Sunday Brunch: Screen Dads



It’s Fathers’ Day, which means the internet is swarming with ads for power tools and sporting equipment, all of which share space with pithy articles talking about the greatest fathers in media.

I’ve noticed, though, that most of the memes which list great screen dads tend to stick with the stuff that’s so old it doesn’t even play on Nick at Night, or even TV Land any more. Not that I’m knocking Mike Brady, but I wasn’t even born when The Brady Bunch began, and not yet four when the final episode aired.

Besides, aside from a period when I wanted Scotty from Star Trek to be my father, the TV fathers (and father figures) I responded to were hardly cookie-cutter parents. The TV dads I grew up with included Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie),  Steven Keaton (Family Ties) and Bill Cosby (The Cosby Show) but lately, I’ve come to realize that there are some great screen fathers (and father figures) from this century.

Who are they? Well, here are five of my favorites:

Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen – The West Wing)

In addition to being the father of Ellie, Lizzie, and Zoey, Jed Bartlet also had this little job as President of the United States. It’s true that two of his three daughters were living independent lives, but he still had to balance country and family, with scales that were just a bit more particular than those measuring other fathers.

As well, Zoey was going to school at Georgetown University for part of the series, and living in the White House a good chunk of the time as well, which meant a lot more hands-on parenting, as in the scene where the president explains to his daughter why she’s got to have extra security:

“My getting killed would be bad enough, but that is not the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario, sweetheart, is you getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or a party in some club and you get up to go to the restroom and somebody comes from behind and puts their hand across your mouth and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified you don’t even notice the bodies of a few Secret Service agents lying on the ground with bullet holes in their heads. Then you’re whisked away in a car. It’s a big party with lots of noise and lots of people coming and going, and it’s a half hour before someone says, “Hey, where’s Zoey?” Another fifteen minutes before the first phone call. It’s another hour and a half before anyone even *thinks* to shut down all the airports. Now we’re off to the races. You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack somewhere in the middle of Uganda and I am told that I have 72 hours to get Israel to free 460 terrorist prisoners. So I’m on the phone pleading with Be Yabin and he’s saying: “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Israel simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period. It’s the only way we can survive.” So now we got a new problem because this country no longer has a Commander-in-chief, it has a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda with a gun to her head. Do you get it?”

Lucas “Luke” Danes (played by Scott Patterson – Gilmore Girls)

Luke isn’t actually Rory Gilmore’s father. In fact, during the course of the show, he never officially becomes her stepfather. Nevertheless, he is the reigning father figure in Rory’s life, attending family parties and events (like her high school graduation) even before he and her mother, Lorelai tried dating.

Later, of course, he essentially raises his nephew Jess, and then he finds out he has a daughter of his own, April, but when it comes to parenting, Rory was really Luke’s ‘first’ child…and he even goes up against Rory’s biological father, Christopher, to demonstrate it:

“Oh, really? Well, where the hell where you when she had the chicken pox and would only eat mashed potatoes for a week? Or when she graduated high school and started college, huh? Where the hell were you when I was moving her mattress into her dorm and out of her dorm and back into her dorm?”


Burt Hummel (played by Mike O’Malley – Glee)

I knew from the start that Burt was a pretty special guy, raising Kurt alone, and supporting his son’s interests even when he didn’t understand them, but what sold me – and most of the viewing public – on Burt is this quotation from the episode “Theatricality,” where he busts his soon-to-be stepson, Finn, on the latter’s use of the word ‘faggy.’

“I know what you meant! What, you think I didn’t use that word when I was your age? You know, some kid gets clocked in practice we tell him to stop being such a fag, shake it off. We meant it exactly the way you meant it. That being gay is wrong. That’s some kind of punishable offense. I really thought you were different, Finn. You know, I thought that being in Glee Club, and being raised by your mom, meant that you were some, you know, new generation of dude who saw things differently. Who just kinda, you know, came into the world knowing what it’s taken me years of struggling to figure out. I guess I was wrong. I’m sorry Finn, but you can’t, you can’t stay here.”

