TV’s Greatest: Best and Worst Dads

Here are the 10 best . . . and the 5 worst.

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The Saturday Evening Post’s “TV’s Greatest” series is an ongoing look at the greatest characters, songs, and moments in the history of TV. Also see “Best “Best Friends,”“Supernatural Detectives,””Spin-Offs,” “Lawyers,” “Doctors,” and “Best and Worst Moms.”

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to celebrate the best dads from TV history. Of course, not all dads are great, and for that reason, it’s also time to take a look at the worst ones, too. Here’s your 10 Best and 5 Worst. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)


10. Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal with stunt doubles Lateef Crowder and Brendon Wayne)

The Mandalorian (2019-present); The Book of Boba Fett (2021-present)

Pedro Pascal (Shutterstock)

From the moment that Mandalorian bounty hunter Din Djarin finds the child who we would later learn is named Grogu, he is a great dad in the making. Djarin quickly puts Grogu above himself, taking him back from the Imperial Remnant and going on the run. Though he entrusts Luke Skywalker to train Grogu in the Force for a time, their bond is too strong for them to be separated. After Djarin and his people retake their homeworld of Mandalore, he makes official what we had known all along and adopts Grogu as his own.

9. Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith)

That ’70s Show (1998-2006); That ’90s Show (2023-present)

Kurtwood Smith (Shutterstock)

Red Forman is the apotheosis of the tough-love dad. As a veteran of both World War II and Korea, he approaches parenting with an old-school, no-nonsense style. Though he does frequently call his son Eric (and Eric’s friends, and well, most people) “dumbass,” he still cares and tries to impart some wisdom and common sense on kids. And while Red’s hard-nosed nature is a frequent source of laughs and an ongoing high point of the series, it helps make serious emotional moments stronger. In the current spin-off series, Red hasn’t changed much; he’s a little easier on his granddaughter, but he’s still convinced that pretty much everyone is a dumbass.

8. Dan Conner (John Goodman)

Roseanne (1988-1997, 2018); The Conners (2019-present)

John Goodman (Shutterstock)

The avatar of blue collar fathers everywhere, Dan Conner has represented the hard-working “fun dad” for more than 30 years. As the easy-going foil to the abrasive Roseanne (Roseanne Barr), Dan frequently has the softer touch with the kids (particularly Darlene, whom he never discouraged from being a tombody early on). However, that good nature doesn’t stop him from laying a beatdown on the abusive boyfriend of his sister-in-law, Jackie. As the character of Roseanne gets more over-the-top over time, Dan provides the grounding for the series. After ABC fired Barr following offensive tweets, the revived Roseanne was renamed The Conners and centers itself more squarely on Dan.


7. Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell)

Modern Family (2009-2020)

Ty Burrell (Shutterstock)

The clueless dad has been a fairly standard comic archetype for a while, but Ty Burrell’s take on Phil Dunphy is so good that it makes it seem like he invented it. Phil stands out as a dad that takes active note of things that his kids are interested in and tries to refer to them on their level, even if it does make the kids roll their eyes. He also comes across as an incredibly well-meaning guy; though he is competitive, he sets an example by just being nice. He occasionally clashes with his daughter Haley over her choices, but it comes from a place of being honestly protective and devoted to his kids.

6. Mike Brady (Robert Reed)

The Brady Bunch (1969-1974); The Brady Bunch Hour (1976-1977); The Brady Girls Get Married/The Brady Brides (1981); A Very Brady Christmas (1988); The Bradys (1990)

Robert Reed (ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons; Public domain)

Mike Brady is the widowed father of three boys who instantly gains three stepdaughters when he marries Carol Martin (Florence Henderson). As the patriarch of a blended family, Mike has to negotiate integrating his parenting style with Carol’s while also learning how to parent young women. In his favor, Marcia once gets him recognized as “Father of the Year” by the local paper after writing an essay about him. Mike’s demeanor is almost always level-headed as he tries to give the kids advice that would help them solve their own problems.

5. Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson)

Perfect Strangers (1989); Family Matters (1989-1997)

Reginald VelJohnson (Shutterstock)

This may be up for debate, because how good of a 1) dad and 2) policeman are you if one of your kids just vanishes, never to be seen again? (While the fourth-season removal of younger daughter Judy Winslow was never explained, she probably lives a nice life in the Chuck Cunningham Home for Disappeared Sitcom Kids.) Nevertheless, while Carl Winslow is part of a tradition of frequently befuddled sitcom dads, his heart is in the right place. Interestingly enough, some of the character’s best paternal moments come when he is nice to annoying neighbor Steve Urkel. Urkel tests Carl’s patience, but he learns to tolerate, and even mentor, the eccentric genius.

4. Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon)

Little House on the Prairie (TV movie pilot, 1974; series, 1974-1982); Little House: A New Beginning, (1982-1983); three additional Little House TV movies (1983-1984)

Michael Landon (Photo by NBC Television via Wikimedia Commons; Public domain)

We know that Laura Ingalls Wilder had a lot of great things to say about her father in the series of books that she wrote about her life. Michael Landon took that starting point and built an enduring picture of a good friend and great dad who isn’t afraid to take in other kids as the need arises. Across a pilot film, eight seasons of the original series, one spin-off season, and three further TV movies, Landon played Ingalls with wisdom, understanding, and humor. With the occasional wicked fiddle solo thrown in, of course.

