Fathers – Then and Now

My parents had me and my brother late in life (but not by today’s standards).  When I was born in 1951, my father was 46, my mother 38.  By 1960, my father was a widower raising an 8-year girl and a 10-year old boy on his own.

As a child, I adored my father and wanted to marry my “Prince Rochus” and often regally extended my arm instructing him to kiss my hand just as any Princess would request of her subject.  Of course, he indulged my childhood fantasy.

I’ve no doubt that my strong work ethic comes from him.  I remember him leaving every evening around 6 p.m. to go to his baking job at Ebinger’s Bakery in Flatbush.  I don’t remember him ever taking a day off.  On Saturday nights, he worked a second job in the bakery below our 4-room railroad flat.  After my mother died, he needed to be home at night so he changed his shift and I vividly remember him getting up at 4 in the morning to leave for work so he could be back home when we returned from school.  I remember waking up and feeling sad and wondering why he had to leave in the middle of the night.  He died too soon in 1972, just eleven months after he retired.

He was a simple, decent man with a gentle soul and good heart who was ill-prepared for the task of raising two children.  But my father had something that made him rise to the challenge – dignity and love for his children.  We grew up and, through education and hard work, have become successful professionals.

I can’t say that our lives were reflected in the television shows that were so prominent in the 50s.  We didn’t live in the suburbs and we weren’t middle class, but, I miss those shows that depicted fathers as strong, loving, figures who worked to support their families.  Fathers were the head of households while the women welcomed the role of being the heart of the family.

I grew up with Donna and Alex Stone watching the “Donna Reed Show” and with Jim and Margaret Anderson on “Father Knows Best.”  Of course, there was Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Margie Albright who was raised by her widower father in “My Little Margie.”  All the fathers in these shows were honorable, decent men whose worst flaw was forgetting a birthday or arriving late for dinner after working overtime and forgetting to call home.  These were men who took their responsibility seriously as fathers and they were seen as caring and loving and respected by their tv wives and children.

As the decades went by, there continued to be respectable portraits of fathers in other television sitcoms such as The Patty Duke Show, The Brady Bunch, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Happy Days, Family Affair and, of course, I Love Lucy.  Even Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies, who was not an educated man, always doled out common sense to guide his family through life’s trials and tribulations.  Again, the men occupied an esteemed place within the family unit.

But as the years passed, something happened that caused fathers to be unnecessary fixtures around the house, superfluous to the family, and the butt of far too many jokes.  Fathers depicted in the “slobcom” Married with Children and in King of Queens, According to Jim, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Malcolm in the Middle are described as “deadbeat,” “immature mentally,” “lovable but lazy,” “childish,” and “someone who avoids any responsibility.”

If sitcoms are a reflection of society, we’re in a very sad state of decline because fathers are routinely depicted as buffoons and wimps who are just taking up space in the home.  Rather than representing fathers as sniveling spineless creatures, they should be portrayed as strong, responsible men who take their jobs as fathers and husbands seriously even in comical situations.

Perhaps this evolution of men’s decline in stature on television resulted from the decline of viewing men as integral, necessary components of the family.  Despite the fact that men are essential to the creation of a child, more and more women are choosing to eliminate men as quickly as possible after his initial participation in the process.  When a man, for instance, has no say over whether a woman has an abortion, his position in the family is rendered moot.

You might say I’m stuck in 50s TV Land where a mother and father were the accepted ideal family, and, you’d be right.  But, if it could be done in the 50s, why can’t today’s sitcoms show strong, noble fathers instead of immature little boys dressed in men’s clothing who are incapable of tying their own shoelaces.

I’ll admit I’m also stuck with the obviously out-dated notion that not all men are buffoons, as reflected in today’s sitcoms, but are responsible, hard-working fathers who contribute to the family and should be admired.  Bottom line:  I’d choose Ward Cleaver over Al Bundy any day.

To all the men out there who are wonderfully mature, loving, responsible, providers for your families, Happy Father’s Day!

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
Author website: http://www.idontgetit.us
  • chief98110

    It is sad to see how fathers are portrayed on modern sitcoms. That is the reason I do not watch the “new hit series” as they are now advertised on TV, featuring the lovable buffoon father. I’d rather spend quality time cleaning my toilet. You can see my reference point and how much tolerance I have for these lovable buffoons that Hollywood puts forth as the modern dad.
    Well, I remember my Dad working hard for his family and giving us a great life. He was a problem solver, wise sage, kind heart and tough disciplinarian. The thing he was not was a buffoon, he was an avid reader and encourage us children to do the same. I am eternally grateful for the gifts he gave us and I wish he was still alive to see how his family grew into successful members of society. Love you Dad.

  • Roger Ward

    This is a touching tribute to an obviously decent man. It’s a pleasure to read about a man who understood that he took on responsibilities when he married and produced children …. and he did his level best to meet them.

    I don’t know if there’s anything to be gained or learned by watching the current crop of buffoon dads or if they reflect anyhing worth knowing about our present familial state …. but I know we have lost something important in that we no longer have the quiet, manly, family heroes of the ’50s and we’re worse off for it. The good examples they offered mattered.

    Your father can see you …. and I have no doubt he is as proud of his daughter as you are of him.

  • Ron

    Great article on and wonderful tribute to your father Leona.

  • Ron

    Sitcoms are not a reflection of how society actually lives. They are a reflection of what people find entertaining. I have never seen any of the shows mentioned so I do not know how fathers are portrayed but I do not know of anyone who thinks television is a reflection of real life. I don’t know if the sitcoms of the 50s were a reflection of how society actually lived at that time either. I don’t expect television to set examples for the rest of us as to how we should lead our lives. The soul purpose of commercial television is to provide as many viewers as possible for advertisers. The solution is if it offends you or you do not find it entertaining, as I do, don’t watch the shows.

  • David Walker

    Thank you Leona for Father Day wishes! I love this writing.