As rich widower Philip Drummond on the series Diff’rent Strokes, Conrad Bain tackled tricky territory — his character adopted two young black boys from Harlem, and the show brought to light such serious issues as racism and drug abuse. However, the patchwork family’s comical growing pains translated into ratings success. During the show’s eight seasons, fans came to know and love the dynamic between Bain and his adopted sons, played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. And while “What’chu talkin’ 'bout, Willis?” became the catchphrase the show is known for, what we remember most fondly is the message that families come in all diff’rent forms.
How do you become one of the most endearing TV dads of all time? Well, if you’re Bill Cosby as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, you dole out equal parts humor, honesty, sage advice and the occasional cold, hard dose of reality. Throw in the trademark Cosby face from time to time (press lips tightly together, then roll eyes back), and you’ve apparently got parenting gold. Whether he was performing a funeral for a goldfish or giving unsolicited fashion advice, Dr. Huxtable always seemed to go the extra mile to make sure his kids had a father who was present in the moment.
If you grew up in the ‘90s, you likely think of the cast of Full House as extended family. You had a killer crush on Uncle Jesse (Wait, what are we saying? We still do!), you wanted to be BFFs with D.J. and — whether you admitted it or not — you looked to widower father Danny for his pearls of wisdom. Sure, he fumbled a bit trying to raise three daughters without his wife, who was tragically killed in a car accident. But, with help from Uncle Jesse and buddy Joey, Danny managed to emerge as that dad… the one whose daughters unabashedly adore him.
What time is it? Tool time! Our list of top TV dads just wouldn’t be complete with out Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor from Home Improvement, played by Tim Allen. He was a bit of a caveman — his signature grunt bears testament to this — but, let’s face it, he was fun. He spent time with his sons doing stuff guys love like camping and working on old sports cars. And those frequent times he bungled something up? Well, just leave it to Mr. Wilson (or the top half of his face anyway) to help Tim come up with a clever way to make things right again. Who knew cavemen could be such darn cute dads?
As crotchety old Frank Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, Peter Boyle may not have been the best dad, but he was definitely the best of the worst. Everybody may have loved Raymond, but a ton of people tuned in for Barone’s sarcastic, tough-sh*t breed of parenting. Chances are, he reminds you of your own grumpy, yet loveable dad or granddad. I mean, c’mon… just imagine him whipping off his belt and threatening to tan your hide. Between emasculating his sons and bemoaning his “45 years of bondage” to wife Marie, Barone occasionally let a hint of softness surface — which, naturally, he quickly obscured with obscenities.
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