By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Father’s Day is this Sunday.
We all can admit this day doesn’t get the fanfare of Mother’s Day. The special ladies in our lives get flowers, candy, jewelry, trips, dinners, concerts and much more. Meanwhile, most father figures are happy with a home-cooked meal, a cold one and a little peace and quiet.
I’m guilty of buying my mom bags of gifts each year and giving my dad, Thomas Sellers Sr., whatever is left.
I guess you can toss my dad on the heap of men portrayed in television sitcoms as goofy, ignorant barbarians lucky to have a beautiful, intelligent woman there to save the day. Although my mom, Alma, has come to the rescue on countless occasions for the Sellers household, Thomas Sr. has flexed his muscle building us up.
Just like on TV, my dad has come to my rescue by fighting battles for me when I didn’t even know. There were long days and nights at the table learning reading, writing and arithmetic. Thomas Sr. was the most brilliant artist I witnessed transform a plain piece of paper into a masterpiece.
Discipline was also in his arsenal with a mixture of corporal punishment and heartfelt talks. To make sure things were balanced, my dad would be there to pick up my spirits after I got into trouble. I once beat my dad 152-38 in a basketball game at the age of 5. That day I made 76 shots and learned how to multiple by two.
My parents worked hard to make sure my siblings and I had a good life. Part of that was cable on a color television. The ironic part was as we enjoyed family time in front of the TV, my dad was at work. I got a chance from 1985 to 2005 to watch some fellas who reminded me of Thomas Sellers Sr. Let’s rank my list of “Best TV Dads.”
10. John “Pops” Williams
(“The Wayans Bros.,” 1995-1999)
John Witherspoon was the star behind the silly, goofy patriarch of the Williams family. The owner of Pop’s Diner in New York City, Pops was always near if his two sons, Marlon and Shawn, needed anything. He would let them fall but be right there to pick them up. He gave them tough love in helping them become men. His boys seemed to get into silly situations often, maybe because they learned it from him. Pops was known to like a taste from time to time and wasn’t too shy to express himself. His trademark saying was, “Bang! Bang! Bang!”
9. Homer Simpson
(“The Simpsons,” 1989-)
OK, Homer is the poster child for the crazy TV dad. He’s a doughnut-loving, quick-tempered man who is not qualified for his job. He also married out of his league. Despite all that, Homer reminds me of my dad because he has faults he overcomes with genuine love. Homer is devoted to Marge and will give anything to make his children, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, happy. “Doh!” My dad has many of those moments just like Homer. And just like the Simpsons, we haven’t canceled him either.
8. Michael Kyle
“My Wife and Kids,” 2001-2005)
While I was in college, “My Wife and Kids” was must-see TV for me. I got to watch Damon Wayans lead the Kyle family. All his character, Michael Kyle, wanted was a slice of Americana with his wife, son and two daughters. His son was Michael Jr. A father takes pride in naming his son after himself. It can be pressure on the junior. Both Michael and my dad tried to implant wisdom, skills and knowledge in their sons. From learning how to drive to my college future, the Kyle men reenacted my life. The Michaels bumped heads constantly, but father and son always had that bond held together by their name. Thomas and Thomas have a similar testimony.
7. Hal Wilkerson
(“Malcolm in the
Hal appeared to be the weakest link in the Wilkerson household. Bryan Cranston portrayed this lovable, pitiful character brilliantly. He was the perfect complement to Jane Kaczmarek’s Lois, who was the drill sergeant of the home. Lois was the bad cop and Hal was the good cop to sons Francis, Reese, Malcolm and Dewey. But whenever the boys needed a hero and strong presence, Hal didn’t hesitate. And he tried to keep the peace in the house between the boys and Lois. When Lois needed rest, encouragement or to feel beauty, Hal was the man for the job. My dad balanced things in our home like Hal. Thomas Sr.’s rule was if you buy for one, you buy for all.
6. Carl Winslow
(“Family Matters,” 1989-1998)
This landmark spinoff from “Perfect Strangers” was known to some as “The Steve Urkel Show.” But “Family Matters” had humble beginnings for the Winslow family, based in Chicago. Reginald VelJohnson brought policeman Carl Winslow to life. He was the leader of a middle-class family with his wife Harriett, son Eddie and daughters Laura and Judy. Also under his roof were his mother and sister-in-law. My dad allowed special guest stars in our home over the years. We had aunts, uncles and even my Grandma Helen have an extended stay. My dad was the one to let them know when their welcome expired. Carl had those moments with his neighbor from another planet, Steve. Through all the wacky adventures of Urkel, Carl was the reminder of it being an overachieving, hard-working family.
