Now, in the dying embers of Father’s Day, we should take the opportunity to kick a few lukewarm coals around and consider important cultural representations of fatherhood in television, because nothing is more important than television. Nothing. TV dads are usually pretty flawed (TV moms, too), because parental tension is a great way to gin up drama or mine some cheap, “Ha-ha-ha, look how lazy/stupid/meddlesome Mom and Dad are!” laughs out of TV audiences. Most of us have parents. Familial conflict may be the commonest thread tying us together.
A lot of people would probably tell you that Don Draper is currently the shittiest father on TV. You could make a case, of course, that Tywin Lannister is actually the shittiest father, but the Lannister patriarch is at least hurting his family for political gain — Don Draper just lies a whole bunch and ends up accidentally scarring his children for life. He’s hapless and mean, the most detestable combination of characteristics around. And yet, Don Draper isn’t nearly as bad a father as one of TV’s most insane patriarchs, a father so awful he constantly held the memory of his daughters’ dead mother over their heads as the ultimate argument winner. Don Draper is bad, sure, but Danny Tanner was a full-on sociopath, twisted into an obsessive taskmaster by the tragic death of his wife.
Danny Tanner held an annual dirt inspection of his home, like a fascist military officer. If Mussolini had a home in San Francisco, this is exactly what he would do — press all his family members into spring cleaning service and make them sweep the entire house. The State can have not one single blemish!
Danny Tanner regularly and openly ridiculed his daughter’s awkward friend. What kind of a man openly mocks a tender, innocent soul like Kimmy Gibbler? Sure, she mooched all the time and blatantly ignored Haus Tanner’s Prescriptions for Cleanliness, but Danny Tanner was an adult. Kimmy was clearly an awkward adolescent. How much psychological damage did Danny’s japes and jibes inflict on poor, insecure Kimmy? We may never know the full breadth of her suffering.
Danny Tanner used the memory of his daughters’ dead mother to get them to do their chores. Case in point: “Your mom was always so good at this stuff. I'd come home from work and everything would be perfect. DJ, how do you think Mom would have handled this?” BETTER THAN YOU, DJ! You’ll never live up to your dead mother, now bring Father his dustbuster and go cavort with the neighborhood ruffians.
When Stephanie accidentally punches a hole in Danny’s bedroom wall, she spends the entire episode in fear for her life. She even says, “Dad is going to kill me.” Kill her, as in, end her life. What did Don Draper ever do to his kids? Leave them at a Waffle House?
Danny Tanner invites his down-and-out best friend to come over and help raise his three motherless daughters, but only if he sleeps under the stairs, like a troll. “Hey, girls, this is your ‘uncle’ Joey, a grown man you kind of know. He’ll be living under the stairs now, so watch your ankles when you run up to bed!”
He sabotages DJ’s attempt to be in a band just so he can relive his old delusions of rock ‘n roll grandeur. He wears a clip-on earring. A clip-on earring.
Danny Tanner feels like he’s getting old, so he tries to date a college student. Hey, at least Sylvia and Don are pretty much the same age. Danny Tanner used a younger woman to make himself feel younger, like Elizabeth Báthory.