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Tommy Druen: The changing TV Dad

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By Tommy Druen

Aging is an inevitable reality that we all must face, and at 45 years old, it becomes more difficult to deny the signs. While my mind may still cling to middle school humor, my body firmly reminds me that those days are long gone. Even the slightest physical activity now leaves me acutely aware of muscles that I didn't even know existed, let alone that they could ache.

Yet the occasional physical discomfort pales in comparison to the true traffic signals of aging: our own children. My 8-year-old loves to talk about my gray hair, while my 13-year-old confidently believes I possess zero cultural literacy. And, while I'd love to refute their claims, they're likely right.


I proved this to my wife the other night by showing her the Billboard Top 25, where I recognized less than half of the artists. Then I saw the Nielsen ratings for 2023 listed in a news article, and I was surprised that I hadn't watched a single episode of eight of the top ten network television shows. The only solace I found was having watched Sunday Night Football and 60 Minutes, although that somehow makes me sound even older.

Now I would love to attribute this to the fact that I'm too busy to watch television or that I'd rather read a book. Perhaps I could even make a decent argument that the multitude of media we have today allows us to cherry-pick the music and shows that appeal to us individually. However, if I'm being brutally honest, I'll admit that when I am making those choices, it's often 90s grunge and classic reruns.

My son mocks my fondness for old shows and movies, but for me they are the entertainment version of comfort food. There's something soothing about watching John Wayne mounted on a horse or Peter Falk solving mysteries adorned in his iconic trench coat. The plots of this era may have been straightforward, but the quality of the writing and acting was undeniable. You can tune into a random episode of Gunsmoke and be immediately immersed in the story, without needing any prior context. These shows tackled challenging subjects as well, pushing the boundaries of public discourse. Normal Lear may have done more to propel conversations about social justice in American than anyone else in history.

While revisiting these classics, one recurring theme I notice is the portrayal of fathers. These men took an active role in their children's lives and, despite their occasional missteps, always were there for sound guidance. Andy Taylor, Ben Cartwright, Cliff Huxtable - all of these characters served as admirable examples of fathers doing their best for their children. (I'd note that Bill Cosby would have been well-served to emulate Cliff Huxtable in his own personal life.)

Now, let's contrast these depictions with the way fathers are often portrayed on television today. The prevailing archetype is that of the bumbling buffoon, constantly making foolish decisions driven by their own self-centeredness. Whether it's the animated counterparts Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum - Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson - or the affable, yet comically detached Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, the father figure has become the go-to source of comic relief through their sheer incompetence. Even in dramas like Yellowstone, we witness John Dutton prioritizing his love for his land over the love for his family.

And, interestingly enough, the same changes have not occurred with television mothers. In comparison to the dads, characters like Lois Griffin, Marge Simpson and Claire Dunphy serve as the foundations of their families, the ones who bring order to the chaos created by the fathers. Why hasn't the same shift taken place with television moms? Perhaps it's because we all know that women, rightfully so, would never put up with such a portrayal.

This shift in the portrayal of fathers is more than just a coincidence; it reflects broader societal changes and evolving cultural norms. As Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan acutely observed, "The world is a complex place, and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions."

While I may find myself disconnected from much of modern culture, my concern lies in the messages that some elements of that culture are sending. Young men may be under the impression that they need never truly mature. And, even more troubling, young women may no longer expect them to.

Even writing these thoughts makes me feel like the grumpy dad yelling at kids to get off my lawn. But maybe it's time for men to remind people that dads can be funny without being reduced to mere court jesters. It's about reclaiming the narrative and showcasing the multifaceted nature of fatherhood, where strength and guidance can coexist with goofy dad jokes.


Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at tommydruen@gmail.com.


This story was posted on 2023-07-05 07:41:23
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