TV Fatherhood Ain't What It Used to Be

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Michael Lohan isn’t the only father having a tough couple of months. The easy wisdom and father-knows-best parenting of such classic network television dads as Ward Cleaver and Cliff Huxtable has given way to the uncertainty and angst of cable’s boys of summer: Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me, Louis C.K. on Louie, and Ray Drecker on Hung.

These guys seem ambivalent regarding the whole being-a-dad thing, which taps into the current media fascination that many parents are not that thrilled that they are, in fact, parents. The most oft-cited conclusion is from a survey published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (no doubt on Tommy’s nightstand at the firehouse) and states that “The effect of children on the life satisfaction of married individuals is small, often negative, and never statistically significant.”

But As children have been saying for thousands of years while arguing with their parents, “I never asked to be born.” And as Louie declared in a recent episode, “Some parents are okay. Some parents are douchebags.” All of which is to say the you can hardly blame the kids for the dissatisfaction of their moms and dads. Unless the survey was conducted during a cross-country flight in coach.

Tommy, Louie, and Ray are well-meaning and seem to care about their kids. It’s just that their execution is a bit off. Back in the day, Don Draper could come home after a fling in the city, pat the kids on the head as they slept, and then settle in for a nightcap. That’s why so many men regard the early 60s as the good old days.

By contrast, these guys are expected to be involved in their kids’ lives and deal with crises, even as they stumble through the uncertainties of middle age. It’s hard out here for a pop, and Tommy, Louie, and Ray are having varying degrees of success being fathers. So let’s take a look at their situations.

Rescue Me's Tommy Gavin

Occupation: Firefighter
Children: Colleen, Katy, Connor (deceased), Wyatt (formerly known as No-Name; of questionable paternity though 50 percent Gavin regardless)
Parenting Challenges: Colleen has inherited the dominant Gavin boozing-and-brawling gene, which is roughly akin to having a predisposition for being a Tasmanian Devil or a Category 5 hurricane. She’s also involved with one of Tommy’s fellow firefighters. Tommy, of course, has his own struggles with alcohol—and his decision to limit both himself and Colleen to wine (“Wine is like grape juice, but with a little kick”) led not to sobriety but a doubling of vineyard plantings in Northern California. Meanwhile, Tommy must grapple with the notion of whether he would be more dismayed if teen daughter Katy came in first or last in the oral sex competition at school. Cliff Huxtable never had to think about this stuff. Mike Brady? Maybe.
Fatherly Forecast: Stormy, to say the least. Despite Lou’s wake-up call to Tommy to be a better father and, in the process, avoid a fiery eternity, Tommy is back on the hard stuff after confirming that wife Jan and brother firefighter Franco are in deep lust. This is hardly setting the stage for Tommy’s Father of the Year comeback campaign.

Hung's Ray Drecker

Occupation: High school teacher, baseball coach, and part-time happiness consultant (whore)
Children: Damon and Darby (twins)
Parenting Challenges: When working as a male prostitute and longing for the remarried ex-wife of your children, the moral high ground is harder to maintain than the summit of Mount Everest during white-out conditions.  Ray’s biggest problem is that his children—chunky, sullen, and with the charisma of Gulf Coast tar balls—must appear to be alien life forms from the Planet Goth that were implanted in his ex’s womb. In fact, the show finally dealt with a question that has been troubling Hung viewers since day one: How could the union of Anne Heche and Thomas Jane produce children that resemble the bastard spawn of Phyllis and Dwight on The Office? Even the twins have their doubts and openly question whether Ray would have been friends them during high school. And Ray knows what the truth is.
Fatherly Forecast:  Ray lacks Tommy’s self-destructive tendencies but his attempts at compartmentalization seem doomed to fail. Give him credit for trying to connect with his kids but jogging is hardly the way to bond with the twins—unless there’s a bakery or a tattoo parlor waiting after the first 200 yards.

Louie's Louie

Occupation: Stand-up comedian and single father
Children: Two cute little blonde girls. Their names? “It doesn’t matter,” according to Louie. Parenting Challenges: Thus far, Louie’s girls seem unlikely to head down the Colleen Gavin Memorial Highway to Hell. Louie’s key problem is that he regards fatherhood with a shrug of his rounded shoulders and simply tries to do the right thing—but with little passion or commitment. He volunteers in the lunchroom, chaperones a disastrous field trip, and attends a PTA meeting because he figures he’s obligated to go to at least one—but makes a statement that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of education. “School sucks, right? I mean you do what you can to improve it, but in the end, there’s a limit. Because it’s school. And school sucks. Remember?”
Fatherly Forecast: Louie’s revelation that he has pondered committing suicide after his youngest daughter reaches 18 is certainly troubling, but that’s still off in the future. Meanwhile, he cooks French toast and is at least present in the girls’ lives. As a mother tells him during a play date, “Just by showing up, you’re father of the year. You’re here. You’re peeling a carrot. You’re amazing.”

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