I recently saw a photo of Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, which got me started thinking about all of the TV dads that I knew, growing up in the '60's and '70's and the images that they portrayed.
The first dads I remember were Ozzie Nelson from the The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Steve Douglas, from My Three Sons. These dads, while faced with the adversities of raising boys in a modern world, rarely lost their cool and approached parenting with logic, humor, and wisdom. Although someone else was writing the script, these were dads that I could look up to, and they were dads the way that I thought dads should be. Ozzie stayed married to Harriet and they supported each other and presented a (mostly) united front to their offspring. Steven Douglas, an engineer, was a widower, and his brother was brought into the family to help look after his three sons (one of whom was adopted). This show proved at once that men could be both nurturing and disciplinarians.
Amongst the widowers, TV dads gave me Tom Corbett in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Andy Taylor of The Andy Griffith Show. Again, the dads were wise, funny, and unflappable. They had housekeepers and maiden aunts to help raise the kids - but these dads took their responsibilities seriously.
After Mike Brady and The Brady Bunch, there was Jock Ewing of Dallas. Jock was the stern patriarch of the Ewing clan, who, despite his sons' misadventures, remained the backbone of the family and the love of Miss Ellie's life. This was a dad who was powerful, but fair, and just as much a husband as he was a father. Some time in the '80's, though, dads got "dumbed down" and saddled with mouthy kids. The emphasis of family shows went from Father Knows Best to "It's All About Us Dad (or Mom,)" and parents got shoved to the sidelines as silent mentors at best, and became the butt of jokes, at worst. Steven Keaton of Family Ties played second fiddle to his son Alex. Child characters usurped the authority of parents in shows too numerous to mention. Dads, as characters in sitcoms especially, deteriorated to incompetent buffoons, with the noted exception of Bill Cosby, who was really a throw-back to those '60's dads. I remember the praise heaped on Mr Cosby at the time (deservedly so) - but his character of Cliff Huxtable was really a rehash of Ozzie Nelson's TV character.
When I got married the first time, I truly expected that the man that I married would be like the dads I grew up with on television. It was a harsh awakening to learn that not all men take fatherhood or being a husband with the same depth of conviction that I saw in the TV dads.
For all of the "old fashioned values" that get put down every day in the media and in our daily interactions, I'll take the old TV dads over the new ones any day.