Born out of the SitcomDysfunctional Family, he's a deliberate subversion of the Standard '50s Father. Now so ubiquitous the older trope is nearly forgotten.
Although he's clever at times, he's not usually allowed to be smart. He has no idea that Shortcuts Make Long Delays. He's lazy, gluttonous and has miscellaneous other glaring vices. His children may love him, but they often don't respect him. However, he is still a sympathetic character; the source of his charm is his complete love and loyalty to his family, even if the main way he shows it is by fixing problems he caused himself.
His family is made up of at least one child nearing or in their teenage years, and a wife (usually much prettier than Dad) who spends her time Parenting The Husband. If he has one or more teenage daughters, at least one will be a Bratty Teenage Daughter or a Daddy's Girl; whether they are or not, the dad will be an Overprotective Dad in regards to the girl(s).
Often used as an enabler of several Double Standards. Sometimes, on the rare occasions that a mom does something dumb, she's cut more slack than she otherwise would be, since the Bumbling Dad is there to make her look better by comparison. On the other hand, if everyone just gets used to tolerating Dad's incompetence, they might still hold Mom to the standards of a competent adult - in fact, she may end up being held responsible for fixing his screw-ups. After all, somebody's got to be the grownup in a family, and you can't hold Dad accountable for not acting like one if he's just an idiot. The frustrating and stagnant sexual roles enforced by this trope are often pointed to by feminists as a sign of how sexism hurts men as well as women.
This trope is still mostly seen in sitcoms and cartoons, along with many commercials, especially ones aimed at kids. In anime, this type of character is taken more respectfully, since it usually consists of a goofier dad, more involved with his family than the stereotypical Salaryman. This is even more common when his children have no visiblemother.
This is an example of how a Subverted Trope can end up becoming the norm. Back in the day, fathers were assumed to be wise and in charge, and the Bumbling Dad was something fresh and unusual. Today, sitcoms have made Bumbling Dad an Undead Horse Trope, and consistently competent fathers are a comparative rarity.
open/close all folders
Popular in many, many television commercials — especially for products associated with domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning and childcare, as this plays into the complementary trope and stereotype that Men Can't Keep House.
Eggo Waffle commercials have dumped their live-action gimmicks in favor of crudely-drawn cartoon shorts featuring a Bumbling Dad trying to steal his daughter's waffles.
A commercial for Verizon internet showed a Bumbling Dad whose wife had to boss him around — for the good of the family — to stop him from neglecting his chores in favor of playing with the new computer under the guise of "helping" his daughter with her homework. The way it was played out came across as so unfunny and pointlessly insulting it was actually removed from the air after complaints.
Heck, several phone and cable commercials will still treat the dad like a goofy dumbass even when he's doing exactly what he's supposed to and buying the advertised service!
Anime and Manga
Goku by Dragon Ball Z. Despite being one of the strongest beings in the universe, he still has traits of this trope.
In Ranma ½, both Soun Tendo and Genma Saotome were often Bumbling Dads more typical of the American form of the trope than the Japanese style (as opposed to the egregious Principal Kuno in the same series, who was very much in the Japanese mold despite his obsession with Hawaii). This was even more pronounced for those times when they did act like the competent martial artists they were supposed to be.
In Bleach Isshin Kurosaki, Ichigo's widower father. However, we learn later on that Isshin is in fact an exiled captain-level shinigami, and that his goofiness is a put-on]. He's still goofy after The Reveal, just more of a Badass. Also, most of his goofiness with relation to Ichigo was actually him being a Stealth Mentor, teaching Ichigo how to fight without Ichigo even realizing it. He is still, however, a complete incompetent boob when it comes to Yuzu and Karin.
Tenchi's dad Noboyuki in Tenchi Muyo!. He is a pretty competent architect, but when off-duty he exemplifies the trope.
In the manga, Tezuka's father Kuniharu is hinted to be a bit like this too. Quite a contrast with his kid and his dad.
Ouka, father of Recca Hanabishi, in the Flame of Recca manga is like this, despite being a stoic bad ass leader of Recca's 8 headed dragons, Resshin. In the anime, however, he's just like a normal, stoic dad.
