Throughout television history, on-screen dads have depicted the joys and struggles of fatherhood and shaped American ideals about what it means to be a man and caregiver. So, this Father's Day, what better way to celebrate than by watching these TV dads’ funny, messy and tender stories unfold?
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PHOTO BY: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)
As the town sheriff and widowed single dad, Andy Taylor works hard to keep the residents of Mayberry and his young son Opie out of trouble. Perhaps one of the most easily lovable TV dads, Andy is compassionate and practical, with a strong moral compass and great sense of humor to boot.
Peak dad moment: In the first episode of season 4, Opie raises some baby birds after accidentally killing their mother. He's reluctant to let them go, but a comforting pep talk from Andy about having faith that the birds will be OK on their own becomes Andy's own reflection on fatherhood.
Watch it: The Andy Griffith Show, on Tubi.
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PHOTO BY: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)
A widower caring for his raucous blended family and a successful architect, Mike Brady projected a perfect image of a patient, hardworking father during the 1960s as divorces and remarriage rates were on the rise.
Peak dad moment: Mike Brady is so great that Marcia nominates him to be awarded the honor of Father of the Year by the local newspaper. Though the surprise of the award is slightly botched, it still results in a heartwarming moment between stepfather and stepdaughter.
Watch it: The Brady Bunch on Hulu.
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PHOTO BY: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
George Jefferson on The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
This All in the Family spin-off was one of the first TV series to focus on a successful Black family, helmed by the ambitious entrepreneur George Jefferson, whose dry-cleaning business vaults his family from humble beginnings in Queens to an Upper East Side high-rise. While George was hot-headed, rude and often followed unlikely schemes that ended in comedic failure, he was a devoted father to his son Lionel, committed husband to his wife, Weezy, and hard worker for the good of the family.
Peak dad moment: George Jefferson's famous dance moves, which he begrudgingly launches into during a cocktail party in the first episode of Season 2, would put anyone's “dad dancing” to shame.
Watch it: The Jeffersons, on Hulu.
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PHOTO BY: NBC/Getty Images
Frank Costanza on Seinfeld (1989-1998)
Even though Jerry Stiller's short-tempered Frank Costanza only appeared in 26 of Seinfeld's 180 episodes, he contributed to many of the show's most hilarious and iconic moments, from “Serenity now!” to Festivus, his invented family holiday that, indicative of the Costanza father-son dynamic, always left George in tears.
Peak dad moment: In the fourth episode of Season 5, Frank tries to help George by getting him a job interview with his friend who's a bra salesman. He then insists that George doesn't know enough about bras as he goes on to dad-splain cup sizes and clasps.
Watch it: Seinfeld on Hulu.
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PHOTO BY: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Homer Simpson on The Simpsons (1989-present)
Yes, Homer Simpson isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. Yes, he's lazy and drinks too much. But throughout the 31 years The Simpsons has been on the air, Homer sacrifices his own happiness for his children, from taking a second job to buy a pony for Lisa, to leaving a cushy new role because his family is unhappy and wants to move back to Springfield.
Peak dad moment: When Marge is pregnant with Maggie in Season 6, Homer leaves his dream job at a bowling alley to earn more money working at the power plant for Mr. Burns. In Episode 13, when Lisa and Bart wonder why there aren't any photos of Maggie in their family photo albums, they soon find out it's because Homer has hung all the baby photos at his workstation, covering a sign Burns hung that says “Don't forget: you're here forever” so it reads “Do it for her.”
Watch it: The Simpsons, on Disney+.
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PHOTO BY: NBC/Getty Images
Phil Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Adoptive father to Will, and biological father to Hilary, Carlton and Ashley, Uncle Phil became an iconic TV dad for the tough but loving way he raised his blended family, and navigated the class differences between his wealthy family and Will's West Philadelphia upbringing.
Peak dad moment: In arguably the most famous moments in the series, from Episode 24 of Season 4, Will's father, who had abandoned him as a young child, comes to visit only to bail on him for a second time. In a deeply tender moment between Uncle Phil and Will, we see that it's Uncle Phil who has become Will's true father.
Watch it: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on HBO Max.
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PHOTO BY: Bobby Bank/WireImage
Tony Soprano on The Sopranos (1999-2007)
New Jersey mob boss and family man Tony Soprano ushered in the age of the antihero that would come to dominate TV in the 2010s, from Don Draper to Walter White. His family and his attempts to be a good father are a large part of what makes viewers root for him despite the many terrible things he does, and even identify with him as someone just trying to run a successful business, care for his family and search for life's deeper meaning.
Peak dad moment: In Episode 5 of the first season, Tony takes his teenage daughter, Meadow, on a road trip to visit colleges. In the car, for the first time, she outright asks him if he's in the mafia, and he (sort of) tells the truth. That moment — a tough conversation in the car, your child being old enough and aware enough to call you out — is recognizable for any parent, even if they're not a mob boss.
Watch it: The Sopranos, on HBO Max.
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PHOTO BY: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo
George Lopez on George Lopez (2002-2007)
Comedian George Lopez plays a fictionalized version of himself in this sitcom about a man balancing his job as a manager at an airplane parts factory with raising his son and daughter and handling his difficult live-in mother. Lopez the comedian had a tough childhood of his own, and his experience fuels the series’ dark humor.
Peak dad moment: In Episode 13 of Season 3, when his son Max gets in trouble for a school prank, instead of disciplining him, Lopez is concerned with figuring out the mechanics of the prank himself.
Watch it: George Lopez on Peacock.
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PHOTO BY: Bob Riha Jr/Getty Images
Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker on Modern Family (2009-2020)
When Modern Family premiered in 2009, it was groundbreaking for a major network to show a long-term, committed queer relationship, and with the adoption of their daughter Lily in Season 1, helped pave the way for positive portrayals of LGBTQ parents on TV. Mitch and Cam's contrasting personalities and parenting styles — Mitch being more reserved and type-A, and Cam more carefree and dramatic — are frequently played for laughs.
Peak dad moment: In Episode 6 of Season 1, not long after Mitch and Cam have adopted their daughter Lily, Mitch is sharing his insecurity in his parenting abilities with Cam when they accidentally lock the baby in the car.
Watch it: Modern Family on Hulu.
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PHOTO BY: Ali Goldstein/Getty Images
Louis Huang on Fresh Off the Boat (2015-2020)
The first sitcom about an Asian American family to air on broadcast television in more than 20 years, Fresh Off the Boat tells the story of a Taiwanese-American family that relocated from Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown to Florida, led by their goofy, American-culture-loving father, Louis Huang, who's pursuing his dream of opening his own restaurant.
Peak dad moment: In Episode 6 of the first season, Louis convinces his son Eddie to get a job slinging fajitas at the restaurant in order to earn money for a new video game, by exaggerating the hardships and work ethic of his own father.
Watch it: Fresh Off the Boat on Hulu.
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