- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

On one recent TV show, a father has an eloquent heart-to-heart talk with his teen daughter about her new boyfriend.

Switch the dial, and here's another father a stay-at-home dad stoutly defending his expertise in raising the children while his wife works.

Switch the dial again, and there's a father who tosses his young son into a lake, telling him it's time to sink or swim. As the boy struggles in the water, the father cavalierly tosses in another son, orders him to save his brother and pops open a can of beer.

Such are the varied portraits of American fathers on prime-time TV, as compiled by the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI).

According to five parenting criteria, a third of 31 prime-time fathers were portrayed positively, NFI President Wade F. Horn said yesterday.

Another 12 fathers were given mixed reviews and eight characters scored low enough to be judged as negative portrayals of fatherhood.

While some fathers are portrayed as "competent and involved providers who place their families' needs above their own," others are "dimwitted dolts who are dominated by their bosses, neighborhood pubs or tee times," Mr. Horn said.

TV portrayals of fathers are important because nearly 40 percent of American children do not live with their biological fathers, said Don E. Eberly, chairman of the NFI, which was founded in 1994 to confront the growing problem of father absence.

For millions of these children, "that fictitious model is the only model they see," he said.

This, the second NFI review of TV fathers, is the first to include mothers.

During March and April, NFI researchers identified 31 prime-time TV shows on six networks with mothers or fathers as central recurring characters. The 31 fathers and 30 mothers included married couples, stepparents and divorced or widowed parents.

The characters were rated in five categories their involvement in family activities, their interaction with their children, their guidance to their children, their competence as parents, and the priority they placed on their family.

The researchers found that:

• Eleven fathers and 13 mothers were "positive" characters, ranking high in the five categories. The top fathers were on NBC's "Daddio" and Fox's "Get Real." Top mothers were on NBC's since-canceled "Freaks & Geeks" and ABC's "Once & Again."

• Twelve fathers and 16 mothers were deemed "mixed" characters, showing strengths and weaknesses in the five categories.

• Eight fathers and one mother were rated as "negative." The worst father was on Fox's "Titus," and the bad mother was the divorcee on the NBC's "Jesse."

• Fathers were eight times more likely to be negative characters than mothers.

• Unmarried fathers were portrayed more negatively than any other type of parent.

The NFI said that since its last report, WB's "Dawson's Creek" had improved its father character from a negative rating to a positive one. Similarly, the father in Fox's "That '70s Show" moved from the negative to the mixed category.

However, the fathers in ABC's "The Hughleys" and Fox's "King of the Hill" and "The Simpsons," which were in the mixed category, slipped into negative scores.

This change meant that in the spring of 2000, four out of eight "bad dads" were found on Fox.

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