Recca's adoptive father, Shigeo Hanabishi, however, plays this trope straight in both versions.
All the fathers in Ojamajo Doremi, to some degree. Special mention goes to Kenji Senou, Aiko's single father.
Sojiro Izumi, Konata's widowed, perverted, gaming father in Lucky Star. The fact that he was nicknamedAwesome-kun is not surprising at all.
It should be mentioned that the manga implied Soujirou is actually the least Book Dumb living member of the Izumi-Kobayakawa household.
Saiunkoku Monogatari has Kou Shoka, who fills the role not only for his daughter Shuurei, but also to a lesser degree for both Seiran and the young Emperor, Shi Ryuuki. He mostly comes off as kind and good-natured but hopelessly inept, at least until it's revealed that he's also the highly skilled assassin known as the Black Wolf and that his bumbling is mostly an act.
Kogoro Mouri of Detective Conan is a loser, but his care towards his daughter Ran is utterly remarkable, which makes him a Papa Wolf all the way. He may burn through a bar's worth of alcohol and tobacco in a day, but threaten his little girl Ran and he will have your face for a doily.
In Soul Eater, Shinigami and Spirit count. Though the case of the former, it's partly the result of putting on a more child-friendly persona, which he then apparently became fond of.
Ouran High School Host Club has Fujioka Haruhi's widowed father Ranka. He's an odd person considering he's a Wholesome Crossdresser, bisexual, and can be a bit silly at times (especially in some of Haruhi's flashbacks when she was little). His bumbliness is very much portrayed as endearing, and a trait he shares with Haruhi's Love Interest Suou Tamaki.
On the other hand, he's the rare Bumbling Dad who crosses to Good Father too. It's obvious that he loves Haruhi genuinely and has done his best to raise her ever since his wife/Haruhi's mother Kotoko died, working hard in his very uncommon work in the okama bar to support both of them - to the point that at least once Haruhi rebukes him not for leaving her alone, but for overworking himself for her.
Ichigo's dad in Tokyo Mew Mew is a bit...off his rocker, but nonetheless a very nice guy. Ichigo speaks of him and her mother as her "ideal couple", and hopes that she and her love interest Aoyama will be like them one day.
Inukami: Dai Youko, Youko's father, is the goofy dad type; described as an "adult child", he throws tantrums when he finds out Youko's in love with her tamer. However he's far from incompetent. Instead he's the only one capable of fighting the Big Bad in single combat.
Film - Animated
The Father in The Movie of Coraline. In contrast, the Other Father is attentive, caring, and much cooler.
However, this one is potentially justified, as it's shown in the movie that both her father and mother are distracted due to the move, and her father is especially distracted since he needs to get a major project done for his job. That, and since it's all from a child's perspective...
Professor Bomba from Epic is already unused to interacting with humans, let alone his own daughter.
In Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure Scamp sees his father as one of these, a lazy dad who could never understand his desire to be a wild dog. Little does he know that his father was THE wild dog back in the day.
Film - Live-Action
Played with in American Beauty. Kevin Spacey's character is initially a depressing version of this, but as the movie continues he manages to shirk the mantle.
Played with in Juno, where the protagonists' father and stepmom look clueless in the beginning but appear wiser and emotionally supportive as the movie advances.
John Candy played at least a couple of characters like this, such as in Summer Rental and Great Outdoors.
Pretty much, every movie where Chevy Chase plays the dad, starting with Cops and Robbersons and going rapidly downhill. His role as Clark Griswold might have been an aversion if he could have kept his plans from going to hell, but that was rarely ever his fault; fate just doesn't like the Griswold clan.
The clueless dad in the fluffy tween comedy Sleepover embodies this.
Mr. Mom is about a bumbling dad who has to stay at home and take care of the kids while his wife works.
Really a subversion. Once he stops feeling sorry for himself about being unemployed and his wife being the breadwinner, he gets it together and gets quite good in the role.