Jonathan Kent (played by John Schneider – Smallville)

It can’t be easy, being the adoptive father of a future superhero, but it was always clear that Jonathan was parenting Clark and that the eventual Superman was the mask – a flip of the conventional version of the story. As Clark aged and began developing his powers, Jonathan’s life got a lot more difficult, but he still tried his best to answer every challenge with grace and wisdom, as in this quotation:

“Look, Clark, I’m your father. I’m supposed to have all the answers. It kills me that I don’t, but you gotta have faith that we’ll figure this thing out together.”

Keith Mars (played by Enrico Colantoni – Veronica Mars)

Another single father, Keith Mars is a bit grittier than the average television dad, but there’s never a doubt that he’s Veronica’s greatest ally, even when he has to choose being a parent over being a friend. Personally, I think their relationship is one of the best father-daughter relationships ever put on screen. Moreover, it’s obvious that Veronica shares his sense of humor, as well as his detective skills, as seen in this exchange from the second season.

Keith: So, senior year. How was your first day at school honey?

Veronica: Great! I beat up a freshman, stole his lunch money and then skipped out after lunch.

Keith: What, no pre-marital sex?

Veronica: Oh, yea… yes. But don’t worry dad, I swear you’re gonna like these guys.

Keith: That’s my girl.

Veronica: I missed you.

Keith: [While they hug] I missed you too. Now, where is my turkey pot-pie, woman?


These are just a few of my favorite “screen dads,” and while they’re no longer entirely contemporary, I think all of them are, at least, more relatable to modern audiences than the fathers in those older shows – even if we (well, I) still watch them when I’m flipping channels and they happen to be on.


Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 15 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive.

Sunday Brunch: The Best Advice Nathan Fillion Never Gave Me



Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a darkened room at the Dallas Convention Center with about 4,499 of my closest friends. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Not the number of people, but that they’re my closest friends. Really, I knew maybe five people in that room.

It didn’t matter, of course. Why? Because it was Dallas Comic-Con. Because once you enter the doors, it doesn’t matter if you’re a DC girl in love with a Marvel boy, or a woman who thinks Star Trek is better than Star Wars, married to a man who thinks the opposite is true. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a major fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original, with Robert Englund) while your husband prefers the grittier, somewhat more reality based (and I use that concept very, very loosely) world of The Walking Dead. Once you enter Comic-Con – and this is especially true in Dallas, I think – everyone is a friend; you just haven’t necessarily met them yet.

In any case, two weeks ago, on Saturday evening, I was sitting in Hall D, 4th row center, waiting with those 4,499 other people for a special solo Q&A from Nathan Fillion. You might know him as Richard Castle.  You might know him as Captain Hammer (from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog) or Captain Tightpants (aka Malcolm Reynolds, from Firefly and Serenity). You might know him as Caleb, the evil priest from the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re old enough to have watched more than just cartoons in the late 1980s, you may even remember that he was one of Murphy Brown’s many, many receptionists, which was my first experience with his work.

The Q&A started later than its originally-scheduled 6:00 pm, because Mr. Fillion is a truly nice person. He could have had his handlers stop his autograph line so he could get to the hall on time. He chose to stay, make eye-contact with each of them, and keep signing ’til the line was done. It also didn’t end on time, at 7:00, because he also chose to ensure that those 4500 people in Hall D got their full hour with him. Sure, Twitter would have exploded with nastiness if he hadn’t made those choices, but if you follow his Twitter feed at all, you’ll know that even there, he’s a pretty nice guy.

It’s rare, at conventions, for anything substantive to be asked in Q&As. It’s not that there aren’t people with really good questions; it’s that those people are usually not the first to line up behind the microphones. Most of the questions, then, tend to come from admittedly-adorable small children who ask things like, “What’s your favorite animal?” (For the record, Fillion prefers cats. I forgive him for this.)

