings his military discipline to bear on his family at home in the form of autocratic, violent abuse. It’s based on a book by Pat Conroy, but Duvall’s Santini is so brutal you’ll think it was based on a novel by Sapphire.
The Comic-Book Dad: Comic-book parents tend to be of the noble and self-sacrificing variety, from Superman’s dad sending him to Earth before Krypton explodes to Batman’s dad taking a bullet that leaves young Bruce Wayne enough cash to avoid public school. But Marvel Comics introduced a radical notion with the X-Men’s Magneto, the super-villain dad.
In fairness, Magneto didn’t know that Magda, the fellow Holocaust survivor he loved, was pregnant with twins when she ran away from him, scared of his mutant powers. But years later, when he invited twin super-siblings Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to join his subtly-named “Brotherhod of Evil Mutants”, you’d think he would have noticed the resemblance. Seemingly ignorant of his role as their dad, he essentially extorted their help in various ill-fated attempts to conquer the world before they decided that they weren’t actually evil after all and left. Magneto eventually owns up to his role as a parent, conveniently after both kids have grown up and gotten married, sparing himself uncomfortable meetings with in-laws or, worse yet, having to pay for superhero weddings.
The Music Dad: It generally falls to Mama to say there’d be days like this, or to tell LL Cool J to knock you out, but papa, well, he was a rolling stone, at best. The winner of the bad-dad song sweepstakes has to be Harry Chapin’s lament for the absentee father, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s not the wrestling with the workaholic absenteeism that makes the song so grating (though it doesn’t help matters), it’s the whininess. Boo-hoo, your kid grew up just like you? It must suck to have been successful and passed along the value of hard work to your kid. Maybe he’s not really too busy to come see you as an adult – more likely he’s just heard this song his whole freaking life.
The Sitcom Dad: Forget Al Bundy and Homer Simpson. They semi-secretly love their kids; they just have, well, limited skills in the human-being area. For real winners among bad dads on sitcoms, it comes down to a battle of the 1970s’ network stars: Mike Brady versus Fred Sanford.
We’ll begin with the Bradys. The movie remake of The Brady Bunch observed, quite correctly, that an architect who built a house for six kids that included only one bathroom may not be a master of his trade, but let’s talk about parenting choices. Even in the era of the traditional two-parent home, who thought abruptly forcing that many kids together was a good idea? Jan acts out as the middlest of middle children? Greg and Marcia have a strained, hormonally awkward relationship? Who’d have seen that coming? Oh yeah, everyone.
But the winner of them all has to be Fred Sanford of Sanford and Son. He calls his son Lamont “Dummy”, makes him do all the work in the family junkyard business, and, while Fred happily welcomes almost-daily visits from his scatterbrained friend Grady, he throws non-stop insults (go to YouTube and search “gorilla cookies”) to alienate the only family member to ever visit, Lamont’s Aunt Esther.
To sum up, Fred G. (apparently the “G” stands for “Go call Child Protective Services”) Sanford… keeps his son in a junkyard, drives away all other family members, lets a man who may or may not be a drifter in the house whenever he wants and also fakes heart attacks to keep his grown son from ever leaving the family. Forget sitcom, this has Lifetime for Men written all over it.
So unless you’re reading this while chained to a radiator, maybe your old man’s not so bad after all.
Chin up, chumly! Good pop-culture parents exist. We also rounded up the toughest movie moms! –>