Frank Heffley in Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a bumbling dad. He acts like he's in his 80s. Not only does he regularly yell "Dagnabbed rotten teenagers!", but in the webcomic, he tries to get Classical music playing throughout the town to scare the teenagers away, is apparently teenager phobic, can't figure out how Gregory's game system is even hooked up to the TV, and says people at drive-thrus are idiots...yet he tries to place his order through a garbage can.
Though in the Animated Adaptation of this series, The Large Family, both the mother and father are portrayed of either equal competence level, or Mr. Large being slightly more competent compared to the slightly bumbling Mrs. Large.
Step by Step: Frank Lambert was a clear example, usually by trying too hard be the father. This often annoyed or outright angered eldest stepdaughter Dana many times, who viewed him as uncouth and uneducated ... but many times, Dana could rely on Frank to stick up for her in her time of need.
Phil Dunphy of Modern Family, mainly as a result of his attempts to seem cool.
Tim Taylor in Home Improvement. Unlike most bumbling dads, however, he is actually very competent at his job. At least, he would be if it weren't for his almost mental illness level compulsion to 'improve' things. When he isn't creating outdoor grills that can achieve geosynchronous orbit, he's actually a very skilled handy man. He's far more "No concern for safety or moderation" than "Doesn't know what he's doing".
As far as his family goes, Tim is a little closer to the standard for this trope, usually not always understanding how he should act in various circumstances, as having effectively raised himself after his dad died, he's not clear how a family works. This conversely means that in any episode where someone dies, Tim ends up being much more competent and capable.
Everybody Loves Raymond, where Ray's intelligence was stripped away as the seasons went by so that the show could more easily employ the Parenting The Husband trope in order to try and make the wife look more sympathetic and pander to her fans. And, unfortunately, they used this trope to attempt to justify the wife's smug and abusive treatment of him. Though the kids there were initially much younger than in other examples.
Hal from Malcolm in the Middle. However, he shows great intelligence and patience for an example of this trope - his relationship with his family is as far as the similarity goes. Certainly his wife is more of an antagonist than him. In fact, it's frequently hinted that Hal used to be a happy, intelligent, emotionally stable guy before marrying Lois.
There's also a great episode were Hal becomes increasingly reckless and carefree when Lois isn't around to temper his more compulsive attributes.
Hal is the INSTIGATOR for most of the madness in the Middle household, and the part of the equation the kids get their mischief from. Lois might be more strict and punishing, but Hal is the one with all the crazy schemes..
Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show was created specifically as an antidote for this. Bill Cosby was tired of all the father figures on TV being essentially dominated by their kids, and created a competent, intelligent, but still funny father character for himself.
In terms of being a father, yes: Heathcliff Huxtable averts this trope (with so few exceptions you can count them on one hand). However, the Huxtable family will do anything possible to keep him from fixing any of the household components (appliances, plumbing, etc.).
The very first Bumbling Dad on television may have been Stu Erwin, in a show that's known as The Stu Erwin Show or Trouble with Father or Life with the Erwins depending who you ask.
A stock trope on The Munsters was that Herman Munster would screw up in some well-meaning way as a father/family patriarch and the rest of the family would rally around to get him out without damaging his ego (too much). Also from the series was Grandpa, who didn't let the fact his daughter was All Grown Up stop him from acting just as bad as Herman in the fatherhood department.
In Doctor Who, though we never saw any of his family aside from his granddaughter, it's heavily implied that the Doctor was one of these, due to most of his incarnations being wonderfully eccentric.
Inverted in Up All Night, as noted here. Chris began sort of this way, but as a stay-at-home-dad got things under control. His wife, Reagan, who continued working as a TV producer, is instead the one who tends to bollix things up when she takes charge.
Carl Winslow from Family Matters was this on occasion (more so in the first few seasons).
Averted by Jimmy Chance on Raising Hope, who is shown to be a loving, attentive, and good parent. His father (and mother) are shown to be bumbling parents in flashbacks.
Roger Fox from FoxTrot. In one strip, he managed to burn his silhouette onto the wall trying to light the furnace. In another, even more ridiculous strip, Roger flooded the house when he tried to use the dishwasher, and that was while Andy was out of town.
