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An ode to the TV dads who raised me

Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson in "This Is Us."
(Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

As a child of divorce, I didn’t grow up with my dad. No father-daughter dances, daring roller coaster rides or stressed-out driving lessons — which I’m not even sure are actually dad-type things, or if they’re just moments I watched on TV.

Television is where I learned what fathers do, and over the years I became attached to various dad characters, from ones who love to laugh to strict, over-protective ones.

So in honor of Father’s Day, here’s a look at the fathers who provided me - and likely many others without father figures around - with some laughs, love and guidance.

The Brady family and their housekeeper
“The Brady Bunch” ran from 1969 to 1974.
(ABC Archives / Getty Images)

Mike Brady from “The Brady Bunch”

Played by: Robert Reed
Who he is: Mike, a single father of three boys who marries Carol, a single mother of three girls, and becomes the head of a giant, blended family.
What he taught me: Mike was the first dad I saw who had a creative, professional life that he both took pride in and enjoyed. He was also the master of a work-life balance, being available for heart-to-heart talks with the kids while also taking them on work trips to Hawaii and Kings Island amusement park. (Let’s just forget about that weird string of bad luck that followed them on those trips.)
Watch him: “The Brady Bunch” originally aired from 1969 to 1974 (a bit before my time, but I watched reruns on local TV). You can find it streaming on Hulu and CBS All Access.

Sherman Hemsley, known for his portrayal of George Jefferson on the sitcom "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons."
Sherman Hemsley, known for his portrayal of George Jefferson on “The Jeffersons,” with costar, Isabel Sanford.
(Kobal Collection)

George Jefferson from “The Jeffersons”

Played by: Sherman Hemsley
Who he is: Thanks to his chain of successful dry-cleaning stores, George Jefferson moves his family to a “deluxe apartment in the sky” in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
What he taught me: Aside from biting humor, “The Jeffersons” also taught me that parenting doesn’t stop when a kid leaves the house. Even though George’s son, Lionel was an adult (especially to my elementary school eyes), he still fretted and worried about him. They had deep talks and learned from each other, particularly when Lionel married Jenny, a biracial woman of whom George did not approve.
Watch him: “The Jeffersons” originally aired from 1975 to 1985, and is available to stream on Hulu.

In 1994, ABC launched "My So-Called Life."
Claire Danes played Angela Chase in “My So-Called Life.”
(ABC)

Graham Chase from “My So Called Life”

Played by: Tom Irwin
Who he is: Graham, the well-meaning but creatively stifled father to moody teen, Angela Chase.
What he taught me: Graham taught me the importance of stability and presence. Even though his teen daughter struggled through her own issues, and their conversations were often awkward and stilted, Graham never stopped trying. And for all her teen indifference, Angela sure got jealous when Graham bonded with her friends. It means a lot to stick around.
Watch him: “My So-Called Life” originally aired from 1994 to 1995, and you can stream it on ABC.com and Amazon.

James Avery, left, in a scene with Will Smith and Janet Hubert on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."
(Ron Tom / NBC)

Philip Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”

Played by: James Avery
Who he is: A strict yet patient father of four, who takes in his nephew, Will, after Will’s frightening police confrontation in Philadelphia. Philip, or Uncle Phil, brings Will into his grand Bel-Air home and raises him as one of his own.
What he taught me: Fathers come in all forms. Let’s just say I wish I had an Uncle Phil every time my own dad backed out of plans, or didn’t show up for outings. When Will’s father Lou shows up in Bel-Air and then leaves again, who’s there to reprimand Lou, then lend Will a supportive ear and protective hug? Uncle Phil.
Watch him: “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” originally aired from 1990 to 1996, and you can watch episodes streaming on HBO Max.

Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker play Lena Dunham's parents in "Girls."
(Jessica Miglio / HBO)

Tad Horvath of “Girls”

Played by: Peter Scolari
What he is: Tad is the sweet, understanding father of Hannah, a narcissistic recent college grad who still depends on her parents more than she’d like.
What he taught me: Fathers can be friends. Hannah and Tad go from a dependent father-daughter relationship to one of friendship after Tad comes out as gay. His announcement breaks up his marriage and temporarily upsets his relationship with Hannah, but they evolve into a new space where Hannah helps him navigate his new lifestyle and eventually becomes a confidante.
Watch him: “Girls” originally aired from 2012 to 2017 and is streaming on HBO Max.

Jack Pearson of “This is Us”

Played by: Milo Ventimiglia
Who is he: Jack is the now-dead father of a set of adult triplets. When he was alive, he raised his kids in a house full of love, adventure, integrity and heart. And after his death, no one can to live up to his memory, much to the annoyance of those who marry into the Pearson family.
What he taught me: Does a dad like Jack Pearson exist in real life? His perfection made me realize that all dads in comparison are flawed - whether or not they’re real, whether or not they’re around. But Jack is a good model for what kind of dad I would’ve wanted, and what I think my own daughters are getting: love, adventure, integrity and heart.
Watch: “This is Us” currently airs on NBC, stream past episodes on Hulu.


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