Remembering one of television’s most vulgar fathers.
Illustration: Megan Mericle
If you took a nationwide poll about the best sitcom dads, a fairly predictable group probably would receive the lion’s share of votes. Andy Taylor of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Mike Brady of “The Brady Bunch,” Ward Cleaver of “Leave it to Beaver” and Howard Cunningham of “Happy Days” undoubtedly would be in the running.
Americans have fond memories of those flawless fathers who were gainfully employed and displayed unwavering love and devotion to their families. Even in times of difficulty, those fathers would readily dispense sound advice, resulting in valuable lessons learned and happy endings achieved. They led the ideal American families that we wish our own could emulate.
Then, out of nowhere, came a sitcom that, in many cases, showed what our families are really like. In 1987, Fox launched “Married … with Children,” a show where family hugs were few and far between. Producers departed from the traditional lovey-dovey family dynamics and instead turned up the realism by giving viewers a dysfunctional, economically challenged family from Chicago.
The head of the family was Al Bundy, the antithesis of the above-mentioned television fathers. He despised marriage and fatherhood equally. He had a do-nothing wife, Peggy, and two children, Kelly, a dullard, and Bud, a social loser, who still lived at home after reaching adulthood.
Al was unhappily employed as a low-paid shoe salesman who insulted every vertically challenged woman needing a pair of high heels. His claim to fame was scoring four touchdowns in a high school football game, a feat he mentioned only with every other breath. The only thing that brought him happiness was hopping into the beat-up Dodge that he drove in high school and making a trip to the local “nudie bar.”
Al made an absolute mockery of the sitcom family dad, and in doing so, made us laugh hysterically. But beyond that, he was one of the most relatable characters. I mean, how many of us really grew up in seemingly perfect households with fathers who were doctors, architects or sheriffs?
We all know an Al Bundy from somewhere. You know, someone who is crude and rude and says what he thinks without giving a damn about other people’s feelings; someone who looks at objects with sentimental value, which explains why Al drives a vehicle with over 1 million miles; someone who is overprotective of his daughter and, like Al, repeatedly rams the heads of boyfriends into the front door.
It’s unfair to compare Al to television’s faultless fathers. We already know he was never as wise as Andy Taylor, never as kind as Howard Cunningham and never cut out to be a successful blended-family dad like Mike Brady.
Yet, despite taking candy from children and stealing his dog’s identity to pay for a credit card, Al still stakes a claim as a legendary television father. You know why? He fought for the little scrap of dignity he had by going to work every day and supporting a family who despised him. He taught Americans who were flat-out broke and stuck in dead-end jobs to never quit.
Even if that meant shoving shoes onto the feet of large women.