One of the most iconic pops of pop culture was Howard Cunningham of the Milwaukee-based T.V. sitcom “Happy Days.” Beloved by his doting wife, Marion, and teenaged children Richie and Joanie, the amiable Howard was also a favorite of Richie’s friends, who fondly called him “Mr. C.”
Even the tough-talking, tender-hearted greaser Arthur Fonzarelli called him that. In fact, the show portrayed Mr. C. as a father figure to “Fonzie,” whose own fictional mother and father abandoned him.
While Mr. C. owned a hardware store, viewers rarely saw him working; he was most often seen reading the paper at home, offering wisecracks and kernels of wisdom while Marion fluttered about the house doing her stay-at-home motherly and wifely duties.
Set in the idyllic post-war 1950s, “Happy Days” ran from 1974 to 1984. The distance between the fictional and real time frame of roughly 20 years was great enough for viewers to notice how parental roles had changed in the interim. This may likely have been the inspiration for the show: a wholesome homage to “the good old days” – indeed, the happy days.
The 70s and 80s gave way to comedies and dramas like “All in the Family, “One Day at a Time,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Who’s the Boss?”, which began to challenge traditional gender roles and family dynamics.
In 1989, there were roughly 1 million stay-at-home fathers in the U.S.; today, that number has more than doubled. In 1960, 50 percent of American families consisted of a stay-at-home mother and a working father in their first marriage. Nowadays, there are only about 14 percent of such families in the U.S.
Both real and fictionalized fathers of the past were more distanced from their children’s daily affairs, tasked with providing the “bread winner’s” share of the family’s income, and (whether at work, war or elsewhere) absent enough to merit a resounding “Daddy!” from their children upon their return home. Rarely was a father seen toiling away at home, changing diapers, feeding an infant or doing the laundry.
But today’s dads play many roles – proudly and willingly.
Modern fathers are stay-at-home dads, co-income earners, housekeepers, homework helpers, carpool drivers, delivery room coaches, diaper changers, midnight bottle feeders, single parents, same-sex parents, daddy-daughter dance partners, vacation planners, scout leaders, dinner makers, dishwashers, field trip chaperones, laundry doers, bed makers, grocery shoppers, lawn care workers, home repairers, storytellers, boo-boo kissers, and the list goes on.
Grandfathers have a particularly long and unique perspective on the changing role of dad in America.
We at Eastcastle Place love hearing the wisdom and experiences our grandfathers and great-grandfathers impart about raising children in earlier decades. Many of them treasure the time and opportunity they have with grandchildren to re-experience fatherhood in a new era. In fact, some of our friends and staff consider our residents like grandparents to them.
This Father’s Day let’s honor Dad in all his roles, whether he’s our biological kin or, like Mr. C. to Fonzie, a special father figure.