My stock piece of wisdom for prospective dads is always the same: “It’s more work than you possibly expect, but it’s also more joy than you can imagine.” With that in mind, we’d like to salute our 20 favorite TV Dads—as we did with the Best TV Moms last year. We had nearly 100 different suggestions via Facebook and Twitter and had to make some hard decisions. We divided them into those we wouldn’t want to have to call “Daddy,” and those that did the job proud. But bad or good, they’re all our favorites, the patres familias that keep us laughing, cringing, but—most of all—watching, throughout the history of TV.
Frank is the kind of guy you howl with laughter watching on TV, but you wouldn’t want anywhere near your actual children. Sleazy, exploitative and with absolutely no sense of public decorum, Frank is every bit as self-absorbed and really, really awful as his kids, Dennis and Sweet Dee, but his willingness to participate in their misguided shenanigans at least makes him an involved parent, we guess.—Lindsay Eanet
Like Archie Bunker before him, Sanford was lovable for all his faults, not despite them. Not one to be slowed by old age, his endless schemes led to role-reversals with his much more responsible son, Lamont.
Red has more layers than it first appears.
Being a good dad is about doing the best you can with what you have—even if you’re a serial killer. Miami’s favorite murderer does some pretty disturbing things while the kids aren’t around, but how many of us really know exactly what our dads were up to from nine to five? Sure, Dexter had a hand in the death of his stepchildren’s biological father, but he (like every other good dad) was just trying to do what he thought was best for the kids. He’s the kind of dad who takes the time to get down on the floor and play with his kids, even after a long day of staring at blood splatters and making a few of his own.—Kevin Keller
The pride of Rhode Island would never let a giant anthropomorphic chicken hurt his progeny. Meg, Chris and Stewie may not benefit much from having Peter as a dad, but the rest of us certainly do.
We love watching Tony, but he might be our last choice to tuck us in at night. At least Dexter has the decency to hide his murderous rages from the family.
While we’re glad he’s not our dad (he responded to George Steinbrenner delivering the errant news of George’s death by asking him why he traded Jay Buhner), we’re so very glad to know him. And he’s not without great fatherly advice: “Serenity now!”
TV’s biggest bigot is one of our favorite dads because, ironically, he exposed prejudice in all its forms, and sometimes even overcame it as his character grew from a parody of right-wing bigotry to a beloved icon (in the spin-off Archie Bunker’s Place he’s kicked out of his lodge for defending a black woman). Constantly bumping heads with his liberal son-in-law brought these divisive issues into millions of homes.
Three words: Boy Fight videos.
He’s the everyman at our laziest, hungriest, dumbest and drunkest. Yet thanks to good heart buried under all those doughnuts, he’s also the hero that repeatedly saves the day—or at least restores everything to a status quo which has endured for two decades and more than 450 episodes.
And now for the TV dads who raised ‘em right…