Black role models are everywhere, and for better or for worse television is a place where many people find them. Although there are many family shows over the years, there have been far too few black family shows depicting the black family in a positive light with realistic characters playing roles that a good father could relate to. Below are 10 TV fathers who defied the stereotype and presented black fathers and black fatherhood in a manner that black men can be proud of and young people can look to as examples of what it means to be an African American father. Leave a comment with the fathers not listed here. The more examples we have for our kids and each other, the better.
"Cliff Huxtable" - The Cosby Show (played by Bill Cosby 1984 - 1992)
The ultimate family show, The Cosby Show was the first show depicting an African American, upper-middle class family on television. The show was extremely wholesome, with a nuclear family of a doctor, a lawyer, 4 beautiful children and a relevant extended family that often visited the Huxtable household. Bill Cosby was the ultimate father: funny, hardworking, stable, a great parent and a loving husband. He raised his kids the best he could and even though he was a good father and "Claire" (played by Phylicia Rashad) was a great mother, they still had to deal with family trials and tribulations (including his wild child "Denise" played by Lisa Bonet). Although this family situation is typical among many black families there were some who criticized the show saying that it wasn't a "realistic" portrayal of the black family. Thank God Bill Cosby, the producers and the crew thought differently as The Cosby Show finally elevated the depiction of the black family from an impoverished, often broken group to a family that anyone would be proud to call their own.
"Carl Winslow" - Family Matters (played by Reginald VelJohnson 1989 - 1998)
While the Cosby's were the quintessential black family with the uber-father in Cliff Huxtable, the Winslows were the quirkier middle class family that you just had to love. Although the clear breakout star of that series was the goofy neighbor Steve Erkel (played by Jaleel White), Carl Winslow was the father who quitely held the whole family together. Carl worked in the police department and was your typical everyman. He was not the best looking man, but he had a good heart, his wife and kids loved him and he was a great provider. He is the perfect role model and is probably the most common reflection of black fathers in America; quietly dong their jobs with little or no recognition.
"Detective J.C. Williams" - New York Undercover (played by Malik Yoba 1994 - 1998)
Besides being one of the coolest detectives on television J.C. was also a single father who loved and cared for his son Gregory Williams (affectionately called "G"). J.C. was revolutionary for several reasons but primarily because he was a cool and hip black detective that didn't play second fiddle to his white detective partner. In fact, he didn't even have a white partner. His partner Eddie Torres (Michael DeLorenzo) was Puerto Rican which also was one of my favorite aspects of the show. Not only did he get equal billing in the police station and in the show, J.C. was portrayed as a sexually active black man; masculine in his speech and manner, but not ghetto or hyper-sexualized. Although he had to work his cases he always made time to see his son, pick him up from school, help him with school projects and give him fatherly advice. J.C. maintained a civil relationship with his ex-wife throughout the show and showed that the black man can be out of the house and still be a good father. To this day I have not seen another black character like J.C. on television.
"Julius Rock" - Everybody Hates Chris (played by Terry Crews 2005 - 2009)
Just because you are poor doesn't mean you don't work hard. That phrase should be tattoed on Julius Rock's back as his character was one of the hardest working black men in sitcom history. Always working extra hours or looking for a new job to make money, Julius (Terry Crews) kept a roof over the family's head and kept the family fed for 5 seasons on Everybody Hates Chris. Loosely based on comedian Chris Rock's life, Julius was the perfect example of many inner-city fathers: he was penny-pinching, strong, family-oriented, tired, dedicated, and ever hopeful. He never left his family, he didn't cheat on his wife and he always came home after work. Julius is the definition of a good man and he serves as a great role model for hard-working black men everywhere.
"Bernie Mac" - The Bernie Mac Show (played by Bernie Mac 2001 - 2006)
Bernie Mac had the luxury of playing himself on television and it turned out that he played a pretty good father. Thrust into the fatherhood role after taking custody of his sister's children Bernie Mac displayed the parenting stylle that many men joke about (or even have nightmares about). He had to deal with trying to make a man out of his weakling son Jordan, keep young Vanessa out of the arms of crazy boys, and he had to maintain his strength as his youngest girl Bryana melted his heart. Although he talked of beating them all the time, as Bernie would always say "It's just jokes America". For many of us fatherhood seems like it is thrust upon as, much like it was for Bernie. Hopefully we can handle it as well as Bernie Mac did.
"James Evans Sr." - Good Times (played by John Amos 1974 - 1979)
Good Times seemed to have started it all off as far as black family shows go. Make no mistake, the Evans' were poor. James worked HARD doing everything from wahing dishes to hustling a little pool. They lived in the projects and were always struggling to make ends meet, but James always kept the roof over their heads and always scraped to have food on the table. When James was killed in a car accident every black person in America could feel that pain and sympathize with the struggles that Florida (his wife) was going to have to endure without her rock of a husband. James was the first strong, proud black man many of us saw on television and he still serves as a symbol of a strong black husband and father 30 years later.
"Kenny Chadway" - Soul Food (played by Rockmund Dunbar 2000 - 2004)
Soul Food was one of the best dramas on cable and supplied a host of realistic black male and female characters. One of the best parts of the series was watching the relationship between Kenny Chadway (Rockmund Dunbar), his wife Maxine and thier four children. It is extremely rare on television that a black family drama has a father and a mother and this many children in a nuclear household, but Soul Food was not an ordinary show and Kenny was not an ordinary man. He started his towing company, supported his wife emotionally and financially and did the best he could as a father and patriarchal character throughout the show. Although he did have an affair in the show (nobody's perfect) Kenny did reconcile with his wife and continued his successful business ways until the show concluded.
"Phillip Banks" - The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (played by James Avery 1990 - 1996)
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air launched Will Smith's career into orbit, but it was just another stop for James Avery. In the show he played Will Smith's "Uncle Phil", but he was also the father of his own three children: Carlton, Hillary and Ashley. Uncle Phil was rich, but he still was portrayed as a hard-working man. He showed drive and determination throughout the show; starting off as a lawyer, working up to a judge and even running for political office. By all accounts he was a good husband and father; always giving a little love to his wife Vivian and the slap to the back of the head of Will or Carlton. One of the best parts of the show was watching Uncle Phil throw Will's friend Jazz out of the house - "AAAAAHHH!"
"Michael Kyle" - My Wife and Kids (played by Damon Wayans 2001 - 2005)
With a title like "My Wife and Kids" you would hope there would be a strong father character in the show. They didn't disappoint with Michael Kyle, a funny dad and a good husband. Michael had three children: Junior (the dumb one); Claire (the ditzy one); and Kady (the cute one). The show definitely was funny and Damon Wayans played Michael well and certainly sold the audience on the relationship between he and his wife "Jay" (Tisha Campbell-Martin). This sitcom was artificially cut short in 2005 without a series finale or any wrapup. Many fans are still hoping that this show would one day come back.
Honorable Mention: "Fred Sanford" - Sanford and Son (played by Redd Foxx 1972 - 1977).
Although Fred Sanford might not be considered a role model (as the owner of a junkyard) this show was extremely funny and Redd Foxx was an amazing talent. I do not endorse continually calling your son "a big dummy", but when Fred did it I always laughed.
Note: For those looking for the Tyler Perry characters on the list, I am glad to disappoint. This site has a "no buffoonery" clause. I know I'm hatin' with that one but I am not a Tyler Perry fan.
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