Of all the TV tropes that have fascinated me the most over the years, my personal favorite has always been the TV Dad. TV Dads are infallible, loving figures who got their children out of all kinds of messes with a few stern words and a hug. TV Dads of the 1990s like Uncle Phil, Danny Tanner, Uncle Jesse, and Alan Matthews were the absolute cream of the crop, the shining example of the form. When I watched the first few episodes of the beloved series Friday Night Lights at some point during 2021, I expected that the much-praised Coach Eric Taylor would be another great TV dad. I expected a wholesome drawn-out story about a man, his family, and football.
Now, with five long seasons under my belt, I see Eric Taylor for what he really is: a shitty father and an average football coach. But it wasn’t just that Taylor was such a horrible, willfully absent dad that got my goat. It was the fact that the entire town of Dillon is teeming with horrible fathers and it’s only a lucky few that have no fathers at all! Or perhaps those children were the most unlucky, because, without a father in their life, they attracted more attention from Coach I Refuse To Raise My Own Daughter Taylor. Granted, Friday Night Lights isn’t supposed to be about parenting and family—it’s about football and the internal politics of a high school team in Texas. But after spending damn near 100 hours with the bad dads of Dillon, I truly cannot understand how this show maintains any sort of appeal. Rather than break my brain over how this show continues to live on in the pop culture canon, let’s get into exactly how bad these dads are.
It is inconceivable how much under-aged drinking happens in any scene that involves Tim Riggins, the beloved but tragic high school hero who can’t see himself anywhere outside of Texas. But once you meet his father, somewhere in season two, can you really blame him? Tim’s dad is a drunk and a con artist who abandoned Tim and his buffoon of an older brother Billy for reasons that are never thoroughly explored other than the fact that Daddy Riggins simply could not handle parenthood.
As such, the Riggins boys are less boys and more feral animals whom no one seems to check because Billy is a former football champion and Tim is an incredible fullback. What is really unbelievable, though, is how hard this show tries to demonstrate that despite all of this, Tim has a good parenting gene buried somewhere deep inside his body. In two separate seasons, Tim is involved in relationships with two different women each of whom has a child. The first a young son, the second a teenage daughter. In the first scenario, Tim steps in as a typical Boy Dad teaching the son to throw a football, picking him up from school, and showing up with pizza a few nights. The kid is fucking ecstatic. Never mind that at the time this woman is somewhere in her 30s and Tim is 17 years old.
After Tim graduates high school (how the fuck did he graduate??), he moves into a trailer owned by a bartender with whom he had a one-night stand. That woman’s daughter, Becky, is clearly in love with Tim but instead of being a fully realized creepy guy, Tim steps into a pseudo-father role, taking Becky to school, helping her pick out a dress for her pageant competition, and even going so far as to help Becky navigate an unwanted pregnancy. While this all seems wonderful and loving, Tim is drunk or hungover for the entirety of all these exchanges. The whiskey-soaked apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
At first glance, Buddy is just a sad foreshadowing of what it is to peak in high school and never leave one’s hometown. He’s also an adulterer, which I don’t hold against him for the purposes of this list of bad dads, because that is between him, his wife, and his maker. What I cannot abide is Buddy deciding to take the entirety of his daughter’s college fund, a whopping $70,000, and spend it all on a shady investment.
Part of this show takes place during the recession of 2008 so on some level I understand Buddy dipping into his savings but the entire fucking thing? And not even to keep a roof over their heads, but to invest in some strip mall? Who did he think was going to be visiting a strip mall in Dillon?
I hate this man with the fire of a thousand suns and I will not waste the digital ink on him other than to remind everyone that he beat the shit out of his son in a public parking lot and then got offended that someone would call Child Protective Services to check in on that situation.
My qualms with Coach Taylor as a father are innumerable. In an effort to avoid blathering on for an eternity about all the ways in which this man chose to neglect his eldest child, I’ll focus on the one thing that has had me absolutely incensed for weeks. During season three, Taylor walks in on his daughter Julie having sex with her boyfriend Matt, who is on the football team. This is the first time Taylor becomes aware that his daughter is sexually active, although there was a storyline in the previous season where Julie was contemplating sex and her parents (mostly her mom) dealt with it. But now Taylor is confronted face-to-face with his daughter’s sexuality, which according to all the parenting I’ve seen on TV is a father’s worst nightmare.
Taylor doesn’t speak a word about this to his daughter. Ever. In fact, he goes out of his way to make sure that his wife is the one to talk about it and ensures that he isn’t even physically present in the home when the conversation is taking place. What does he do instead? He has a near monosyllabic conversation with Matt about the event—and by conversation, I mean that Taylor tells Matt “women need to be respected,” while he’s cleaning his grill. That’s it. That’s all he does.
This particular event winds me up so deeply because, by this point in the series, there’s a boatload of examples of Taylor moving heaven and earth to help his football players. He single-handedly rehabbed Smash Williams after a knee injury and got him into college. He built a football field with his own two hands in the middle of a cow pasture. He even let Tim Riggins live with him during one of the many times Riggins found himself unhoused. But having some sort of conversation with his teenage daughter of any substance or value? A bridge too far!