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Janice Crow: “Who Needs a TV Dad?”

June 2024

Who Needs a TV Dad?

Television in the old days would have had us believe that fathers were these perfect, all-knowing creatures who could solve any problem in thirty minutes flat and whose judgment was never challenged.  He could fix anything.  He spent his evenings reading the newspaper, helping with geometry and teenage crushes, while still finding time to rescue Fluffly from the neighbor’s tree, help Mom with the dishes, and slip upstairs to give the kids another nugget of wisdom just before they drifted off to sleep.  And although it wasn’t realistic, it was far better than what is depicted today.

Movies and television now portray “Dad” as a bumbling idiot…a lovable buffoon who is unnecessary, but tolerated.  His opinion, his permission, and his blessing is no longer sought or welcome.  His wife and children have been “liberated” from his influence.  He’s just a big teddy bear, a push-over, a wimp, and registers pretty much a zero on the “respect-o-meter”.   He struggles to hold a job while his wife brings home the bacon, solves everyone’s problems and has the respect and admiration of her peers.  She holds him up to ridicule and points to him as the perfect example of what not to be.  I know it’s just television…isn’t it?

My dad did not have the patience of Andy Taylor, Opie’s pa.  He didn’t possess the confident wisdom of  Beaver’s dad, Ward, or the genteel manner and polish of Ben Cartwright.  He was my dad.  Perfect?  Not by a long shot.   

His advice was not always timely or appreciated.  He sometimes got frustrated, impatient or angry. He didn’t always know the right thing to say or how to say it.  He often mispronounced words or used the wrong terminology.  He was friendly but socially awkward. (I wonder where I got it?)  Dad had an 8th-grade education and left school in 1926 at age 14.  He could not impress anyone with his scholarly pursuits.

He was not a sportsman, but he loved to watch “Wrestling at the Chase” (an old St. Louis tradition), and would get annoyed when anyone said pro wrestling wasn’t real and that Dick the Bruiser and Fritz von Erich were really just nice guys “play-acting”.     

Dad’s carpentry would make a skilled craftsman scratch his head, and I’m still amazed the house never burned down with the amount of old wiring and cords patched with miles of electrical tape.  His painting skills were cringe-worthy, and he had been known to paint windows completely shut.  In fact,  when I settled the “estate” a few years ago and sold the house, three-bedroom windows had not been able to be opened since the 1960’s.     

Dad’s list of “can’t-do’s”  was long.  But what he could do is what he did.  He could work two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet.  He was a welder forty hours a week. He’d step off the bus and hurry home to clean up, put on a suit, and go door to door selling everything from insurance to floor waxers in the evening.  Then on Friday night  he’d don cotton apron to work his weekend job in the produce department at Tri-City Grocery.  He would drag in on Saturday night and study some more to teach his Sunday School class the next morning.

He could take us to church on Sunday and twice through the week.  He could play board games and pump up bicycle tires and pull us on sleds, all  while being dead-dog tired.  So many pictures that were taken of outings in my childhood show dad asleep on a park bench.  Now I understand why.

He could buy a trumpet, clarinet,  and trombone and pay for piano lessons out of his meager salary.    He could drive three hours to take us to gospel concerts he couldn’t afford and allow us to go in and listen while he and mom sat in the freezing car.

He could send us to Youth Camp and pay for trips to teen talent competitions and then brag to his clueless buddies at work if one of us won something.  He could fly us home from Nashville just for Thanksgiving Day.  He could scoot over in that tiny house and bring one of us and her children home after a marriage blew up.  He could play and tease and support his grandkids until their mother could.

He could watch and worry and warn.  I remember more than once hearing, “Kids on their bikes….I’m tellin’ you it’s a new sense (nuisance)”.  He was always afraid one of the neighbor kids would swerve in front of his car.   Or if it was raining, “It’s a bad ole day to be goin’ out.”  Or if it was cold, “Don’tcha wanna gitcha  heavy jacket?”  Or maybe, “Why don’tcha turn  that television off.  Why don’tcha read ya some Bible. That’d be good.”

He could teach us what he did pick up in school,  a subject we never heard of called orthography.   He’d say, “portable”.  Port means “carry”.  Able is “capable of”.  So something that can be carried.   “Phonograph”… phono means sound, graph to write, so something to write or record  sound.   “Provide”…pro meaning before or ahead , and vide meaning  to see.  So when the Bible tells me God will provide, it means literally He will see ahead to what I need tomorrow, next week, next year…. that revelation changed my life.    

Dad could get up at 2:00 a.m., and atrudge across that cold linoleum  to the basement to restoke the fire  in the  coal furnace.  He could walk behind an old push mower  on a 90 degree day for hours.  Who killed the gargantuan spider the size of a saucer  (give or take) with all her young?  Dad.  When King, our yellow Chow died, who had to bury him in the backyard?  Dad.  Who fished the dead skunk out from under the house?   Dad.  Who frequently got to snake a hopelessly clogged toilet?  Dad.   Who got to deal with mouse traps, climb up into the sweltering attic to add more itchy insulation, and get up on the roof to adjust the TV antenna? Who had to dig the car out of 18 inches of snow just to go to work?  Dad.    

When the foundry went belly up and dad “retired” after 41 years, he was given a handshake and a watch that never kept time. He went to work again at a grocery store and worked another 27 years, up until three weeks before he died at 98.   He never had a wall full of plaques or framed certificates of achievement.  There were no bowling or golf trophies on his mantle.  In fact, he didn’t even have a mantle.  What he did have was an ancient out of tune upright piano draped with a brown velveteen cloth.  It held five faded eight by ten pictures of his kids… fIve kids who grew up to be good sports, good citizens and good Christians.  Nobody on drugs, nobody in jail, nobody dragging the family name through the mud.  These were dad’s “trophies”.

If my article is a bit long this time, it’s because I feel it’s important to write this to all the dads who feel like you’re  “less than” and to those who fear you have nothing to leave behind. I’m writing to those who have failed and tried again and  to those who feel like they aren’t enough.   To all those who swing a hammer or dig a ditch… to those with oil-caked fingernails  and calloused hands…to those walking a beat in harm’s way anywhere… to those who stand behind pulpits in churches that can’t pay you what you’re worth…to the  weekend warrior singer who gets on that bus, missing Little League games and recitals and singing to half filled churches of half-hearted believers, and coming away with little more than hamburger money,  wondering if it’s all worth it……I say thank you.   

Those sacrifices you make, those seemingly thankless,  time-consuming, dangerous, unpleasant or even nasty jobs you do…those lessons you teach your kids that they seem to ignore…they’re listening, they’re watching and they will remember.  And some day they will quote it all back to you…like I just did.

So…. who needs a TV dad anyway?


Staff writer Janice Crow – Singer – Songwriter

Janice Crow

Janice Crow is an accomplished singer/songwriter.
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