Father’s Day 2011 – Whatever Happened to Ward Cleaver?

Category: Families & Generations, Weekly Columns

When I grew up, there were wonderful dads that were the staple of television.  These TV dads were an ideal that we all realized was a bit too perfect, but these dads (and moms, for that matter), made us feel good. I liked Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont on “Leave It To Beaver”).  I liked Steven Keaton (Michael Gross on “Family Ties”).

Carroll O’Connor broke precedent dramatically with his portrayal of Archie Bunker in “All In the Family,” but under his occasionally crass, racist, and sexist blue-collar worker there was still a loving and caring father! And, later on, everyone loved Cliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby on the long-running hit show that bore his name.  Bill Cosby’s “Dad” was named the number one TV dad of all-time by TIME magazine!

These dads no longer exist in the public cultural universe.  Instead, Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, and Tony Soprano replaced them.  Are these really the best parents that Hollywood can conjure up?  Obviously not, since TV moms still mostly are portrayed with a modicum of respect.  For that matter, Hollywood seems to relish any family configuration that is non-traditional.

Charlie Sheen graced just such a show in which one dad was portrayed as somewhat inept while the other male lead was just a goof ball, to put it kindly.  Then, we got the pleasure of watching the real-life actor, who actually did have kids, have a meltdown in front of us in a most tragic, sad, and pathetic fashion.  How that one will turn out is anyone’s guess but I’d wager “Not Good!”

Frankly, I miss “Father Knows Best” and “My Three Sons.”  Quick, tap your shoe and hum the theme song from that classic starring Fred MacMurray!  I also miss Ben Cartwright, the true patriarch dad on “Bonanza,” played forever, it seemed at the time, by Lorne Greene.

In the foreword to my book, “A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation” (http://bit.ly/SallanStore), noted radio show host and renowned cultural and movie critic, Michael Medved, wrote: “In the last two generations, the image of fathers in American popular culture has suffered a sad decline from the Andy Hardy films and the “Father Knows Best” TV show to Homer Simpson and “The Family Guy.”  Instead of the wise, kind, firm head-of-household depicted so lovingly in the past, the stereotypical dad of today has become quite literally a cartoon.  At the same time that sociologists tell us that children across the country suffer from growing up in fatherless households, the trendy vision of the doofus dad has undermined paternal authority even in homes where a father may be physically present.”

I believe Michael Medved, who knows what he’s talking about and knows Hollywood history intimately, hit the nail right on the head.  This development is not good.  Given how many children suffer from the lack of a dad in their lives, they now suffer further with few good male role models in the public sphere or in popular culture.

Much of rap and hip-hop music portrays men as slightly less of a role model than Ward Cleaver, to put it kindly.  Are our sports stars, sporting tattoos all over their bodies, and generally behaving like boors, really the inspiration we’d like for our young boys (or girls)?  Is Paris Hilton and her infamous “leaked” sex video teaching our young girls how to be “a lady?”  Heck, who even uses the word “lady” anymore?

I think these changes in popular culture have a devastating impact on our children.  I believe that these public figures and fictional characters so prevalent in our culture today undermine the very values most parents struggle to instill in their boys and girls.  I don’t like it one bit!

As I write this, I realize that we no longer even have such television dramas like “Touched By An Angel,” “The Waltons,” or “Little House On the Prairie.”  Instead, we have dramas strewn with violence, bad language (nearly every drama show on Cable), gratuitous nudity and sexual situations, without a perfectly coiffed, apron wearing, pearls around her neck Barbara Billingsley in sight!  For those that don’t remember, Ms. Billingsley portrayed “the Beaver’s” mom and Ward Cleaver’s loving, stay-at-home-housewife, June Cleaver.

June Cleaver would today be the butt of jokes on “Saturday Night Live” or “The Jon Stewart Show.”  Can you even imagine any television or movie mom that didn’t work outside of the home, let alone wore an apron and pearls? That would be heresy, by Hollywood’s standards. As a totally unrelated aside, my late mother, also “June,” was my “June Cleaver.”

This column and any number of us that wish for better public and fictional role models for our children will not likely result in much change. It is therefore even more important that parents be the role models for their children. This is one of my mantras.  Parents must be their kid’s best role models.  And, even more so, given that we have to work extra hard to persuade our kids that Charlie Sheen, Paris Hilton, or Homer Simpson are really not cool!


Get Bruce’s new book and Limited Edition (of 500) Poster, A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation at Amazon, iTunes, BN.com, or The Store.