Being that this blog is kind of dedicated to not watching television, you might be interested to know that my childhood was based very heavily on it. Not that I watched a lot of television; I probably watched about as much as other kids. My dad watched a lot of television…and I’m glad he did.
So you have probably assumed (correctly) that I am not biologically related to Michael Landon. My real grandfather on my dad’s side is still very much alive. He is a quiet man who smiles and whistles a lot and has been married to my grandmother for well over 60 years now. I love him dearly, and I think that he is a terrific guy. I know that my dad also loves him very much. He is his dad, after all.
When my father was growing up, my (real) grandfather took the traditional male role in the household – worked, rested, went back to work, was involved in discipline. He was not very emotionally demonstrative. (My grandparents met in an orphan home, so theirs was not exactly a traditional childhood experience and they did a fabulous job of raising children without having had a solid family of their own growing up).
My dad is a very emotional guy, however, and he had an ideal in his mind about what a father could be like. His major influences were Little House on the Prairie and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. He decided that he wanted to be like those TV dads- involved, demonstrative, caring, loving, reasonable. He watched these fantasy fathers (OK, Michael Landon’s character on Little House was based on a book that was based on a real person, but that’s an awful lot of separation in my world) and he dreamed big about the kind of dad he was going to be someday.
Then I came along and he was able to try and put it all into practice. Being a parent isn’t easy, of course, but he really gave the job 100%. He took a job that wouldn’t keep him away from home for long trips or long hours, where we could stay in one place and my mom could stay home with me and my sister. He took me on “dates” every weekend (to give my mom a break, ha). We would go out to eat (I almost always chose McDonald’s), go to playgrounds, the park, bowling, fishing, sports games…I was (am, let’s face it) a spoiled Daddy’s girl. All because television had sparked a dream of being a really fantastic father.
OK, OK, I’m getting to the point, I promise.
Look at television now. Certainly, shows like Modern Family are entertaining and funny. However, look around the media for their portrayals of men. I think the best television dad I’ve seen is probably Booth from Bones, who still seems kind of inept. Granted, I don’t have cable and I am not even up to snuff on current programming, but I doubt I’m far off the mark.
Here’s my case. If television about upstanding/kind/gentle men could have such a profound positive effect on my father, couldn’t other shows portraying stupid/crass/sarcastic men have equally negative effects on other fathers? And what about the boys and young men who grow up watching shows like these? What kind of messages are we sending as a society about what we value in our men? That they can come up with witty, snide remarks over the Sunday paper?
Television can have a wider-reaching scope than people realize. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a saying that resonates with me. Perhaps shows like these will have no effect on society; I truly hope that is the case. However, if television does have power, why is no one harnessing that for good? What if there were characters on television who were actual heroes, not just superheroes? Men that boys could look up to as stellar examples of what it means to be a good man? So many children are growing up without fathers in their lives at all. It’s sad that at a time when great TV dads are needed the most, they are nowhere to be found.