5. Al Bundy
The antithesis of “Family Ties,” the Bundys came into our homes every week pumping life into the FOX network. This show was the flagship program of the new network mainly because of Ed O’Neill’s Al Bundy. The rest of the main players in the house – Peg, Kelly and Bud – became iconic figures. But it was the man of the house suffering week to week that made America fall in love with this show. Al hated his life and only got peace from his NO MAAM group and reliving his high school football glory days. He was a shoe salesman and drove a 1973 Dodge Dart. Life was hard on Al, but if you messed with his family, Al was hard on you.
4. Danny Tanner
You need help raising your kids. Thomas Sr. was humble enough to let colleagues, relatives and clergy have a hand in bringing me into manhood. Bob Sagat’s Danny Tanner had the challenge of raising a trio of girls after losing his wife. Enter his best friend Joey and brother-in-law Jesse. With three men in the house, Danny maintained the leadership role for his daughters and fellow father-figures. Danny was a clean freak, workaholic and nerd. But he was comfortable in his own skin. My dad loves golf, reading history books and learning new languages. When you’re exposed to guys like my Pops and Danny Tanner, you understand your geeky characteristics define who you are.
3. Dr. Jason Seaver
(“Growing Pains,” 1985-1992)
One of the best theme songs in TV history alerted me it was time to enter the Seaver home. What would Mike do this week? Carol is the nerdy middle sibling role model of my dreams. And Ben is the cute and sneaky younger child. Later Chrissie was born to Maggie and Jason. Alan Thicke portrayed a psychiatrist who had to use his skills on his own family often. He supported his wife in her emerging career as a reporter. He helped Ben deal with being the youngest child for many years. Carol needed encouragement and to stay grounded. Her dad was right there. And the iconic Michael Seaver was the adventurous type. Jason Seaver had to stay on high alert and outthink his oldest child. It used to amaze me how my dad knew what I was thinking or what I was up to. Then I realized everything I’m trying to get away with, he probably did it already.
2. Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable
(“The Cosby Show,” 1984-1992)
Since I was 4 years old, my dad drilled in my head I was going to college. He emphasized good grades, joining clubs and pushing my limits academically. Thomas Sr. would give me pop quizzes in the summer and end my Christmas break with an oral exam. Sometimes my best wasn’t good enough, and my dad would criticized my schoolwork, art and writing.
My emotions were moved from hurt to anger with my dad. Then on Thursday nights I would watch the dynamic between Bill Cosby’s Heathcliff Huxtable and his son, Theo.
Theo had all the excuses in the world to settle for less and not achieve. He had a learning disability that was the perfect excuse. But Heathcliff wouldn’t let his son fall short of his potential. When the last episode of the Cosby Show aired, I was heading to the sixth grade. Dr. Huxtable had a moment of reflection as Theo graduated college. He was tough on his son and all the tough love paid off. It was then I realized my dad was going to continue to push me pass my limitations. The resistance Thomas Sr. provided made me stronger in the long run too. In 2003 we had our Huxtable moment.
1. Phillip Banks
(“Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” 1990-1996)
Although Will Smith was the star of this ’90s sitcom, James Avery’s Phillip Banks was the undisputed king of the house. Known to U.S. America as Uncle Phil, the wealthy judge already had a trio of children, Hilary, Carlton and Ashley. He was smart enough to marry a college professor named Vivian. But that union meant he inherited a family member with his nephew, Will. Uncle Phil brought his teenage nemesis into manhood with discipline and an unwavering presence of strength.
As time went along, Uncle Phil softened with Will because he understood his nephew and grew to love him. One of the most powerful scenes in TV history is when Uncle Phil embraces a broken Will after his real father left out of his once again. That’s when the name “Uncle Phil” took on a more powerful meaning.
I had to share my dad a few times in my life with cousins and children in the neighborhood. He would buy them things, take time with them doing homework and allow them to accompany him at work. My emotions were never moved to jealousy because I felt honored my dad was being a hero to others.
He gave those he helped a good impression of the name Thomas Sellers. He was the first to establish the designation and was willing to share it with me. The least I can do is try to make the junior version awesome.