If you believe what you see in pop culture, fathers have failed to evolve.
Fictional dads aren't taking paternity leaves or sharing child-raising responsibilities, they're stuck in old stereotypes. Too often father figures are portrayed as comically inept, cruelly dominant, or as Toronto International Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey points out, reduced to extremes – violent defenders or vessels offering brief moments of wisdoms. Think Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead.
Homer Simpson, a dad known for saying doh!, has been strangling son Bart and causing nuclear disasters at work for 27 seasons. Modern Family's Phil Dunphy flirts with his mother-in-law and attracts eye-rolls from his daughters but conspiratorial winks from his son – perhaps a clueless dad in training.
Lucious Lyon pits his sons against each other to fight over the family business in Empire. We won't even talk about Game of Thrones.
Laughing at doofus dads or fearing the strong patriarch may seem like harmless fiction, but pop culture informs our understanding of fatherhood. As Bailey says, "heroism doesn't come any more naturally to fathers than to anyone else. I like movies that show how that works."
How we see (and watch) dad's role at home and in the workplace has wider social implications for important issues like gender stereotypes, even public policy. It's important for kids and adults to see all types of father figures – step fathers, adoptive fathers and single dads – taking on strong roles, even in fiction. In honour of Father's Day, we asked an all-dad panel of pop culture experts: Who is the most positive father figure in TV, film or fiction – and why?
Henry Winkler, actor and The Fonz in Happy Days
"The dad in the musical Billy Elliot is a coal miner in Northern England, going on strike in a very conservative closed community. The working-age men in his town knew that the only job available was in the mines, and yet this dad stood up to the town, and to his older son who was also a striking coal miner. He respected his youngest son's need to dance – to be an artist."
Kardinal Offishall, Canadian award-winning rap artist, music producer and philanthropist
"Growing up as a child in the 80s, there were few fictional men of colour on television that represented anything besides old derivatives from blaxploitation movies of the previous decade. The character Heathcliffe Huxtable (not the actor who played him) was an imperative fictional father figure to me and a generation of kids growing up. He was a professional, a doctor, who was married to an equally strong partner, a lawyer. They were raising five children in New York together. Although this TV character was seemingly unbelievable, it inspired many men of all colours to settle for nothing but the best."
"I'm always so moved by director Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep. The father endures a soul-crushing job in an abattoir to provide for his family. He does it with simple dignity. I also love Edward Yang's drama Yi Yi, where the father awakes from the routine of domestic living to the endless possibilities of life."