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Rewinding small-screen patriarchs from Home to Howard Cunningham

Homer Simpson (The Simpsons) Make no mistake: Homer Simpson is dumb, gluttonous, boorish and spends most evenings in a dank bar instead of interacting with his family, yet somehow he’s become the most endearing dad in TV history. Most of the time Homer is the atypical anti-father figure to his brood of three, each of whom seems fully capable of growing up without his bumbling ministrations. No question Homer is lacking in proper parenting skills–he’s constantly throttling Bart, skipping Lisa’s school recitals and can never remember the name of his youngest child (it’s Maggie)–but viewers know the big guy has a big heart and his occasional bad behaviour only serves as a cautionary template for his much-smarter kids. Long may he run.

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Michael Bluth (Arrested Development) In a family riddled with deceit and distrust, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is the calm oasis. As the only Arrested Development character grounded in the real world, Michael was unkindly thrust into the single-dad position following his wife’s death and his own father’s shameful arrest and imprisonment for “creative accounting practices.” Thereafter Michael’s focus by necessity shifted to running the dysfunctional family business while attempting to protect his own awkward teen son George Michael (Michael Cera) from his defective relatives. Did it work? In the closing episode of the original Arrested Development series (the show returned May 26 on Netflix), Michael and George Michael did not hesitate to blow off the entire Bluth clan and split to Cabo San Lucas with a cool half-million dollars. That’s good father-son bonding.

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Ray Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond) For a guy with horrible parents, genial Ray Barone (Ray Romano) was a pretty terrific father. Over nine seasons Ray was rarely shown dispensing wisdom or discipline to his three kids, but that’s because he was a master at avoiding conflict and wisely left the important parenting lessons to his more competent wife, Debra (Patricia Heaton). Far more of Ray’s energy went into defusing pointless squabbles created by his crass father Frank (Peter Boyle) and needy mother Marie (Doris Roberts) or coming to the rescue of his idiot brother Robert (Brad Garrett). The smart dad always know when to pick his fights.

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Cliff Huxtable (The Cosby Show) Despite his corny jokes and awful taste in sweaters, Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) set the bar high for TV dads. Sure, he was a successful obstetrician and supportive life-partner for his wife Claire (Phyllicia Rashad), but there was never any question that Cliff’s primary duty was setting their five kids on the right path in life. In retrospect, the remarkable aspect of The Cosby Show was watching how easily Cliff changed his parenting style over eight seasons and nearly 200 episodes. The learn-the-hard-way method was usually reserved for eldest son Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), while youngest kid Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) always responded more favourably to tough love lessons. Cliff was a one-of-a-kind TV dad.

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Howard Cunningham (Happy Days) You don’t always have to be a blood relative to be a great father. Good old Mr. C was happy to be even-keeled father to his son Richie and bratty daughter Joanie (Erin Moran), but he also willingly dispensed the same fatherly wisdom to Richie’s pals Potsie and Ralph and even the juvenile delinquent Fonzie (Henry Winkler). And while Mr. C was mostly non-confrontational in the parenting department, he knew when to get involved. When college kids fleeced Richie in a fixed poker game, he stepped into the fray and gave the frat boys a hard lesson in cheating at cards. Attaboy, Howard.

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