Father Of The Year: TV Drama’s Bad Dads

There is something about the role of the ‘father’ in television that is rife for conflict and mistakes. TV Dramas capitalize on those conflicts and create terrible dads in their series all the time. Maybe it is the battle of the patriarchy, the growing disillusionment with family, the absence of the American dad, or the commitment to work over empathy in males today, whatever it is, bad dads abound in television today.

So here are the candidates for Worst Bad Dad in TV Dramas and what we can learn about and from them along the way.

Tony Soprano


  • Strong sense of ‘family’
  • Tries to instill values in his children 
  • Provides kids with everything they need and want


  • Short temper
  • Often absent affairs
  • Can be physically abusive
  • Spoils his children
  • Tendency to murder other people while on college visits
  • Unhealthy marriage
  • Unable to discipline appropriately

The whole premise of Sopranos started with “which family will kill him first.” There is a special sort of ineptness in a man who has a better chance of surviving the New York and New Jersey crime syndicate than his own kids.

Tony’s strengths are often his weaknesses, a penchant to provide becomes a tendency to spoil which puts his children at odds with his hard work ethic. His strong sense of family becomes a trigger for his short temper when his son does not feel that same connection. And the way he provides for his family becomes absence from the home and a poor marriage. 

The big guy can’t get out of his own way. He always had a deeper understanding of the inner mechanics of his ‘family’ than his family, making intricate and ingenious moves in his business while making ham-fisted and doddering decisions at home. He is a consistent and ruthless leader with the guys, but an inconsistent and emotional father.

Walter White


  • Provides for his family
  • Present
  • Teaches 


  • Puts his family at risk
  • Poor marriage
  • Selfish

Walter’s desires were at odds with his family’s. In the face of his illness, he wanted to pay for his medical bills so that he could be with them, spend more time with them, be a father. But while becoming the world’s best meth cook in order to pay those bills, Walter learned that he didn’t just want to survive, he wanted to live. The life he had as a teacher and family man felt empty after his experience breaking bad. He informs us in the last episode, he didn’t cook meth to provide for his family (like he had been telling Skylar since she found out), he did it because he liked it, it made him feel alive. 

Ultimately, Walter White rejected his family to become a meth dealer, passing it off as a way to support them, when he just wanted to obtain his own goals and fulfill his own needs. Not exactly Father of the Year behavior.

Logan Roy


  • Teaches independence
  • Shows tough love
  • Prioritizes family time


  • Antagonistic and combative
  • Cold
  • Jealous
  • Inscrutable
  • Manipulative

Logan grew up in a completely different world than the one he provided for his children. He is both jealous of this life and worried it will prevent them from becoming the ‘killers’ that he thinks they need to be as heirs to his empire. Because of this, he provokes and antagonizes them, trying to bring out a tough and harsh side to them that couldn’t possibly exist in the ‘playground’ he created for them. 

There is certainly love in these twisted feelings. He has tender moments with all his children (“You’re my number one boy”), and he is with his family all the time (family meetings galore) but he is constantly playing a weird chess game with their lives, and never reveals his thoughts and desires, maybe because he doesn’t know what he wants (he’s not a man to be emotionally reflective) or maybe if he told them, it would defeat the purpose. 

Don Draper


  • Embodies the American Dream
  • Even-tempered
  • Values hard work


  • Doesn’t love being a father
  • Absent
  • Poor marriage
  • Unfaithful

Don doesn’t seem to be much of a father. He is a product of the fifties where parenting was something the wife took care of while the husband made all the money to support the household. But as times changed in America and women asserted their independence, it was the children that fell through the cracks. 

The Draper household was no exception, and Sally Beth was a wonderful example of the impact of those changing times on young people. She was necessarily independent, willful, and argumentative, searching for a means to love an acceptance.

Don embodied the American ideal, he was upwardly mobile, he rewrote his own history to better suit his future, he had a beautiful wife and lovely kids, he worked on Madison Avenue in New York, but he also represented the underside of that picturesque exterior with his infidelities, absence, and general lack of interest in family life and that which did not directly benefit himself.

Tywin Lannister


  • Consistent
  • Defends his children
  • Tough love
  • Disciplined
  • Protective


  • Plays favorites
  • Rigid
  • Unforgiving
  • Cruel
  • Political

Tywin is the symbol of strength and success and regality. His number one concern is the image of his house, and its opportunity for success. His kids are only as good to him as their ability to further that agenda. 

To be fair, when his children seem like they can or will help House Lannister, he is tough on them but ultimately good to Jaime and Cersei. Tyrion, however, not so much… He represents, a poor image, weakness, and a lack of discipline and regality. So he is treated like no child should ever be treated by his father and subsequently by his sister who looks to her father as god. 

But since the Lannister name and its image means so much to him, he does protect and bail out his children when they get in a fix- like when he saved all of King’s Landing because Cersei almost got it seized in the Battle of the Blackwater. But he also ‘saved’ his children when they did not want his saving, as he determined Jaime’s life path for him and ruined Tyrion’s. 

Ultimately, it never bodes well for your parenting skills when you are murdered by one of your children.

Rick Grimes


  • Protective
  • Present
  • Loving
  • Instills leadership and values


  • Prone to bouts of insanity
  • Distracted and unsure about life

Rick Grimes is in the toughest position to be a good father. Raising a child is difficult, raising one while also protecting them from man eating zombies is, I imagine, a bit of a sticky wicket. But Rick manages to do so for a very long time, while also maintaining good qualities in Carl. In fact, one of Rick’s downsides as a father is that Carl has to do a lot of the teaching and moralizing for Rick and not the other way around. Rick’s leadership and parenting roles get the best of him, and his grip on reality isn’t always rock solid. 

Rick ends up raising a good child in spite of himself, but ultimately (not to rub salt in the wound) was unable to protect his child, which was the thing he was always best at.

Ned Stark


  • Loving
  • Fair
  • Great teacher and mentor
  • Present
  • Good husband
  • Creates a stable home
  • Good values and morals


  • Poor decision making
  • Poor choices in friends
  • Misguided loyalty

You might be saying, “Wait! I thought this was a list of bad dads! Ned Stark was a great father!”

 Au contraire. Ned definitely establishes himself as a terrific dad in all the mechanics. He is fair and loving and takes painstaking measures to make sure his children grow up loved but not coddled, fair but not weak, provided for but not spoiled. And he has a terrific litter of little dire wolves as the product of that time and effort. 

However, his family ends up as one of the most decimated and destroyed families in all of Westeros (which is really saying something) and it all begins with some questionable (at best) decision-making to go down to King’s Landing at the word of a blow-hard king. He should have known better. 

He then got enmeshed in the one thing he probably is worst at, the game of thrones, and decided to trust everyone in the process of playing said game (if there is one thing you can’t do in the game of thrones it is trust people) all the while he brought his two daughters with him into the lion’s den, and then gets himself arrested which brings his son into the war as well. 

Meanwhile he keeps a very important secret from his bastard child that ends up going with him to the grave, and sends the same kid to the Wall under the false pretense that it was a noble place (being the Warden of the North he had to have known better). 

All-in-all that’s a blue streak of bad parenting choices.

These are the candidates for Worst Bad Dad in TV Dramas. Sound off in the comments on who you would nominate and who should win.

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