When Father’s Day came this past Sunday, I took a break from writing about comics and movies and actually called up my dad. He’s a man who has always been there for me, whether I needed advice on home repair or an extra wallet in hard times. I’m lucky to have been raised by such a man that believes in me, that’s encouraged me, and who can grow such a mythical beard. He also taught me the value of being able to sink into a good TV show, and for that I’ll always be truly grateful. As tribute to the dad that raised me, here is our list of Top 10 TV Dads.
In true Billy v. Mike style, this article was written by two longtime friends obsessed with movies and TV. Only characters who appeared as dads were eligible, and only one per franchise. These are our own opinions, though they still might be wrong. And they had to justifiably be a good dad, not just a notable one. So apologies to George Bluth, Archie Bunker, and Red Foreman. Let’s see who made the cut for our Top 10 TV Dads.
Admiral William Adama (Battlestar Galactica)
Billy: There’s an argument to be made that Admiral Adama isn’t just a father to Apollo over the course of Battlestar Galactica, he’s a father to the whole human race. After the Cylons come back and drive the remnants of humanity out into space in a single flotilla, Adama’s role goes from that of museum relic to active commander. With President Roslin acting as a mother to humanity, Adama’s patriarchal role is clear. Keep everyone safe. Keep everyone together. Don’t lose anyone again.
Mike: Admiral Adama has all of the pressures of fatherhood amped up to a grand, sci-fi genre scale. He has to worry about the safety and well-being of his crew, which includes his own son and a surrogate daughter. He has to make tough choices, choices that not everyone likes and agrees with. That sounds Dad-as-hell to me.
Billy: Adama is protective. Already having lost one son prior to the series, he treats every military and civilian death as a personal hit. We see him treat Starbuck as a daughter, and even when he and Apollo argue over procedure over the course of the series, you know it’s because he never stops seeing him as the boy he raised. Even if sometimes he should. Adama is included as a complex character. A representative of fathers who might not be the best there is, but who do what they do from a place of love. Admiral Adama might not get a call from his son on Father’s Day, but he deserves a place on this list.
Mike: Edward James Olmos is a big reason Adama works so well throughout the series. He seems to have brought a lot of himself to the role — apparently he improvised the series catchphrase “so say we all” — and the emotional depth of the character shows that. His authoritative demeanor suits the role of military commander for the last remnants of the human race and it definitely suits the stern dad who does what he thinks is best for you whether you ask him to or not.
Keith Mars (Veronica Mars)
Mike: An important thing to remember about this list is that it’s about good Dads, not perfect ones. While there are more egregious examples of that on this list (*cough* *cough* Homer Simpson) Keith Mars definitely isn’t the perfect dad. I mean, his daughter spends 3 seasons alternately chasing after or running from criminals. But he’s a good Dad because he’s always there when he needs to be and always tries his best.
Billy: There was definitely a version of this show that could have been made where Keith was an even worse dad than shown here. Yeah, he lets his daughter get into a whole heap of trouble throughout the course of the series, but it’d be a little hard to keep the show running if he was just driving her to soccer practice every week. He does what he can to help her at times and, even while he’s busy looking over his own shoulder, she’s never too far out from his mind.
Mike: The chemistry between Enrico Colantoni as Keith and Kristen Bell’s Veronica Mars is half the reason their relationship plays so well. They have such an easy, personal rapport that it’s not hard to believe that these two have been through some hard times together with only each other to rely on. Plus, it would be really cool to have a private investigator as a dad.
Billy: See, I actually think that the great repore from these two characters comes from the way they’ve been shaped by their experiences. One of the closest parent/child relationships was Lorelai and Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, and that came about because of the struggles they endured together in Rory’s youth. Much in the same way, Keith and Veronica Mars have built a friendship together as well as a strong father/daughter relationship.
Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights)
Mike: Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights isn’t just a great father to his daughters, he’s a father to an entire football team. A key theme of the dads on the list are being the best versions of whatever these fathers do. While the show explores the dark side of high school football in Texas, Coach Taylor is the shining light of everything that can be positive and powerful about it.
Billy: I don’t even like football, and I like Eric Taylor even amidst the scandal, corruption, and ego-centric destruction that others bring to his game. Taylor stood high above it all and remained something that a father should always be: a role model.
Mike: The role is an acting tour de force for Kyle Chandler, a role that won him a much-deserved Emmy. Coach Taylor shows authority when he needs to, tenderness when he needs to and love at all times. He’d also easily win a top spot if we did a Best TV Spouses list. Coach Taylor gave us the phrase “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” and he doesn’t just play by that on the field, he seems to live by it.
Billy: There’s a lot to be said from the fact that Friday Night Lights is a drama and not a sitcom. Nothing is played for laughs here, and the moral lessons can’t spring up out of nothing just because some writer thought it would be good to talk about drugs this week. Everything is rooted in character, and the characters change and grow because of the way they’ve been shaped in the series. Eric Taylor has an important job in that regard. One which he accomplished beautifully.
Sandy Cohen (The OC)
Mike: The entire premise of The OC exists due to Sandy Cohen’s inherent Good Dad-ness. Young offender Ryan Atwood never would have been introduced to the inner-workings of Orange County teenage drama if Sandy hadn’t given him a home and a family. Not to mention the fact that he raised Seth Cohen, the great hope to mid-2000’s nerds and creator of Chrismukkah.
Billy: Adoptive dads can be the best dads, and several entries on this list show. Sandy Cohen didn’t have any reason to bring Ryan into his life other than compassion and empathy. He was choosing to give this boy a home from the start, and even if the OC provided challenges for the boy, Sandy became a consistent rock in the churning waters of adolescence. There’s a road that Ryan could have taken without Sandy Cohen’s intervention and it’s really not one worth thinking about.
Mike: Peter Gallagher is fantastic as Sandy Cohen. Not just his eyebrows either. I was only really used to Gallagher playing sleazy types, so in that regard Sandy Cohen was a revelation. A kind-hearted, Liberal, public defender awash in a sea of high society just trying to make sure his kids don’t get wrapped up in it. It’s no wonder his family was kind and down-to-earth.
Billy: What do you mean it’s not just his eyebrows? I was only voting for this guy because of the eyebrows! Those are attack eyebrows, man! I want a recount.
Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)
Mike: Ignore the cartoon logic of randomly deciding to quit your job, move your family on a whim or strangle your oldest child. The Simpsons is obviously a joke-delivery machine first and foremost, but the longevity of the series has to do with the depth and breadth of its characters. Homer is arguably the most well-developed character on the show — reverted and simplified in later years — and a lot of that is due to his family.
Billy: Homer’s done some questionable things. A beer-swilling, self-serving imbecile, Homer has brought shame to his family more times than I can count on a four fingered yellow hand. The Simpsons is a long running series, however, and I’d argue that for every story where Homer quits his job to sell grease, we get one that shows him as a warm, caring father who despite his failings, always tries to do right by his family and his children.
Mike: He’s a guy who is kind of hard to pin down, pretty much by design, but the best episodes nail his dopey but well-meaning demeanor. This is a guy who gave up air conditioning to buy his daughter a saxophone, got a second job to buy her a horse and stops his son from jumping a gorge. He’s always shown to be a loving parent, even if he half-asses it in practice. There’s a good reason why Maggie’s only word in the series is “daddy”. Because Homer deserves it.
Billy: He takes a baptism for all three of his kids to protect them from the indoctrination of religion. He forces himself to be hard on Bart even though it goes against his nature so the boy can become a Supreme Court Justice some day. When Lisa believes she’s doomed to be dumb, he collects Simpsons from all over the country to prove her wrong. He’s certainly a better father than his own was. Ironic for an animated character, Homer shows himself to be the most rounded and flawed of the bunch. Does he get it right every time? No. But he’s trying. And when he’s written correctly, the warm-hearted lug loves his kids more than anything else. To anyone who questions Homer’s viability as a dad, I have four words: Do it for her.
Carl Winslow (Family Matters)
Billy: Friday nights growing up meant TGIF on ABC. For years, my whole family would gather around the TV on those nights, and the main show we watched together back then was Family Matters. For this reason, I have a strong connection to Carl Winslow as a father figure. Part of a larger movement of strong paternal figures in black sitcoms, Carl raised a son and two daughters (until one was mysteriously written out) alongside his wife and his mother in a supportive environment that. It’s been years since I’ve seen the series, but I still specifically remember instances of teaching his son acceptance and of course his endless frustrations with the boy who would eventually usurp everyone in terms of popularity on the series: Steven Q. Urkel.
Mike: I had a similar attachment to Carl Winslow. My sister and I loved TGIF and Family Matters may have been our favourite. Carl Winslow was a huge part of that. He was a big, loveable goofball who worked just as well whether he was being Urkel’s exasperated sidekick or dealing with family issues. Whether he was helping Eddie deal with gang violence or helping Urkel with some insane invention, Carl always came off as real.
Billy: As troubled Urkel became the focus of Family Matters more and more, we saw him grow from a joke into a character. Carl became less of a foil, and more of a father figure for Steve too, long abandoned by his own family who may never have actually made it onscreen the more I think about it. Carl may never have actually liked the geeky boy next door, but there was never any question about whether he loved him and protected him as one of his own.
Mike: Reginald Vel Johnson excels at authority figures. He’s basically been a cop in everything ever. He just exudes dad-ness. I can picture him manning a barbecue better than almost any other guy on this list. But most of all he was loving. He took care of his kids and he took care of the weirdo neighbourhood kid who needed him to. What’s more dad than that?
Gomez Addams (The Addams Family)
Billy: This is an inclusion that will have you confused for a second, but you’ll get it almost immediately after that. The Addams Family was a lot of things: creepy, kooky, altogether ooky. Yet if you look at the heart of it, Gomez is actually one of the most stable, most emotionally available, and most supportive fathers you could ask for. For all its horror trappings, what The Addams Family truly demonstrated was joy, and most of the storylines were about neighbors and teachers trying to break up this family unit and failing miserably because their
Mike: The best and funniest thing about Gomez Addams is the contrast between the outside and the inside. The Addams Family are all creeps and ghouls, but Gomez is possibly the most positive, passionate and loving father on this list. Everyone “normal” who comes up against the Addams Family seem miserable in comparison to them. Gomez can’t help but gush with pride at his children and support all of their endeavours.
Billy: He loves his wife, consistently showing her affection both publically and privately. You believe his eye has never wandered since the day they met. He loves his children. He is generous with his affection and his praise, encouraging his kids to follow their truest passions. If Wednesday and Pugsley were to turn to him and say they wanted to be bankers, you just know he’d start buying them banks instead of explosives. He is genuinely the warmest father on this list, and all the weirdos out there could do a hell of a lot worse than a man with a pencil moustache who backflips out of the room. Even appearing as Grandpapa in The New Addams Family, John Astin’s Gomez is an unbeatable dad.
Mike: It’s hard to decide between John Astin and Raul Julia for the definitive Gomez Addams, but both have an indelible spirit that embodies the character. Gomez has the heart of a child — somewhere in his basement, wokka wokka — and that’s what makes him so endearing. He gets excited about everything his family does, throwing his entire effort behind it. The best part of Gomez, and the main premise of the whole series, is how open he is to others. If you aren’t an Addams that’s perfectly fine, but don’t tell them not to be.
Dan Conner (Roseanne)
Billy: There’s always been little bit of confusion in my mind between where Dan Conner ends and John Goodman begins. I think that’s because I find them both to be warmhearted, kind, great big bears of men who never stopped caring about those around them. The biggest difference, as Goodman once put it on Inside the Actor’s Studio, was that Dan actually worked for a living. Putting in his hours at multiple blue collar jobs to support his family over the course of the series, family never came second to Dan. His wife and children were the reason he went to work every day, and his relationship felt a lot more accurate to most families than the doctors and lawyers seen on TV before.
Mike: Billy makes a good point about Dan’s hard working, blue collar attitude. TV is missing that middle-to-lower class perspective that Roseanne expressed so thoroughly. You could tell they had to struggle to pay their bills. It made them endearing, not that John Goodman needs much help to make a character endearing. Dan always seemed like a fun presence in the Conner household, someone who brightened up what could otherwise be a stressful or dreary existence.
Billy: Dan was always good natured. At times more like one of the kids in the way he would play and goof around, it showed a genuine interest in embracing these fleeting years of his kid’s lives and making every moment count. He supported his children and stood up to those who would hurt them, and although Dan and Roseanne often mocked each other, the viewers knew that just beneath that was a real and supporting love.
Mike: John Goodman is a powerhouse performer in every way, whether he’s playing a terrifying, intimidating presence or a decent, light-hearted guy. Dan Conner is easily the latter, just a normal guy who wants to support his family and enjoy his life. We don’t get enough of those low-concept characters on TV anymore. But Dan and the rest of the Conners are proof that those types of stories can still be funny, dramatic and entertaining.
Billy: Roseanne is unique in that the last season of the show actually wrote Dan out, they did it by having Dan cheat on Roseanne and really break down everything that made the series work. In the finale, scripted by Roseanne Barr herself, the entire last season of the series was retconned, saying that Dan actually died after his heart attack, and that showing us that he cheated was actually Roseanne grieving over his loss. You can believe losing Dan would hurt that much.
Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)
Mike: There’s a niceness to Sheriff Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. He wasn’t preachy or moralizing, he was a kind, understanding, funny guy. His relationship with his son, Opie, was one of the most important aspects of the show. Their walk to a fishing hole was the entire opening title of the show.
Billy: I think it was important to show at least one black-and-white dad, because the old time sensibilities of a father that knows best for his kid is really a trope that vanished sometime after the nineties. The fact that Andy Taylor is so high up on this list isn’t merely for his time in history, however. His son is one of the youngest with the dads on this list, and with that comes a whole new set of challenges. Taylor has to be a dad to a boy, and do it all on his own.
Mike: Andy Taylor is sort of the ideal of a dad from another era. An easygoing, folksy, lawman who never wears his gun and always has time to talk. Andy Griffith plays the part to perfection. He was exactly the kind of guy you’d want to get advice from or go fishing with.
Billy: The fact that Andy Taylor was a single father means a whole lot to me too. While Aunt Bee was always around, she wasn’t Opie’s mom, and Andy Taylor showed America a softer, more fully rounded character in the paternal role than many that have come before or since.
Uncle Phil (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)
Mike: Can I just link to the clip of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Will’s biological dad bails on him? No? Fair enough.
Billy: I think we need a little more than that, unfortunately, though that clip does sum up exactly the relationship between Phillip and Will so well through the seasons of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Uncle Phil could be physically imposing. A bear of a man, he threw Will’s friend Jazz out of the house with force that’d impress some bouncers. But he was never scary. You never felt unsafe in Phillip’s house or unloved. A lawyer and later a judge by trade, Phil was a man who lived his life by a code of what was right and just.
Mike: Phillip Banks is an authoritarian with a soft spot. His stern demeanour helps hide the side of him that made Carlton so naive, Hilary so spoiled and Ashley so loving. I know two of those are kind of insults, but it speaks to the depths of Uncle Phil. He cares deeply for his children, including and especially Will. He’s always pushing them to be better and nurturing them when they need it.
Billy: Uncle Phil treated Will differently from his own kids. And I think that’s with good reason. While he’d raised the other three since birth, giving them the advantages and privileges that made them into who they are, Will was just a kid from Philly. There was a lot of himself that Uncle Phil saw in Will, I’m sure. He was a little harder on him, held higher expectations. We see Will start out as a good kid with a tough exterior and the beginning of the series, and he only changes for the better as the series goes on. A lot of that change can be attributed to Phil and the life lessons Will learned while under his wing.
Mike: James Avery was the definition of a gruff teddy bear. Even when his character was angry you always felt like he’d be there for you if you needed a hug. Like Will needed a hug after his bio-dad left him again. Oh hell, here’s the clip:
Top 10 TV Dads Honourable Mentions
Billy: Alan Matthews from Boy Meets World. The Professor from Powerpuff Girls. Jake Morgendorfer from Daria. Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Joe West from The Flash. Terry Jeffords from Brooklyn Nine Nine.
Mike: Hank Hill from King of the Hill. Andre Johnson from Black-ish. Adam Braverman, Crosby Braverman, Zeek Braverman and Joel Graham from Parenthood. President Josiah Bartlett from The West Wing. Lou Solverson from Fargo. Killface from Frisky Dingo. Jonathan Kent from Smallville.