The television landscape is full of awesome parental figures – men and women that inspire their kids and model what good fathers and mothers can be. From the Waltons to Friday Night Lights‘ Taylors, they’re always there to listen to their children and offer up some much-needed wisdom. But our favorite TV series have also offered up countless examples of truly terrible child-rearing – the type that breeds murderers, liars, and incredibly traumatized offspring.
Many of the worst offenders are fictional fathers. Their reasons for totally sucking as parents run the gamut: they’re distracted by work and women, they’re obsessed with power, they have substance abuse issues, or they’re just incredibly freaking lazy. One thing can be said for all of them: their failings have provided some pretty memorable moments, both comedic and tragic. While many of these characters are celebrated – some even iconic parts of our TV-watching history – their inability to take care of their children is unparalleled. Here are the 15 Worst TV Dads ever.
15. George Bluth – Arrested Development
George Bluth accomplished many things in his tenure as a real estate tycoon – of course, none of them were ethical or entirely legal. The Arrested Development patriarch founded the Bluth Company, helped Saddam Hussein build his Iraqi palaces, and stole a whole bunch of money as a means to get ahead. While he clearly put a lot of effort into building his business, his shortcomings as a father are numerous. For starters, he unduly burdened his adult children with the personal and financial fallout after he was carted off to prison for grand theft. He not only left the rest of the Bluth family scrambling to pick up the pieces of their fallen empire, but he was dismissive and manipulative once he was behind bars. Help his kids put the family business back together? Nah, he had a game of strip poker to play and a motivational memoir to write!
14. Walter White – Breaking Bad
In the opening moments of Breaking Bad, a panicked Walter White – on the brink of suicide – recorded a video to his family, professing his love for them. Given the tone that the series set, you’d think the guy would have ended up being a better dad. He started his life of crime with good intentions: to make enough money to provide for his family after he learned he had lung cancer.
Alas, the man we know as Heisenberg quickly discovered that the high he got from cooking methamphetamine was almost as good as the drug itself. His wife Skyler and children Walt Jr. and Holly soon became an afterthought as he was consumed with dominating Albuquerque’s drug industry. In varying degrees, he put their lives in danger and more or less abandoned them – just so he could prove he was the best meth cook around. Sure, he wasn’t going to live forever; but he could have made room for a little more quality time with his kids before he went down for the big dirt nap.
13. Dexter Morgan – Dexter
Dexter’s titular character was a serial killer – a really sadistic serial killer. So, all things considered, Dexter Morgan had some redeeming qualities as a father. He gave his son, Harrison, a requisite amount of attention and affection, and he did his best not to turn him into a second-generation sociopath. Unfortunately, Dexter’s dark passenger took up so much of his time and energy, he struggled to be both a vengeance killer and a family man at the same time. It also tragically led to the death of Harrison’s mother, Rita, by the hand of Dexter’s murderous nemesis, the Trinity Killer. Poor baby Harrison was right there when it happened, too – Dexter found him in a pool of Rita’s blood, because nothing says “childhood trauma” like sitting in a bathroom with your dead mom for several hours. The whole thing could have been avoided if he’d stepped away from the pissing contest that was his relationship with Trinity, too. Nice one, Dexter.
12. Tony Soprano – The Sopranos
It’s not that The Sopranos’ Tony didn’t care about his kids, because he obviously did. It’s not that he didn’t try to provide for his family, because he more than accomplished that goal. At the end of the day, though, Tony Soprano made some extremely questionable decisions when it came to parenting. His choices weren’t out of a willful desire to harm his children, per say – in fact, sometimes he genuinely seemed to think he was helping them. Still, he had a hard time communicating with his children, and a very unique way of showing his affection. Like slapping his son A.J. around when he got out of line. Or, you know, having his daughter’s no-good boyfriend killed.
11. John Winchester – Supernatural
No one would ever argue that John Winchester had it easy. He watched his wife die a very fiery death at the hands of Azazel and had to raise his two sons while trying to figure out how to avenge her death. Still, the Supernatural dad could have tried a little harder to give his kids some stability. Instead, he raised them into a hard life of monster hunting, only to abandon them with nothing more than purposefully cryptic clues as to his whereabouts. As with many other dads on this list, John did what he thought he had to do to help his children survive, but the consequences were pretty dire; Sam and Dean have some pretty substantial emotional baggage due to their childhood. Plus, thanks to Daddy Winchester’s deep-dive into the world of hunters, they now find themselves in life-or-death situations on pretty much every day that ends in ‘Y.’ Sure, it’s their destiny and all – but he probably could have done more to keep the battle of good and evil out of their adolescent experience.
10. Don Draper – Mad Men
Don Draper worked hard to provide for his family. As a result, his wife and kids rarely saw him. When they did, he was usually at least half-drunk, and sometimes trying to sleep with his daughter’s elementary school teacher. At his core, Mad Men’s main dude seemed to want to be a good father – that was evident when he went on a binge-drink fueled hours-long excursion away from his daughter’s birthday party and apologized with a puppy. He wanted his kids to know him, too – that’s why he brought them to see the decrepit whorehouse he grew up in. At the end of the day, though, Don probably was a bad dad because he had to do a lot of soul-searching to reconcile his past with his present – and as a result, just didn’t have it in him to be a present parent, or a good role model to his kids.
9. Homer Simpson – The Simpsons
If Homer Simpson were a real parent, he would have had his kids taken away, like, 25 years ago. The Simpsons’ head of household has shown himself to be equal parts neglectful and outright abusive. Yes, he has moments where his dopish sensibilities give way to loving instinct. Those instances, though, are few and far between – and completely overshadowed by his more unsavory parental qualities. Like binge drinking, helping his infant daughter Maggie light up a cigarette, and strangling his son Bart whenever he steps out of line. In some ways, Homer has set the bar for every other TV dad that’s come after him – and given his penchant for dysfunction, he’s set it pretty damn low.
8. Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
Other than creating Festivus, the greatest malcontent holiday ever, Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza is a legitimately terrible person. He’s cantankerous. He never stops yelling. He’s always angry. His inability to handle the world and its myriad disappointments (including, but not limited to, George Steinbrenner) did not just make him miserable. It put everyone, except maybe Kramer, on edge whenever he was around. While all of these qualities add up to him being a perpetually awful role model to his son, the strongest indication that Frank maybe should have had his parental rights revoked is that he once beat George so badly, he put him in a coma. No wonder the younger Costanza was so neurotic and stressed out all the time.
7. Ken Titus – Titus
Ken Titus thought he was a great dad. That’s only part of what made him such a crappy one. The father figure sits at the head of one of TV’s most dysfunctional families ever. Sure, the Titus patriarch sacrificed a lot and always did what he could to keep a roof over his kids’ head. He also used that to excuse his otherwise deplorable parental behavior. In every other way, he modeled terrible traits for his kids, from drinking heavily and espousing terribly bigoted beliefs to careening his way through five failed marriages. Then there was the whole matter of him routinely bullying his children as a means of keeping them tough. Titus is undoubtedly one of the most irreverent TV sitcoms ever, and that’s largely thanks to Ken’s presence – but he was still a truly despicable dad.
6. Al Bundy – Married with Children
Married With Children is an apt title for this unforgettable ‘90s sitcom – because it could have just as easily described the immature behavior of dad Al Bundy as it did his offspring. Despite being a full-grown adult, he never showed many signs that he’d reached maturity. He felt beaten down by life, forever regretful that he never became a football star. He wasn’t really good at anything other than drinking a beer and spouting off crass, immature insults. He set the tone for the Bundy household, rearing two kids that were as obnoxious and ill-equipped to handle the world as he was – which isn’t exactly the type of legacy that would make a parent proud.
5. Frank Gallagher – Shameless
Parents are supposed to take care of their kids, not the other way around. That’s never really been the case with the Gallaghers, the family at the center of Shameless. Frank, the single parent of six children, is the prototype of an absent father – an alcoholic, drug addict, mooch of a man who struggles to keep it together and has more or less left his children to fend for themselves. On rare occasions, Frank finds his way out of his stupor to impart some kind of wisdom, but it’s usually more self-serving and sanctimonious than actually useful. On even rarer occasions, he’ll exhibit some vague sign that he actually cares about his kids’ well-being – but not as much as he cares about himself.
4. Stannis Baratheon – Game of Thrones
You can say a lot about Stannis Baratheon as a leader; argue about his strengths and foibles in his quest to claim the Iron Throne. But any good or impressive thing he ever did on Game of Thrones will always be overshadowed by the terrible, terrible thing that he did to his daughter. Stannis became so obsessed with power, and the idea that he could maybe win his quest for control, that he was willing to do anything to achieve his goal. Sure, give him points for persistence. Unfortunately, that dedication to #winning included being willing to tie Shireen to a stake and watch as she burned to death. Most parents would likely agree that doing something that horrific to their child is unfathomable; but Stannis stood by stoically as his heir went up in flames. The moment was one of Game of Thrones most heart-breaking; it also firmly established that Stannis was both a terrible leader, and ultimately an even worse father.
3. Malcolm Merlyn – Arrow
Malcolm Merlyn has something going for him: he genuinely cares about his children, Tommy and Thea. However, his ruthless quest for vengeance and power, and unorthodox ways of expressing his love, too often get in the way of him actually being a parent. The Arrow supervillain, also known as Ra’s al Ghul, has not only served as a menacing foil to Oliver Queen, but has been a consistently chaotic presence in Thea’s life as well. He didn’t reveal that he was her father until she was well into adulthood, and then only because he felt guilty over Tommy’s death. He trained her to fight by pushing her to her limits, yet later left her to die because he was focused on being the best evil villain he could be. He regularly manipulates her as a means to get what he wants to further his power in Star City. Despite all this, he still maintains a genuine affection for her – which makes their relationship even more twisted.
2. Tywin Lannister – Game of Thrones
The Lord of Casterly Rock made sure to raise his three children in his own image; he taught them to be cunning and ruthless, and to honor their family no matter what the cost. Unfortunately for Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion, their dad was also a proven sociopath – and he inflicted years of emotional torment on them as a result. Throughout his time on Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister consistently proved himself to be a toxic presence in his kids’ lives – he stood up for them only because the family name was at stake. As a result, he was quick to disown Jaime when he stepped out of line. That’s nothing, though, compared to the cruelty he displayed toward Tyrion. He blamed his youngest son for his mother’s death, framed him for Joffrey’s murder, and slept with the only woman he ever loved. It’s no wonder the Imp eventually killed dear old dad.
1. Peter Griffin – Family Guy
Peter Griffin is one of the most recognizable father figures on television. He’s also the best example of how not to be a dad. You can probably count on one hand the number of times Family Guy’s patriarch has actually been a positive influence on his children. On the other hand, we’d be here all day if we listed all the times he’s been a less-than-stellar parent. He’s demeaned his children’s appearance, personalities and intelligence – especially Meg’s. Like, he actively dislikes his own daughter, and reminds her of this fact as often as possible by lashing out at her, throwing things at her, and farting in her face. Sure, it’s a funny gag – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a horrible parenting method.
Which TV dad do you think is the worst? Let us know in the comments!