It wasn’t too long ago when American and Canadian TV programming lacked representation of gay parent roles. The idealized image of fatherhood on television was highly influenced by the social context of what a father is - dominant, strong, and in a position of power and influence at home and work. Thus we had Archie Bunker in All in the Family, and Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies who epitomized how men still relied on their wives when it came to child-rearing and housework.
But the father figure character evolved in the coming years. We loved to binge watch on Dan Conner in Roseanne was the likable and relatable father figure, Red Forman in That ‘70s Show was stern but relied upon for sound advice, Hal in Malcolm in the Middle who was a disciplinarian but had a soft spot for his boys, and the adorable Johnny Rose in Schitt’s Creek who educated us on what it’s like to continue learning to be a father in your 60s.
And yet in the 2000s, screenwriters slowly challenged such portrayal of dads by going beyond traditional boundaries on gendered masculinity. We started seeing gay dads such as Joe and Larry who adopted a baby girl in Season 3 of Will & Grace and Rachel’s gay dads who were revealed on Glee’s Valentine’s Day episode.
But there were notable TV shows that featured gay dads not as supporting characters but as part of the main cast. This was special for the LGBTQ+ community that waited too long for the entertainment industry to recognize gay dads’ struggles in building a family through surrogacy, raising kids, and dealing with the complications and frustrations of same-sex parents.
Let's take a look at some of the most revolutionary TV shows that featured gay dads as main characters.
Perhaps nothing can match the way Modern Family portrayed the gay dad life through Cameron and Mitchell. In the entire 11 seasons of the mockumentary family sitcom series that I used to binge watch on, we’ve come to know more about how a couple with opposite personalities have learned to balance each other. One was brought up in a farm and had a successful football coaching career, the other was conservative but melodramatic and theatrical.
After getting married in Season 2, viewers learned what it takes for a gay couple to go through fatherhood when they adopted Lilly in their funky duplex. This completely changed the way American television programming as gay fatherhood was still foreign in primetime media back then.
Modern Family brought non-traditional families into the fold and was well received by audiences around the globe. But it didn’t make the gay fatherhood concept typical like what other TV shows did. Instead, viewers enjoyed the humor amidst the complications in raising a family without being too dramatic or sticking to the typical, brash masculinity portrayed in the media decades ago.
Aside from normalizing gay dads to the public, it was also successful at dealing with other issues. In one episode, the couple was concerned about how their daughter was treating her transgender friend unfairly, which was, in a way, indirectly asking viewers what it feels like to be treated with prejudice when the people around them can’t keep an open mind.
Okay, not everyone’s familiar with the 1980s animated series but the 2018 reboot created loyal fans of Adora, a vixen with long golden hair, with the uncanny ability to lift robots and skyscrapers. As a spin-off to the Masters of the Universe franchise (the world dominated by the more popular He-Man), Netflix’s She-Ra: Princess of Power portrayed a positive role for women and kids since its first release in the mid-‘80s.
One of She-Ra’s friends, an archer named Bow, has two dads who were introduced in Season 2. It’s seldom we can find non-sitcom animated series that feature gay dads who come off as relatable characters and act just like any other couple dealing with the challenges of parenting.
She-Ra does not overhype the fact that Bow has two gay dads. Even straight couples appreciate how the producers have made sure that the character treatment is subtle, light-hearted and even flawed.
And Netflix continues to bridge audiences to the LGBTQ+ arc with The Dragon Prince, a Canadian-American animated show that was released in 2018. Set in a fantasy world where, as the title suggests, dragons and elves and magic abound, the show has successfully managed to pull off the character of two gay elf dads named Runaan and Ethari.
While the former is an assassin, there’s a lot of affection shared between the two. Plus, they’ve done a good job so far taking care of Rayla, a main character in the series. And if you think The Dragon Prince just limited itself with such representation, it also has lesbian lovers kissing — not something you’d always find in an animated series.
If the media and entertainment industry continues to show the experiences of same-sex couples as parents, then we can have more understanding of what society really is. The fact is, for marriage equality and social acceptance to be better understood, we have the responsibility to educate more people about the evolving paternal and maternal landscape through the entertainment options that they binge watch on.
The point is, being gay doesn’t affect what kind of father one can be. Gay dads are capable of providing the same love as any other admirable father can do.
But there shouldn't be any room for stereotypes at all. Progressive beliefs on TV and movies do not just have to be limited to adding gay dads and moms as characters just for the sake of it. True inclusivity shouldn’t sidestep the issues that gay couples experience and it’s even now more important to tell these stories to let people know that they’re capable of shaping the fatherhood role in an ideal way too. It should be able to tell stories that don’t let viewers feel empty but wanting for more.
That’s why it’s better if we have more Kevin and Scotty in Brothers and Sisters, Davit and Keith in Six Feet Under, Sol and Robert in Grace and Frankie and less of stereotypical gay couple characters such as Greg and Terry in American Dad.
Obviously, It's clear that having positive gay dad representation in media and entertainment is incredibly important. It helps to normalize the idea of same-sex couples being able to provide love and care as parents, just like any other admirable father can do.
With this understanding comes a greater appreciation for all types of families, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.
By encouraging progressive beliefs about family structures through television shows, movies, books, songs, etc., we can help create an environment where everyone feels safe, respected and accepted regardless of who they are or whom they love.