HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!
Best Life (?) magazine has named Dr. Cliff Huxtable of 'The Cosby Show' as the winner of their poll for the best TV Dad. Richard Keller, over at TVSquad.com (link at left), has compiled not only a list of the five best TV Dads in honor of this day, but also the five worst. I wrote in for the Best Dads and mentioned two more for consideration - Jim Anderson of 'Father Knows Best' and Herman Munster of 'The Munsters'.
In that same comment, I mentioned my concerns that Robert Petrie of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' should never be considered one of the greatest of TV Dads, and Keller listed him among the runners-up in his follow-up of the worst TV Dads.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Rob Petrie is a terrible father; he's probably no better than average. We know he loves his son Richie. It's just that he so botched his role of male parental unit over the years.
Let's take a look at some of the evidence.
Even before Richie was born, Rob put his impending arrival in jeopardy. When Laura went into labor, Rob's growing pile of mishaps caused his wife to be brought to the hospital in the back of a laundry truck.
And then once Richie was born, the baby wasn't home a day before Rob was trying to palm him off to another couple in exchange for their own. And he caused Richie's foot to be inked purple to boot.
It may have been a tactic to restore peace in the family, but saddling Richie with a middle name of "Rosebud" could only lead to trouble for the lad in the schoolyard. Even if the name was an acronym for "Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David" (and had Richie been born a girl, that last combo would have been "Ulyssea Davida"), it still is quite an onus for Richie to bear. Kids are going to be ruthless in taunting him for it and it would have taken too long for his explanation - not that it would have helped prevent the teasing.
If there is such a thing as power in names, it might be no wonder that in the TV dimension based on sketch comedy (Earth Not Ready For Prime Time AKA Skitlandia) Richie grew up to be gay ('Dick Van Dyke And That Other Woman', 1969).
Rob showed a distinct lack of consideration for his son's health when he forced Laura to go to a party instead of letting her stay home to care for their sick son.
When Richie was going to make his big debut in the school play as a bunny rabbit, Rob initially couldn't be bothered to show his pride in his son, preferring instead to make a business trip to Washington, D.C.
Although he ultimately averted disaster, Rob's screw-up in securing 44 tickets to 'The Alan Brady Show' for the local PTA could have seriously affected Richie's standing in the school system.
In what could have been a particularly heartless move, Rob forced his son to part with his pet duck. Can you imagine Jeff Miller being forced to surrender ownership of 'Lassie'? Oh, wait a minute. He was. And look what happened - when talking about Lassie, we always think of Timmy, never Jeff.
And whether or not such a trauma even affected the well-being of the actor who portrayed Jeff, there's no denying Tommy Rettig is now dead.
I'm just sayin', is all.
When Richie complained of being attacked by a woodpecker, Rob showed a lack of compassion and faith in his son by preferring to believe that the claim was the result of an overactive imagination. His son could have had his eyes pecked out before Rob finally bothered to look into the veracity of Richie's charge.
When the quality of one's birthday party could affect a child's standing among his peers, Rob screwed up Richie's birthday party so badly when it came to the talent booked that he had to step in and play the clown for the pint-sized audience. Luckily the kids loved his schtick, but after the memories faded, what did they think of Rob once the next kid's party brought in flashier entertainment? Whatever happened, it would have reflected poorly on Richie.
Laura was right to be concerned that her husband was an inveterate check-grabber. After all, that was money that would have been better saved for Richie's future college plans.
Apparently, Richie might have been starved for any sort of attention from his father, to the point where he would be ecstatic to be given a rock or a paper clip as a "gift" when his Dad came home from work. And could it have been some kind of submerged childhood rage that prompted Richie to take a magic marker to Rob's back and connect the freckles to form the Liberty Bell?
As I noted earlier, Rob wasn't a bad father, just not one to be considered among the greatest in Toobworld. In all of the cases mentioned above, Rob was lucky that they eventually all had happy endings. Even so, it's probably just as well that Richie never had any siblings who would have diverted what little attention he was already receiving from his father.
We've seen from the reunion special of two years ago that Richie grew up to have a daughter of his own. One can only hope that he learned from his own life lessons to better his own skills as a father figure.
But it could have been worse. Rob's middle name is Simpson. Can you imagine him being more like Homer, with his hands gripped tightly around Richie's neck?
You can almost hear the voice of Herbert T. Gillis from 'The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis' as Rob strangled the life out of his son:
"I gotta kill that boy! I just gotta!"