3. Philip Banks (James Avery)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

James Avery (Photo by Brencoombs at English Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons; used via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

An incredibly accomplished character actor, James Avery’s legacy would have been cemented for ’90s kids as the voice behind Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, it was his turn as the occasionally imperious but always wise Philip Banks that made him a TV dad legend. Avery often played the stiff foil as the rich uncle to the hip, young Will Smith, but his flair for mining both comedic moments and emotional depth shined through. In what is possibly the greatest moment in the series, Will had an explosive outburst when he realizes his absentee father is ditching him again; as Will breaks down in tears, Uncle Phil wraps him in a fierce hug, letting Will (and the audience) know that he is all the dad he needs.

2. Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley)

Happy Days (1974-1984); Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-1983)

Tom Bosley (Shutterstock)

Howard Cunningham is always an understanding father to Richie and Joanie, even if he doesn’t seem to notice that Chuck vanished (presumably to found the Chuck Cunningham Home for Disappeared Sitcom Kids). He also plays surrogate dad for Potsie, Ralph, and even The Fonz. He also taught by example, like the time that he hustled a group of kids that took Richie’s money at poker; Mr. C. pretended to be an amateur, won Richie’s cash back for him, and then gave him an extra weekend of work at the hardware store to reinforce the lesson. As the show goes on, Howard and Marion (Marion Ross) opened their home to even more relatives and friends of their kids. Though he can get comically frustrated, Mr. C. is generally an even-keeled guy and often has a kind or wise word for everybody.

1. Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith)

The Danny Thomas Show (1960); The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968); Mayberry RFD (1968-1971); Return to Mayberry (1986)

Andy Griffith (Photo by Rogers & Cowan, Beverly Hills-publicity agency via Wikimedia Commons; Public domain)

Sherriff Andy Taylor is the kind of dad everybody wants. He’s kind, thoughtful, good-humored, helpful, and willing to dispense advice. More than anything, he’s tolerant of the faults in others (as evinced by his friendship with Barney and his willingness to let Otis keep a courthouse key so that he can lock himself up when he gets drunk). Taylor also has the distinction of being a rare single dad on 1960s television, and as such sets a template that many others can emulate, even if they never quite equal it. During the spin-off series, Mayberry RFD, Andy marries his long-time love, Helen, and they have a son named Andy, Jr. Curiously, Andy, Jr. is neither seen nor mentioned in Return to Mayberry, presumably having moved into, you guessed it, the Chuck Cunningham Home for Disappeared Sitcom Kids. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see that Andy Taylor is TV’s Greatest Dad.


TV’s Five Worst Dads

5. Ted Wheeler (Joe Chrest)

Stranger Things (2016-present)

Joe Chrest (Shutterstock)

Whatever great qualities that dads like Howard Cunningham have, Ted Wheeler lacks. Bothered by his children, intolerant of their friends, inattentive to his wife, and given to sleeping through life-or-death crises, Ted regularly demonstrates that he is the worst. An internet theory speculates that Ted is secretly a CIA agent keeping tabs on the weirdness in Hawkins, Indiana, but that would clearly give Ted too much credit.

4. Walter White (Bryan Cranston)

Breaking Bad (2008-2013); Better Call Saul (2015-2022)

Bryan Cranston (Shutterstock)

At one point, Walter White means well. Suffering from cancer, the chemistry teacher seeks to build a nest egg for his family by making and dealing drugs. However, Walter’s obsession soon becomes his own power and identity, and not doing what’s best for the family. He is dismissive to his son and even kidnaps his own daughter. We guess he got what he deserved, because Walter White will be remembered as a bad dad.

3. Arlo Givens (Raymond Barry)

Justified (2010-2015)

Raymond Barry (Shutterstock)

A lifelong criminal, Arlo Givens is the father of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). He is abusive to both his wife and Raylan, and actually has contempt for his son pursuing law enforcement. Arlo also aligns himself with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who was an old friend of Raylan’s but also a career criminal. During the first season, Arlo even conspires to turn Raylan over to another bad dad, Bo Crowder. Fortunately, Raylan foils the plot; unfortunately, Arlo is still his father.

2. Every Dad on Game of Thrones (except Ned Stark and Davos Seaworth)

Game of Thrones (2011-2019)

Charles Dance aka Tywin Lannister (Shutterstock)

When we say that nearly every father on Game of Thrones was terrible, it’s because it’s true. Ned Stark cared deeply for his children, both his five with his wife, Catelyn, and two boys he raised: Theon Greyjoy and Jon Snow. Ned tried to impart honor and worth to his kids. Davos Seaworth tried to be a good father, but lost his four oldest sons in one fell swoop at the Battle of the Blackwater. Past that, essentially every other father from Robert Baratheon (who had no real interest in his kids) to Tywin Lannister (who treated Tyrion like a monster for the “crime” of being a dwarf) to Roose Bolton (an abusive traitor) ran from terrible to monstrous.

1. Logan Roy (Brian Cox)

Succession (2018-2023)

Brian Cox (Shutterstock)

When you essentially set up a process that will cause your children to openly feud against one another for control of a company that you know is already $3 billion in debt, you might’ve already won the title of TV’s Worst Dad.

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  1. What about Mr. Keaton of Family Ties fame? If yer putting Carl Winslow who was a horrible father but i love Reginald VelJohnson then Mr Keaton surely deserves a nod.
    Can’t wait for the mom’s list.

  2. What about Rick Grimes. Andrew Lincoln from the Walking Dead, he killed people to save his children.

  3. I know Bill Cosby is a terrible person but Cliff Huxatble is the greatest TV dad of all time.

  4. Andy Griffith and Michael Landon are excellent choices. Lorne Greene from ‘Bonanza’ on a related note. I agree with Lawrence here on Robert Young from ‘Father Knows Best’ and Fred MacMurray of ‘My Three Sons’. Angela mentioned him as well.

    Bob Dickie’s comments on Ward Cleaver were spot-on. Dan C made an interesting comment. Cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist) though didn’t ‘disappear’ from ‘The Brady Bunch’ as he was only in the last several (final) episodes of the series. Unnecessary, but what’s done is done.

    Chuck Cunningham is an example of the writers/producers mentioning a character they thought they wanted/needed at first, but decided they didn’t and just ‘abandoned’ him moving forward. These are sitcoms, so they can get away with dumping an unimportant character without any explanation.

    On ‘I Love Lucy’, Lucy’s frenemy Carolyn Appleby was ‘Lillian’ Appleby at first, then her first name was changed without explanation, but she was the same character. So again, an unexplained change by the writers and producers (or Lucy herself) for whatever reasons they had in doing so, we’re not privy to. And it really doesn’t matter.

  5. I hate it when we have to do this, but, here’s a reminder:

    Any posts that contain personal attacks of any kind will result in an instant deletion.

    It’s okay to disagree, but if you can’t disagree without being kind, then just don’t post. Any good TV dad would tell you that.

  6. You left out two important TV Dads in the top ten that deserved to be there. Hugh Beaumont as Ward Clever on “Leave it to Beaver” and Herbert Anderson as Henry Mitchell on “Dennis the Menace.”

  7. No Steve Douglas as one of the Top 10 Greatest Dad??? He was great as a Dad and as a kid I always wished my single Father was like him. Maybe you should have set up an Honorable Mention category or expand the Top 10 to the Top 20. Other possibilities include these single Dads: Lucas McCain from “The Rifleman,” Ben Cartwright (Lorne Green) from “Bonanza,” Jed Clampett (Buddy Epsen) from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” His daughter was Elly May Clampett (Donna Douglas). In the show “Flipper,” Ranger Porter Ricks (Brian Keith) was single Dad to his 2 sons, Sandy and Bud. The list could on and on. Thanks for letting me mention single Dads and just to set the record straight, like Father, like Son, I too was a single Dad raising my son alone from 8 months old till he left home at 25 years. I can’t claim single Dad status anymore as I re-married in 2011 when my Son was 30.

  8. Great dad for sure, but not so good as an uncle. I have it on good authority that Mike Brady could not wait to drive to and dump off Cousin Oliver at the Chuck Cunningham Home For Disappeared Sitcom Kids.

  9. I too concur that Chuck Connors and Ward Clever should be on the top 10 list. Tim McGraw was a great Dad too on season one of the Yellowstone Series. Enjoyed the article.

  10. WHAT!!! NO CHUCK CONNORS – THE RIFLEMAN???? He WAS the first single dad on TV…about 2 years before Sheriff Andy. Besides, he wasn’t a sit-behind-the-desk all day dad who came home and announced “I’M HOME…WHAT’S FOR DINNER? “.

    AND, what other dad on your list had to hunt for what they ate, go into the desert for salt to keep meat from spoiling, sleep all night with a rattlesnake on his chest, form possee’s to track down outlaws, pin on the sheriff’s badge from time to time and do any and everything to make sure his son, Mark, could have a better life.

    Ward Cleaver was OK too.

  11. When “That 70s Show” first came on, my late Father told me I should watch it because Red was a lot like his father (who I had never met) was like! Thanks for this list, and yes, there were about a billion very good others you could have listed but we’d all be scrolling for a century!

  12. I too agree in regard to Ward Cleaver being on the Best list for all the reasons Bob Dickie mentions. Also Fred MacMurray and Robert Young! Numbers 3, 9 and particularly 10 here are all obscure and questionable.

  13. Ward Cleaver should definitely be on the list. Although he seemed relaxed and laid back, he was always kind, understanding, loving and fair, and guided his two sons with intelligent talks and lessons about fairness and accepting responsibility.

  14. If I do an installment for TV’s Greatest Characters Who Spent the Most Time Reading the Paper, I’ll be sure to include Ward.


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