TV Dads vs. Real Dads: What Does Father’s Day Mean to You?

Posted June 15, 2009 by

I was recently interviewed by DETAILS Magazine about Father’s Day and Fatherhood. One of the questions was about the meaning of fatherhood and how fathers are portrayed on TV — and more importantly, in society as a whole. I was asked if there was a father figure from TV that I remembered or that stuck out in my mind.

I felt like I was taking an Alzheimer’s quiz, but I thought about it. And then I remembered growing up in Southern California and the role models I saw on TV and what mattered most to me.  First, I recalled a TV show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father with Bill Bixby. I think this was the first time I learned about the life of a widower. What I liked about this show was that there was a moment at the beginning and end of every show where father and son spoke in a philosophical way to each other – kind of like a “Zen moment” between them. They were learning from each other and I thought it was an interesting relationship. I liked the simplicity of the show. I don’t really remember the individual episodes or how he became a widower, but I really didn’t need to know the details. I was completely focused on the bonding between father and son. (Yes, I know there was a Japanese nanny, but I didn’t really put the two together!)

From my adolescence, I remembered Little House on the Prairie, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, The Brady Bunch, and Happy Days. These shows had a variety of father figures, but they all had an active father role and I liked that.  As I continued to talk about these shows, I realized that I was going off track in my interview. The writer wanted something more current, like the father figures of Al Bundy or Homer Simpson, characters that were heavily portrayed as bad, out-of-touch dads. In addition, they wanted me to comment on the more recent role of Bruce Jenner on the reality TV show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. All I could say was, “That’s one sad state of a family and I am sure they don’t know what kind of message they are sending out to their TV viewers.”  I couldn’t hold back my feelings in that interview.

When I left the interview, I realized how today’s TV fathers have so little in common with what reality is like. I am sure you can have the same argument for TV mothers as well. Granted, I am not the perfect father. In fact, I am far from perfect and I am grateful for the mistakes I have made. The lessons that I have learned have taught me about myself and how to be a better dad. What matters most in my life is that I get up every day knowing that I am not perfect. I am willing to learn from my children about how to communicate as the father in my family. Whether you are married, re-married, widowed, newly divorced or a single father with children, we all have a common goal in life: To be the best dad we can be and to being proud of the legacy we create every day of our lives.

I can remember this very topic of conversation with my own father about fatherhood. My father is a great man. I love and respect him very much. When I was young, he had to work 6 days a week to provide for the five of us. I always knew he was present in my life. When I played sports, I could always count on him being there. If it was a tennis match, I could see him in the back court. If it was baseball, he was always past the outfield fence. If it was soccer, I could always count on him cheering me on. In school, he was always asking questions about my studies and encouraging me to be the first in my family to earn a college degree.

At times when I was in college, he felt unsure about his ability to support me financially. I remember the talk we had at graduation and how guilty he sounded when we discussed how I had put myself through college and worked a full time job. As my father shared his feelings, I listened attentively and waited for my turn to speak.  I looked right back into his eyes, and I told him, “Dad, you never let me down, you and mom were always with me. You taught me everything I needed to know to be prepared for college and the responsibilities of life. You did the best you could and you did a great job as my father. You have given me the tools to be a great dad to my children and that gift is priceless.”

So on this Father’s Day, I want all of us to look back and look forward to being the best fathers we can be.  Know that you are doing the best you can do each and every day. What matters most is that fatherhood is an experience in learning, communicating and feeling.

What does Father’s Day mean to you?


RJ Jaramillo is a single father of three and the founder of While facing the daily challenges of raising three children on his own after his divorce, RJ realized how few resources were available to help him during this journey. He started in 2007. RJ lives in Southern California with his family.

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  1. SingleDad (Edit) Report

    Thank you all for such positive comments and compliments on this subject. I feel that the Single Parent community has such an important voice in today’s society and I am grateful that EP has given me the opportunity to share my voice with all of you.

    Happy Father’s Day!


  2. afpalmdesert (Edit) Report

    I’m probably not responding to this on the best day as I am a single mother and have not had a break in about 3 weeks but I wanted to say that for those single fathers I have seen, it is so important for kids to have the strong influence of both parents. Of late, I have met quite a few single fathers who are incredible and to them I say “Hats off.” And Happy Father’s Day.

  3. Ben Martin, (Edit) Report

    The amazing thing about those TV dads from Little House, Sanford and Son, etc., is that even though they were not perfect dads, they were far from what we see on TV now. The TV dads from the 70s were still real men – they were strong, they worked hard, and they cared deeply for their families. They were flawed, too – not perfect “Ward Cleaver” types – but that only made them more human. They certainly weren’t the pathetic losers that we get on TV now.

  4. sdsingle mom (Edit) Report

    As a single parent myself, I couldn’t agree more with “Single Dad”. Not only are there a lack of positive single fathers on television today, I think there is a lack of credible single parents on television in general. It is refreshing to see “Single Dad” take a stand for the growing number of single parents that struggle everyday to find new tools to improve parenting abilities. I have seen several posts by this author “Single Dad” and find his contributions to be well-written with depth, compassion, and practical advice on a diverse range of topics important to contemporary single parents.

  5. Rose (Edit) Report

    It’s so true — what I remember most about my dad are the walks we used to take when I was a kid, the stories he told me, and his encouragement when I told him about my plans after college. The material stuff is not that important. T.V. dads don’t really have much in common with real dads(although I’ve met a few Al Bundy’s along the way!)



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