Has this ever happened to you? Just when you start feeling confident about getting your credit card balance down to within sight of the paying-off range…whoops…here comes some new unforeseen expenses. I guess that kind of thing is not too unusual, especially since the 1960s we’ve become accustomed to the “just put it on the card” way of thinking.

I was sitting here wondering how my father – and mother – got by without the option of credit cards. Oh, I know…they had one, or more less, monthly bills to pay! But look at me talking; here I am ready to pull out that card again.

Fathering back in those days was probably not much different than today unless you put stock in the umpteen sitcoms of that era. The dads in the fifties and sixties were well-adjusted and happily married with no more than three children, tops. They had nice houses and usually worked at some office job that required a briefcase. They wore suits but when they came home they would change into a cardigan sweater before dinner. They smoked a pipe, never cigarettes, and you’d never see them with a can of beer.

And they never yelled at their kids. Except for Danny Thomas in Make Room for Daddy. Likewise, it’s probably a good thing Ralph Kramden never had kids.

Those TV dads were the ones we – mistakenly – wished we had. I add “mistakenly” because I really don’t believe they existed in the real world; just in the minds of scriptwriters. I would sometimes catch myself wondering what those dads might’ve been like after the episode was over, when the cameras were turned off. What were Tim Taylor, Mike Brady, Steve Douglas or Ozzie Nelson like in the intervening week?

Would Ward Cleaver take his belt and whup the daylights out of Wally and the Beav? On Father Knows Best, did Jim Anderson have a hidden drinking problem? Did Andy Taylor have a second family up in Mt. Pilot? And don’t get me started on the secret life of Cliff Huxtable. Whoa.

Hopefully, all real-life fathers possess at least one good trait depicted by dads on TV, but I would guess most have a flaw or two that aren’t suited to situation comedies. There are dozens of other father characters in movies and TV besides sitcoms, but for some reason, none have never quite like my dad. Unless, well…I’m tempted to say a cross between Frank Costanza and Ben Cartwright, but also a dash of Hal from Malcolm In The Middle and Hal’s alter ego, Walter White.

When it comes down to it, we can appreciate all the daddies, fathers, father figures or whoever takes on that role. It’s not easy, at least not as easy as being a grandfather, and sooner or later we all succumb to saying the same things to our children, e.g.:

  • When I was your age…
  • Money doesn’t grow on trees…
  • As long as you live in my house…
  • Because I said so…
  • They don’t make ‘em like they used to…
  • You’ll understand when you get older…

My own father, who died at age 79 in 1995, tried his best to be the best daddy for us, but as I learned later in life, had father issues of his own. If I was to go and pull up memories of my father there’s no reason I just couldn’t pick out the best parts, the times “the cameras were on.”

Those TV dads had common sense, and were understanding and patient and made me a little envious. But in a way they made me appreciate my own dad, because they weren’t living in our house with my mother and brothers and sisters.

But on the other hand, I imagine for a great many of us, there were times when things weren’t all rosy with our dads. Times like, for instance, um…puberty, when mom and dad both seem a little weird, and I know that now because I probably seemed a little weird to my own kids during those years.

Mark Twain said it better. “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

My dad is no longer around, but I find myself thinking about him, his ways, his corny expressions, all of it, more than ever. That stuff stays deep inside and pops up unexpectedly, probably at those moments when we need it.

All told, he was certainly no Atticus Finch, but when the metaphorical TV cameras were turned on, he did the best he knew how.