Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2000 / 16 Kislev, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

TV keeps giving us the bad dad -- I GREW UP in the age of "Dad Brady" dispensing his corny wisdom to his blended family in what will always be known to my generation as "Brady Moments." Those were times when Mr. Brady would sit with one of his kids, perhaps Peter, and say something like, "You know, son, sometimes in the game of life we get discouraged when we don't hit a home run. It's then we have to realize that just getting on base can be pretty darn important."

A generation before Mike Brady, of course, there was Ward Cleaver, Ozzie Nelson, and Jim Anderson (of "Father Knows Best.") Sure, some of the wisdom these dads dispensed came out in ways that could only have been scripted by Hollywood. And yes, every once in a while their kids ran a few rings around them before the dads caught on. But still, fathers in television days of a generation or more ago always knew best.

Those days are long gone, according to a just-out report out by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), a national organization committed to promoting responsible fatherhood. NFI recently conducted a comprehensive survey of portrayals of parents on primetime network television sit-coms and dramas. The organization rated the depiction of parents on a 1-to-5 point scale on the extent to which the mom and dad were involved in family activities; whether they guided their children emotionally, spiritually, and mentally; whether the parents were portrayed as generally competent, how much they engaged in conversation with their kids; and to what extent their children were their top priorities.

Shows with 20-25 points were considered "positive," 15-20 points was "mixed," and below 15 was "negative." When it comes to TV dads, NFI found that at least they are generally portrayed somewhat more positively than negatively. There are even some shows like "Get Real" and "Seventh Heaven" which showcase involved, responsible fathers, says NFI. Still, on average when it came comes to portrayals of parents even moms don't make it out of the "mixed" category and fathers, scoring lower, are well within it. Worse, fathers are eight times more likely than moms to be portrayed as incompetent or irresponsible.

Ward Cleaver, call your office.

Anyway, from what I've observed, TV-land considers a dad to be "responsible" if he is good about changing diapers and being at his children's birthday parties. Important stuff to be sure, but rare - some would say practically invisible - is the network TV dad who shows moral leadership to his children. Who is portrayed as actually being wiser than his kids. Who has earned a unique position of respect in the family simply because he is the dad.

Instead, as the NFI study shows, too often the TV dads are at best well-meaning bumblers. They have more to "learn" from their kids than their kids have to learn from them. They constantly need rescuing from their own ineptitude by their wives or children.

One can't help but wonder: Why even bother having a dad like that around, except maybe for the laugh factor he provides? And those are the "good guys."

In TV parent-land, when a script calls for a "bad parent," NFI found it's almost always, you guessed it, a dad. I know, I know, this is only "entertainment." But it is one reason why my kids aren't allowed to watch the "entertainment" that network TV typically offers. More important, it is also a reflection of our culture, and our expectations for the people in our lives.

"Dad Brady" may not have been a real everyday dad either, but at least when we listened to Mike Brady deliver his little sermons to his kids we were looking up to dads, not down. By contrast, the expectations for dads today are pretty darn low.

It's true that the notion that either parent has a moral authority in his or her children's lives and a wisdom that can and should guide his or her kids is routinely and consistently denigrated in today's culture. But it's fathers that have borne the brunt of this demise of parenthood. I tend to think that TV's view of dads is less an indictment of our entertainment industry than of our elite culture and what seems to be its low esteem for dads. Still, families need all the help they can get. And if our pop-entertainment routinely advances the lie that kids don't "need" dads except, at best, for their laugh-factor as bumblers, that doesn't help today's kids. Especially those who will grow up to be tomorrow's dads.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


12/01/00:Sorriest legacy of election has nothing to do with chads, 'aborted pregnancies' or the electoral college
12/01/00: Giving 'sleepovers' a new meaning
11/20/00: The Dems' pathetic craving for power
11/14/00: A potentially fateful indication of Gore's mindset
11/07/00: What do women really want?
10/24/00: Spare the rod ...
10/19/00: Gore is a liar --- period
10/12/00: Making the case for marriage
09/28/00: "Mommy, what's abortion?"
09/20/00: Gay righters no longer seek just tolerance but endorsement
09/14/00: The stupidity of smart growth
09/07/00: It takes more than a kiss
08/30/00: Helping out at school is more than an obligation
08/24/00: Family time comes far down the summer schedule
08/16/00: A tale of two wives
08/09/00: The Brady Bill isn't achieving its aim
08/01/00: Attention feminists: How to really keep our daughters safe
07/25/00: Everything is protective: the parents, the gear, the age
07/18/00: Say it ain't so, Ann
07/11/00: Limiting a child's choices
07/06/00: Accounting for your health
06/21/00: It's a bad time to be a boy in America
06/13/00: The state of our unions
06/02/00: Federalizing care of kids
05/17/00: The natural food threat
05/09/00: To stop gun violence, keep families intact
05/03/00: Pass the fat, please
04/25/00: Something just for boys
04/18/00: When toleration goes too far
04/10/00: Women warriors
04/05/00: Confessions of a soccer mom
03/30/00: Getting an education about schools
03/22/00: If you're a parent, act like one!
03/14/00: Not child advocates, but self-advocates
03/06/00: McCain not what he seemed at first
02/29/00: An effective answer to social problems
02/22/00: The feminists' newest target: Toys
02/06/00: Harassing the harassers
01/31/00: It doesn't take a village to raise a child --- it takes a scheduler
01/25/00: Psuedo science and global warming
01/18/00: Socially responsible nonsense
01/10/00: Monica may be onto something
12/27/99: Sometimes it matters quite a lot what government thinks
12/17/99: Teens have no inherent 'right to privacy'
12/10/99: Buying a minivan and tossing the SUV
12/03/99: On the mommy track
11/05/99:The waste of recycling
11/01/99: Welcome to Harvard pre-school
10/22/99: No disaster for women that Dole is out
10/19/99: 'Humanitarian' hypocrites
10/15/99: On a first-name basis with a three-year-old

© 2000, Scripps Howard News Service