• Weird History

14 Things We Learned About Our Favorite Sitcom Dads That Remind Us We Need To Call Home

List RulesVote up the dads from '80s and '90s sitcoms who totally deserve a high five.

Television sitcoms from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s offered an array of family situations. The Wonder Years featured a nuclear family, as did Roseanne, Growing Pains, and Family Ties. Widowers like Danny Tanner on Full House and Max Sheffield on The Nanny were helped by uncles and, well, nannies, respectively. Blended families on Step by Step and the juxtaposition of Will and the rest of the Banks family on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air added another perspective on kinship.

Moms were missing from a few of these shows, but each one had a dad. Sitcom fathers could be quirky and fun, or stern and gruff, and some were exactly the person to seek out for much-needed advice. The different big dad energy seen across the sitcom dad spectrum is impressive, as are facts about the men who brought those characters to life.

Vote up the things you learned about favorite 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s sitcom patriarchs that earn an energetic high five. 

  • Photo: ABC

    Patrick Duffy, who played Frank Lambert on Step by Step from 1991-1998, had previously been a star on the drama Dallas. During his time on that show, Duffy's parents, Marie and Terence, were slain at their bar in Montana. 

    In November 1986, two men entered the Duffys' bar, robbed it, and fired at both Marie and Terence. According to Patrick Duffy in 2019

    My father kicked these two young men out of the bar at some point in the evening... So they went and drank elsewhere... and came back to the bar to kick his [butt]... There was nobody else in the bar, so they shot both my mother and my father.

    The suspects fled and were later apprehended. 

    Kenneth Miller and Sean Wentz were convicted of murder and sentenced to prison. Miller was paroled in 2007, while Wentz, the man who pulled the trigger, requested clemency in 2020.

    Patrick Duffy commented on the loss of his parents in 2020, telling People magazine:

    There was something about the eternity of life that had set deep inside me... As horrific as that was, I didn’t feel disconnected from them.

    • Age: 72
    • Birthplace: Townsend, Montana, USA
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  • Photo: ABC

    While rapper Tupac Shakur was serving time in prison in 1995, Who's the Boss? actor Tony Danza reached out to him. Danza described their first exchange in an Access Hollywood interview:

    Since he [Shakur] had five bullet holes in him and he was in jail and he’s the same guy that wrote "Dear Mama" and did all those great acting roles, I said, "Maybe there is a better way to do this. Maybe, I know you can’t be a goodie two-shoes in your business, but maybe there is a way to inspire kids."

    Shakur responded to Danza's initial message saying, "Thanks for understanding me," and their letter-writing continued. Shakur later said Danza was "real, real cool," and the two finally met face-to-face in 1996.

    • Age: 70
    • Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, USA
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    Ed O'Neill, AKA Al Bundy From 'Married... with Children,' Actually Signed With An NFL Team

    One of the running jokes in Married...with Children was Al Bundy's heroic high school football career. In truth, the connection between Bundy and football has real ties through Ed O'Neill, who played Bundy.

    According to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, in 1969, O'Neill signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers:

    O’Neill was a defensive lineman during his college days at Youngstown State, and the Steelers signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1969... But alas, he was waived during training camp, maybe because he was unable to replicate Al Bundy’s glory days at Polk High School.

    O'Neill didn't end up playing professional football, but he did keep active. After training with Brazilian jiujitsu instructor Rorian Grace for more than 20 years, O'Neill earned his black belt in the sport in 2007. He called it "the greatest achievement of my life, apart from my children." 

    • Age: 75
    • Birthplace: Youngstown, OH
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  • Photo: ABC

    Jack Arnold, the patriarch on The Wonder Years, was a stoic, if not intimidating, father to Karen, Wayne, and Kevin. Played by Dan Lauria, Arnold was a veteran. Lauria himself was in the Marine Corps from 1970 to 1973 and served one tour in Vietnam.

    When visiting Iraq in 2008, Lauria talked about his continued dedication to the troops:

    I've been doing this, visiting troops on Christmas, for several years now. It's what I do, and I can only hope it makes the troops' Christmas a little better. I just want these men and women to know how much they mean to us back home.

    • Age: 74
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America
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