It was a little disconcerting to see the news article yesterday (the day before Father's Day) on Bill Cosby, one of the best TV dads ever. A jury in Pennsylvania couldn't reach agreement on whether he had drugged his female friends in order to molest them. Uck.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I may have learned some parenting skills from watching the Bill Cosby show. The show made its debut right after my daughter Alison was born...and I was in the midst of a teachable moment. So I studied "Cliff Huxtable" for things I could imitate. We all fancied his sense of humor, his self-deprecation, his respect for his wife, and the gentle authority he wielded with each of his precocious children. I hoped I could be just like him when my daughters grew up to become precocious.
So, to take my mind off Bill Cosby, I got to wondering what other TV dads might have influenced me. I would like to say that "Father Knows Best" influenced me. But my father wouldn't let me watch it...probably because I was only 5 years old when the show went off the air.
We did watch "Lassie" every week when I was 6 or 7. Lassie was a female collie who lived on a farm with a boy named Timmy. This must have been a very dangerous farm, because every week someone almost got killed. Even though Timmy's father was also on the show, the guy apparently wasn't much of a dad because it seemed that Lassie had to do all the parenting each week.
Each week's catastrophe always climaxed about five minutes before the half hour show concluded. I could never bear to watch, so I always had to leave the room for a "bathroom break" at 6:25 every Sunday evening. By the time I returned two minutes later, the music was happy again and everyone was safe. And it was always Lassie who saved the day. So I guess you could say my earliest TV lessons in fathering skills came from a female dog.
The next TV show dad I remember pondering was from the Andy Griffith Show. Andy was the sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina, the only town in America where everyone lived in an eternal state of virginity. (
Maybe the show should have been located one state north of North Carolina.) As the only "experienced-in-the-ways-of-the-world" person in town, Andy, (a widower) had a boy (Opie.) It is neat that Opie and I are exactly the same age. As a father, Andy sometimes wavered and wobbled before he got it right, but he always learned
his lessons so Opie could grow strong and become a "better than average" type of guy.
The biggest problem with Andy as a father model is that he decided to live in Mayberry, where everyone except him and his son were daffy. As a consequence, Andy spent so much time
parenting Barney and Goober and Gomer and Otis and Floyd that I wonder how he had any time left for Opie.
Other TV dads never held much appeal for me: the bigot Archie Bunker was offensive. Dan Conner on Rosanne was great fun to watch, but I never wanted to emulate him because then I would have had to marry someone like Rosanne. (Sorry: not willing to make that sacrifice, even for my kids.) Imitating Homer Simpson simply isn't very United-Methodist-minister-like. And then there was Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies. I could never quite picture him as
my dad, mostly b
ecause as a teenager I spent years lusting for his daughter, Elly May. (All that came to an end when I discovered that in real life, Elly May was older than my mother. Uck.)
So, the bottom line is this: I reckon I was more influenced by my two grandpas and my own dad than I was all those fictional guys on the TV. I learned from my Grandpa Smith how to be a tough guy. I learned from my Grandpa Haworth how to be a tender guy. Grandpa Smith was quick witted, funny, and full of hot air. Grandpa Haworth was earnest, empathetic, and full of hot air. (Unfortunately, I got a double inheritance of some things!)
You might see my grandpas in me (occasionally) when you witness a sermon: Grandpa Haworth (the preacher) was a red-face orator who got carried away in his passion. Grandpa Smith was a cool-headed story teller. My great-grandpa (who died before I was born) was also a preacher...more an academic. The sins and skills of the fathers are visited to the third and fourth generation.
But most of all I am influenced by my own father. John Smith loves life, always has, and has always determined to squeeze everything out of it he can. He is an idealist, a rescuer, a jovial story-stretcher, a lover of song. He loves my mom more than anyone in the world (she is the only one who could stand that much of his love) and he made us kids feel important without making us think the universe revolved around us. And at 87, he still teaches me: how to love people and life itself when things happen that would depress and destroy many others. So, keep at it dad, you're not done helping me yet... --Mike