But two weeks ago, in Dallas, a young man stood up at one of the microphones, and shared that he’d just been cast in his first television pilot. He asked Nathan (I can call him Nathan after being alone in a dark room with him, and a moderator, and 4,499 of my closest friends, right?) two things: one, to demonstrate his “soap opera long take” technique; and two, give some actorly advice.

The soap opera bit was hilarious, but the advice…the advice was amazing. And while it was meant as advice to a young actor, I found it to be as universally applicable as Natalie Goldberg’s Rules for Writing (and I’ve written about those before).

Here’s what he said:

“Just remember:  You’re there because they want you there.  You already have the job. Do your job.  You are good enough to get the job.  You’re good enough to do your job. Don’t get stressed about things that aren’t in your control.  Control what’s in your control.      Know your lines.  Be pleasant.  Do good work.”

Let’s take a closer look at those points, shall we?

Don’t get stressed about things that aren’t in your control. Even the best of us can only control our own behavior, our own attitudes, our own reactions. Sure, it’s easy to get upset about things in the world – war, crime, various social issues we feel passionate about – but we can’t fix those things. We can, and should, become informed, but freaking out over things we can’t control doesn’t help us, and it doesn’t help others, either.

Control what’s in your control. It seems obvious, right? If you can control something, you should. Either Tim Gunn or one of the former Project Runway designers who appeared on one of his shows phrased it this way: “We cannot control how we are perceived; we can only control how we are presented.” I can’t control your reaction, but I can control my attitude, and my delivery, and any number of other things. I can’t fix every social issue that I care about, but I can put my money, my vote, and my voice behind who can.

Know your lines. While this would seem to be specific to actors, I think it applies to almost everything, if you use a loose interpretation of ‘lines.’ The part of me that does improv and voice-acting doesn’t have to worry about memorizing lines, but when I’m meeting new people, I know that I have to be positive and outgoing – that meeting people’s eyes and engaging with them is a version of “knowing my lines.” It also means knowing that I can’t be as bawdy with my friend who is a priest as I can be with my friend who is a comedian. (Well, actually, the priests I know are pretty bawdy, but you get the point.) It also includes basic manners. Some of the lines we’re expected to know, are things like using ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ offering assistance without being asked, and standing back when assistance isn’t needed.

Be pleasant. As I recently wrote to a friend who asked for the best piece of advice each of his friends had to offer, “When all else fails, try good manners.” Even the toughest day or the hardest task becomes more manageable when you have a pleasant attitude. If that means getting up early so you’re well-caffeinated before you have to deal with people, then do so (that would be part of ‘know your lines’ and ‘control what you can control,’ as well). There’s a reason that saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar has lasted for ages.

Do good work. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody is ever expected to be perfect. That doesn’t mean we have the right to be lazy, to turn in shoddy work, or to half-ass projects because we don’t feel like pushing ourselves. I’m not saying we have to over-extend ourselves all the time either – far from it. Just give the best that you can at any given moment, and know that sometimes giving your best means asking for help or saying no.

I wasn’t expecting to hear an actor whose work I admire offer life-lessons in the middle of a Comic-Con Q&A. I know, from the reactions in the room at the time, and from the comments on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere on the ‘net, that other people were as surprised by both the eloquence and the simplicity of Nathan’s advice to that young actor, and by its relevance to people in general.

I’m still going to grumble, from time-to-time, about the lack of substantive questions in Q&A’s, or about how moderators should control the lines better (I gave feedback – extremely polite, but detailed feedback – about this to the Dallas Comic-Con organizers). But thanks to that young actor whose name I don’t know, and thanks to Nathan Fillion, and thanks to the 4,499 friends who sat in that darkened room with me, I’ve been reminded that sometimes amazing advice comes from the most unusual places.

Also? Nathan Fillion is a genuinely nice guy.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 1 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive.