29 of the Best TV Dads of All Time

July 01, 2022 10 min read

Sitcom Dads may come and go, but the best ones tend to stick with their audiences long after the final credits roll on their television shows. Good TV fathers are often sources of comic relief; even while dealing with heavy subject matter, they also tend to provide some much needed empathy in times of turmoil. They also have a way of teaching some tough lessons to their onscreen families and the audience alike. The most memorable television dads of all time do a little bit of all three, though, making us laugh, cry, and learn in equal measure. There have been a lot of phenomenal fictional fathers to grace the small screen over the years, so to celebrate some of the TV pops that have earned a permanent place in our hearts, here’s a fond look back at some of the very best sitcom dads in TV history.

Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) from The Andy Griffith Show

The opening sequence each week told us all we needed to know about what a good dad Andy is. A widower and busy sheriff of a small town, he takes time out to spend fishing with his young son, not only providing valuable bonding time, but teaching him life skills. Sure, Aunt Bee was there to help, but it is clear that Andy is a very involved dad, and is the one Opie comes to when he needs advice. Nearly 60 years after the show’s debut, Andy Taylor is arguably still the TV dad to beat.

George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) from All in The Family/The Jeffersons

George Jefferson was the loud-mouthed, opinionated, and bigoted owner of a dry cleaning business, Jefferson cleaners. He grew the business into a successful small chain, which led to him moving his family to a “deluxe apartment in the sky” in Manhattan. He was funny as well as worldly and always put his family first.

Archie Bunker (Carrol O’Conner) from All in the Family

The clash between the older generation and the younger generations is played out between ultra conservative Archie and his liberal daughter and son-in-law, Gloria and Mike. Archie is an old-school, hardworking man who is convinced that his way is the right way. Despite his gruffness, he clearly has a soft spot for his “little girl” and even though he refers to him as “Meathead,” he tolerates Mike because Gloria loves him. When the pair moves off, Archie shows a soft spot when he agrees to adopt a distant relative of Edith’s becoming a Dad to a young girl again well into his middle age.

Al Bundy (Ed O’Neil) from Married with Children

Nothing came easy for Al Bundy, starting with his drunken proposal to Peg, and ending with him as the father of two kids, Kelly and Bud, whom he could barely manage to support with a shoe store job that he repeatedly lost (only to inevitably get re-hired each time). The guy respected very few people and, in turn, rarely received respect, but he managed to get by and taught his children not to expect handouts from anyone, especially himself. But hey, apparently it wasn’t all Al’s fault….wasn’t there something about his ancestor getting cursed by an obese witch?

Philip Banks (James Avery) of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Since he’s a judge, “Uncle Phil” can be very strict, a little cheap, and at times have a bit of a temper. But he is also kind and loving and welcoming to his nephew, Will, after he got into a bit of trouble. He raises him alongside his own three children. He also fights fiercely to protect his family. When Will and Carlton are arrested for “stealing a car” he threatens to tie the police station up in “so much litigation that (their) grandchildren are going to need lawyers!”

Martin Crane (John Mahoney) from Frasier

You’d have to journey back to 1950s westerns to find a TV dad who shot as straight as Martin Crane. The father of two adult sons, Frasier (Kelsey Grammar) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), Martin was a man who did not mince words and certainly didn’t bother to use the same kind of flowing language that informed his children’s careers in psychiatry. At any given time Martin could be found lounging on his beloved recliner with his prized Jack Russell pup, Eddy, telling the truth in his rugged, everyman way to anyone who would listen. Though his lone piece of furniture didn’t quite fit into Frasier’s high society style, Martin was still himself – a classy figure for the place. There was elegant wisdom to the old man’s words that even his hoity-toity children could respect.

Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) from Family Matters

Patriarch Carl Winslow was the father to three biological children and an officer of the Chicago Police Department. He also had to deal with the annoying antics of their neighbor, Steve Urkel, for nine long seasons. Even a lot of the show's fans couldn’t last that long. Give the man a medal.

Tim Taylor (Tim Allen) from Home Improvement

He loves sports, tools, and cars, which seemingly makes him the perfect guy to have three rambunctious sons who love to prank and to fight amongst themselves. Tim can be a smug know-it-all sometimes, but he also knows when to ask for advice (especially from his neighbor Wilson) and when to admit he goofed up. So popular is Allen as a Dad he has had a second successful sitcom Last Man Standing in which he is father to three girls.

Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) from My Three Sons

In one of the longest running sitcoms in TV history, the affable MacMurray shines as the widowed father of three young boys. In its 12-year run, the boys inevitably grow up and marry (one even has triplets!) and Steve adopts Ernie, an orphaned friend of his youngest son and eventually remarries, becoming stepdad to a young girl. This down to earth dad is involved enough in his kids lives to make sure they don’t get into any big trouble, but hangs back enough to let them learn from their own mistakes.

Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) from Sanford and Son

Redd Foxx was such a talented actor and comedian that he could excel in any role including that of Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son. Although he complained a lot (and faked a lot of heart attacks) Fred actually had a sweet gig. He pawned most of the work off on his son, Lamont, while constantly and simultaneously calling him a “dummy.” Maybe he was just a bitter old widower, or maybe, just maybe, he knew this was the perfect way to raise a responsible son. Then again, Lamont really did make some poor decisions throughout the show’s six seasons, so maybe he really was a dummy.

Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosly) from Happy Days

Howard Cunningham was meant to be the All-American dad. Played by Tom Bosley, Cunningham was a wise business owner in middle America who liked to play golf. He loved his family and even put up with the Fonz, everyone’s favorite street greaser with a heart of gold.

Michael Kyle (Damon Wayans) from My Wife and Kids

We were only treated to five seasons of My Wife and Kids but that was enough to make us wish our own dads were as gut-bustingly funny as Michael Kyle. Head of the Kyle family and the inventor of a new style of parenting known as “Michael Kyle Signature Moments.” This basically involved Kyle tricking his three children into thinking they had done wrong in order to teach them a valuable life lesson.

Ward Cleaver (High Beaumont) from Leave It to Beaver

The Cleavers were the idyllic family of the 1950s, so it goes without saying that Ward Cleaver, the patriarch of the clan, would make our list of greatest TV dads. The white-collar, World War II vet had all your typical dad interests: reading the newspaper every evening, playing golf at the country club, driving his Ford four-door sedan, and imparting some words of wisdom to his two (sometimes troublesome) boys.

Phil Dunplay (Ty Burrell) from Modern Family

Phil Dunplay is a doofus dad, which may just be the best compliment anyone could ever receive. Besides being a real estate broker, a former college cheerleader, and a lover of magic tricks, Phil Dunplay is also an expert in peerenting, a term he coined when he decided to parent by being friends with his kids. Does it work? Definitely not, but it always brings the laughs which is why Phil Dunplay makes our list.

Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) Friday Night Lights

Coach Taylor's tough love and sage advice was more than enough to turn many football-adverse viewers into die-hard fans of Friday Night Lights. A father-figure to both his team and his own family, he offered a field of wisdom. Maybe none more valuable than this memorable quote: “Every man at some point in his life is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight and lose. But what makes him a man is in the midst of that battle he does not lose himself. This game is not over, this battle is not over.”

Homer Simpson (Dan Castellanata) The Simpsons

There's a little doubt that Homer Simpson is the king of all dads. He’s been D’oh-ing his way into our hearts for 33 seasons, making The Simpsons the longest running sitcom of all time. Throughout the years he's evolved from a brutish, Bart-choking oaf to arguably becoming the focal point of the show, which is a true testament to our love for all things Homer.

Danny Turner (Bob Saget) Full House

After losing his wife in an accident, the late Bob Saget’s Danny Turner is left to be a single dad and learn how to raise three young daughters. Thankfully, he gets some help from his brother-in-law and best friend. Despite what could lead to a chaotic house, Saget’s Danny is the strong glue that holds the family together, offering both humor and support whenever needed. Saget, who reprised his role in the reboot titled Fuller House, died in January, 2022, at age 65.

Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) from Seinfeld

He yells. He has red hair. He wears sneakers in the swimming pool. His name is Frank Castanza. Even though he is only in twenty-nine of the 180 episodes of Seinfeld, Frank is (hands down) one of the most memorable father figures in television history. It’s Frank who gave us Festivus (the holiday for the rest of us), “serenity now,” and the Manssiere (a brassiere for men). And when it comes to being a dad, he’s “One in a million, Doc, one in a million.”

Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith) from That ‘70s Show

Tough loving is the name of the game when it comes to Red Forman from That ‘70s show. He’s not what you’d call the most politically correct individual, nor would we call him the most openly affectionate dad out there. Despite Red’s constant attempt to find solitude and isolation, his home is continuously overrun by teenagers brought into the house by his two teenage kids. Occasionally, Red softens to show real, genuine, concern and consideration (and even love) for each of the kids in his life. In contradiction to his naturally stern and inevitable demeanor, it makes these sweet moments all the sweeter.

Gomez Addams (John Astin) from The Addams Family

As the head of the eccentric Addams Family, Gomez was an unorthodox father, but a loving one nonetheless. He was utterly devoted to his dear Wednesday and Pugsley, and also knew how to rock a mean pencil mustache.

Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) from The Sopranos

His own mother is so vile that he is in therapy dealing with all the mess she’s put him through….including trying to have him killed. Choosing to go to therapy is not an easy decision for a man who is the godfather of a major organized crime family, but he does it because he wants to do a better job parenting his own children than his parents did for him. He tries (unsuccessfully) to hide the nature of his business and give the children a “normal” upbringing. He does all he can to keep them safe and to steer them away from the criminal life.

Jim Anderson (Robert Young) from Father Knows Best

Warm and kind, Jim Anderson is the epitome of the 1950s sitcom father. As the title of the series implies, whenever one of his three children has a problem, he is there to offer sage advice, teaching them timeless valuable life lessons, such as how to stand up to a bully, the value of contributing to their community, and the importance of telling the truth.

Mike Brady (Robert Reed) from The Brady Bunch

Mike is already busy with three boys, but marries Carol and lovingly accepts her three daughters as his own. His household doubles in size and Mike works hard as an architect to provide for his family. Despite being a busy man , he always has time to offer words of advice to his young children and has a way of gently guiding them to see when they make a mistake and teaches them to take responsibility for them.

Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) from The Munsters

It’s hard to find a father on TV who is as optimistic, fun-loving, and innocent as Herman Munster, of The Munsters. He had an enormous heart and not a mean bone in his body. Also, Herman clearly adored little Eddie, and never asked Lily any suspicious questions about the kid even though he somehow ended up as a werewolf when Herman is a lab-created human and his wife is a vampire.

Phillip Drummond (Conrad Baines) from Diff’rent Strokes

Imagine losing your wife, employing a housekeeper for years, losing her to illness too, and then being asked to care for her two sons. This is exactly what Phillip Drummond did, which goes to show you how big his heart was, on top of the fact that he already had a daughter of his own. Phillip’s new adoptive sons were a completely different race than him, yet he still raised them as his own without compromising their heritage or unique identities.

Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson) from Blaick-ish

Much like his wife Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), Blackish-ish’s Dre Johnson is an accomplished and successful person who works hard to make sure his family has everything they could possibly need or want. Though Dre and Bow are both merry people by nature and lead their family with fun, Dre also knows when he needs to be serious about the state of society and takes it upon himself to regularly educate his children about what it has meant and currently means to be Black in America.

Christopher “Julius” Rock II (Terry Crews) from Everybody Hates Chris

Julius was inspired by Chris Rock’s real life father, and it shows. He is one of the most devoted, level-headed, and easy going dads on TV. Anyone whose dad constantly reminds them to turn off the lights will relate to Julius’s fatherly frugality.

Louis Huang (Randall Park) from Fresh Off the Boat

What’s more inspiring than having a father who is the literal embodiment of the American dream? Everything Louis Huang does is to improve his family’s fortunes. He serves as a role model of determination and hard work to his three sons. His sunny, optimistic, “can do” approach to life allowed him to bridge cultural and generational gaps and bond with his boys (even if he never got Eddie’s love of rap music).

Steven Keaton (Michael Gross) from Family Ties

As liberals and former hippies raising their children in the Reagan-era ‘80s, Steven and his wife Elyse are often exasperated by the materialism and conservatism of Alex, Molly, and Jennifer. Even though Steven doesn’t always agree with his children, the soft-spoken, laid-back dad teaches them to form their own opinions and, more importantly, to respect differences. In our world today, the political divide is so contentious that we could learn a lot from this ‘80s sitcom family.

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