Don Draper? Tywin Lannister? These Aren't Your Father's TV Dads As part of All Things Considered's series on Men in America, NPR's Eric Deggans considers the way television fatherhood has changed over the past five decades, from Ward Cleaver to Walter White.
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Don Draper? Tywin Lannister? These Aren't Your Father's TV Dads

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Don Draper? Tywin Lannister? These Aren't Your Father's TV Dads

Don Draper? Tywin Lannister? These Aren't Your Father's TV Dads

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Commercials may be showing fathers in a more positive light, but in some TV shows, fathers are following a downward trend. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says, they've gone from the all-knowing patriarchs of the past to something much darker. And a warning - this report contains some offensive language.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Breaking Bad"'s Walter White was a liar, killer and the biggest meth cook in New Mexico. But he always insisted his bad actions were for a good cause - helping his wife and kids - until he went on the run and had to admit the truth.


BRYAN CRANSTON: (As Walter White) I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was alive.

DEGGANS: White finally accepted membership in a growing club on TV - the destructive dad. If you watched any quality TV shows in the last few years, you have seen him. He's "Mad Men"'s Don Draper, whose affairs wrecked his marriage and forced him to tell his kids about the divorce.


JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) I love you both. You know that.

KIERNAN SHIPKA: (As Sally Draper) Then why are you going?

HAMM: (As Don Draper): I'm not going. I'm just living elsewhere.

SHIPKA: (As Sally Draper) That's going.

DEGGANS: On the Showtime series "Shameless", he's Frank Gallagher, a drunken addict who swore his son's acts of bullying only made other kids stronger.


WILLIAM H. MACY: (As Frank Gallagher) My kid'll be picking up roadside garbage in an orange jumpsuit in 10 years. Your kid'll be in med. school, curing cancer. You're welcome.

DEGGANS: And on "Game Of Thrones", he's Tywin Lancaster, a ruthless lord finally forced to admit to his son how much he really hates him.


CHARLES DANCE: (As Tywin Lannister) Shaming your father has always given you pleasure, hasn't it?

PETER DINKLAGE: (As Tyrion Lannister) All my life, you've wanted me dead.

DANCE: (As Tywin Lannister) Yes, but you refuse to die. I respect that.

DEGGANS: These destructive dads aren't just dysfunctional goofballs. They're deeply troubled men whose issues cause serious problems for everyone close to them. And they're at the end of a long dissent for the images of dads on television. It wasn't always this way.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: "Leave It To Beaver"...

DEGGANS: Back in the 1950s and '60s, dads were affable, well-meaning guys who wore ties in the house and ruled with gentle wisdom. But of course, they were also products of their time, as "Leave It To Beaver"'s Ward Cleaver revealed when discussing women and cooking with his son, Wally.


HUGH BEAUMONT: (As Ward Cleaver) Traditional, I guess. You know, they say a woman's place is in the home, and I suppose as long as she's in the home, she might as well be in the kitchen.

DEGGANS: By the 1970s, dads had bigger flaws. "All In The Family"'s Archie Bunker was straight up bigot who tossed racial slurs when arguing with his son-in-law and daughter about integration.


CARROLL O'CONNOR: (As Archie Bunker) You coons are coming.


ROB REINER: (As Michael Stivic) Twelve percent of the population is black. There should be a lot of black families living out here.

SALLY STRUTHERS: (As Gloria Bunker-Stivic) Yeah, this is only a beginning. but I think it's wonderful.

O'CONNOR: (As Archie Bunker) Well, let's see how wonderful it is when the watermelon rinds come flying out the wind.

DEGGANS: But Bunker's bigotry, awful as it was, never seemed to damage anyone else in his family. And as dad's got more goofy, they still weren't capable of really hurting anyone, even when "The Cosby Show"'s Cliff Huxtable got angry at his son for giving up on school.


BILL COSBY: (As Heathcliff Huxtable) Now, I'm telling you, you are going to try as hard as you can. I am your father. I brought you in this world, and I'll take you out.

DEGGANS: Today's destructive dads are more than a nod to gritty realism. They show that actions have consequences, and when a father makes a selfish or dishonest choice, everyone in the family suffers. Some might see these characters as an insult. But I say, there's no better tribute to the influence of fathers than TV's destructive dads. I'm Eric Deggans.

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