The late, great George Carlin did a lot of routines knocking religion. He didn’t believe in God and therefore no afterlife for good people in heaven and bad people in hell. But, Carlin would quickly add, if there is a hell, dads are going there.
Dads take a lot of hell from the media, in movies and on TV —- especially TV commercials.
Entertainment Weekly recently voted Homer Simpson as the best TV character ever created. Makes sense, since the majority of dads on TV sitcoms are human caricatures of the famous animated character. Dads are never smarter than moms and are seldom, if ever, brighter than their kids. Dads do childish things and never act like grown-ups. Moms are the grown-ups in the room. In fact, wives are more like moms to their husbands.
TV commercials are more insulting to dads. Like their TV sitcom counterparts, they are always one-dimensional: Stupid. TV ads are now using cartoonish violence against dads. Look out, Homer, there’s competition coming from Wile E. Coyote.
Dad treatment on TV is a far cry from days of yore. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when father knew best. In fact, there actually was a TV show called “Father Knows Best.” Now it’s considered propaganda.
Over the years there have been good dad and bad dad figures on sitcoms.
An example of a good TV father figure: Andy of Mayberry. Sheriff Andy. Straight man to Barney Fife. Father of Opie. A gentle Ben of a widowed dad. Southern comfortable. Harmless homespun humor that was TV’s No. 1 show during the Vietnam War era. Must have been that catchy theme song.
An example of a bad TV dad everybody loved to hate: Archie Bunker of “All in the Family.” During the Watergate era of the 1970s, America couldn’t get enough of the “funny because he was so ignorant” racist. Even though the character — or caricature — was played as broad satire, Dick Nixon’s Silent Majority found a role model. It took a few decades, but life finally was able to imitate art as a real-life blowhard Archie Bunker now commands right wing media (silent no more!) and is the defacto leader of the Republican Party.
On the movie scene, the role of dad has run the gamut over the years with meatier roles that were not one-dimensional.
Three different movies take the dad issue in unique directions:
1. “It’s A Wonderful Life”: Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey has to find out what it’s like to be a good family man by seeing what the world would be like had he never been born. Sure, it’s corny, sentinemtal and populist —- and it has angels in it. But it still holds up because we’re suckers for the happy ending, even if it takes the hero-dad the long way around to get there.
2. The sins of the father are released with the force of rapid machine gun fire in “The Godfather.” Don Vito Corleone is the head of a powerful crime syndicate, but the film offers a brilliant study into the patriarch of his family that actually overcomes the gangster element. “A man who does not spend time with his family can not be a man,” the don tells his favorite son, Michael —– the chosen one who was supposed to rise above the family business to legitimacy. Instead he becomes more ruthless, cold and calculating than his father. The movie is pure Shakespearian tragedy —- the patriarch’s empire is secured, but his dream of his son’s shot at redemption by escaping the violent underworld is an offer the son has to refuse because, in the end, blood is always thicker than water.
3. The best film to watch on Father’s Day — or for a gift for dad — is “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Author Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch represents the better angels of our nature. His quiet strength and tolerance — as seen through the eyes of his daughter, a spunky tomboy nicknamed Scout — is inspiring.Atticus is a widower, but he is void of cynisim and self-pity. It sends chills up and down the spine to think of what today’s Hollywood would do with a revisionist take with this already flawless story-telling. Those negative qualities would be center stage.
Atticus’s only flaw is that he is an anachronism — he is not a man of his time, in the deep South during the Depression. After losing the trial in which he defended an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman, a neighbor tells Atticus’s son Jem “Some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”
Here’s to all of our fathers who may not all be Atticus Finch, but who have sacrificed for us by doing work that is not always pleasant.