I’ve recently noticed that many movie and TV dads serve one purpose: comic relief. While Homer Simpson has left a mark on popular culture over three decades as the dad who just doesn’t get it, there are many other shows that have turned dads into a punchline. From Peppa Pig to Big Bang Theory, the scenes we do see involving fathers portray them as oblivious, incompetent, or downright foolish.
1. Philip Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
A successful judge and lawyer, Philip Banks is one of the best TV dads. He was the patriarch of the Banks family. He had three children of his own: Hillary, Carlton, and Ashley. When his nephew, Will, needed a place to stay, “Uncle Phil” readily took him in and treated him as one of his own. Although each of his children—biological and chosen—had unique gifts and struggles, Philip related to each one with courage, care, and great compassion. For any dad who struggles to love each of his kids in the midst of their own unique struggles, Philip Banks is a good role model.
2. Alfred Pennyworth (Batman)
In every incarnation of Batman’s story, it is Alfred who grieves alongside Bruce because of the loss of the boy’s parents. He cares for Bruce as his crime-fighting brings new wounds (physical and otherwise). The relationship between Alfred and Bruce grows so deep that Alfred is the only one who can challenge Bruce in those moments when the younger man will not listen to anyone else. We can look to Alfred as an example in those moments that our children are suffering and we don’t know what to do—as well as times when a child needs to be challenged.
3. Bryan Mills (Taken) & Marlin (Finding Nemo)
There are a lot of parallels between the original Taken and Finding Nemo. In both stories, a father finds himself in a crisis when his only child is taken away from him. He then needs to engage all his skills and travel around the world at great personal risk to bring the child home. What both of these dads can teach us is that there are moments when our kids need us to set aside our plans and be all in with and for them, whatever that might entail. We need to engage all our skills as dads: the practical ones, our paternal instincts to protect, and even something as simple as our full and undivided attention.
4. Tony Stark (Avengers/Spiderman)At times our fatherhood will extend beyond our biological kids.
While other versions of the story also include Peter’s Uncle Ben, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we see Peter without any father figure whatsoever. Enter Tony Stark who, in spite of himself, steps into a fatherly role for young Peter and tries to teach him about life as a superhero. Peter’s “death” in Tony Stark’s arms is one of the most moving scenes in the MCU. Tony’s love for Peter is rivaled only by his care for his daughter, Morgan. These relationships are the clearest signs of Tony’s growth since the original Ironman. We can look at Tony and see two things. First, we can grow beyond our weaknesses. Second, at times our fatherhood will extend beyond our biological kids.
5. Guido Orefice (Life Is Beautiful)
This movie, which is hard to watch, tells the story of a family imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II. In what is a simultaneously beautiful and haunting story, Guido uses his imagination to shield his son, Giosué, from the horrors of the camp. Guido is able to help his son find joy even in the midst of the darkest of circumstances. Guido’s perseverance, his creativity, and his devotion to his family ought to encourage us in those moments when hope is fading and circumstances seem to be growing darker.
Sound off: Who is a good model as a dad in popular culture today?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Who is your favorite character in the movies or on TV? Why?”