That's not even mentioning his regular failure to properly operate a grill... using a "whole bottle of lighter fluid" at a time, more or less. One grill strip brought it to Epic Fail levels. After he piles on the lighter fluid and charcoal, it makes a fire blast that continues upward into space. In the second to last panel, it destroys one of the Mars rovers. The last panel implies this has happened before.
Surprisingly, Roger wasn't always like this; there was a period of the strip where he was rather competent (at least 60% of the time, as opposed to 10% in the later ones) as a father and not just at chess. (Now it's a Running Gag that anyone can beat him unless they're trying to lose.)
One gag constant from the strip's beginning is his need of youngest son Jason's help to operate the computer because he can't even remember how to turn the thing on.
Roger is generally a complete idiot when it comes to matters of money and technology. He bought lots of stock in "GrowCo", because a friend said it was a "good buy". The company crashes and burns the very next day. Roger doesn't even know what GrowCo does, despite still being completely convinced that it will rise again.
Roger: Hey, the stock today raised up a point! Time for some champagne!
Andy:(facepalming) With only a net loss of-
Roger:(interrupting) Who cares about nets? Tennis players! And fishermen! I don't care about nets!
Usually averted by Darryl MacPherson of Baby Blues. We're talking about a guy who changed a diaper in the men's room at the mall.
Wally of Stone Soup is another notable aversion. He takes care of the kids as much as his wife, and he can cook.
Larry the crocodile from Pearls Before Swine. He is completely idiotic, even compared to the rest of Zeeba Zeeba Eata, and he is quite an Alcoholic. Once he didn't even bother to rescue his wife, Patty, when Zebra kidnapped her, and they only got her back when Zebra realized he was only hurting their son Junior.
Played to tragicomic effect in Canadian playwright Ed Riche's one man show Possible Maps. While the protagonist's father, a university professor, wasn't stupid by any means, he was somewhat scatterbrained at best and manic depressive with what looks like a touch of autism at worst. Most of the play revolves around the protagonist remiscing about what a chore it was for the family to put up with him and his own anxieties about the possibility of inheriting the man's mental frailties.
Asura from Asuras Wrath was like this before being betrayed. Unlike most of the other examples however, this isn't out of actual idiocy: Since his Mantra is that of Wrath, he's so angry about almost everything that the only parenting he knows is of the two step variety: 1) Find reason daughter is crying. 2) Apply punch to the face of said reason.
Jun Kurosu's father, Akinari Kashihara, in Persona 2: Innocent Sin, which contributed to his divorce, and lead to young Jun's embarrassed lies about his father, which created a shadow copy of Akinari that Nyarlathotep took over. Somewhat de-Bumbled in the second half of P2, Eternal Punishment, enough to at least keep his marriage intact.
A recurring theme in I Harth Darth was Darth Vader being a well-intentioned but understandably awkward dad to Luke and Leia.
Subverted in Penny and Aggie with Aggie's father Nick, a widower who is intelligent, compassionate and wise, and with whom Aggie has a close relationship. Lampshaded in the first chapter, when Penny fails to trick him into allowing her access to Aggie's diary and thinks, "Why can't he be clueless like every other dad?"
Drake Mallard, AKA Darkwing Duck, from Darkwing Duck and his adopted daughter Gosalyn.
"Numbuh One" or Nigel Uno's dad in Codename Kids Next Door Which is a huge contrast to who he was when he was Numbuh Zero.
Numbuh Four's dad is the same way except he wasn't exactly a KND Operative.
Goofy in Goof Troop, A Goofy Movie and, earlier, in his '50s cartoon shorts where he is named George Geef. However, he can probably be forgiven for this; bumbling has always been part of his personality. Pete can also be a fairly bumbling dad on Goof Troop depending on the episode, and has more of the stereotypical traits such as laziness and gluttony, but generally speaking he's actually worse, with most of his "bumbling" coming in non-parenting forms such as not thinking through his schemes.
Jake Morgendorffer (Daria), who grew increasingly clownish as the series progressed.
In a way, Baloo, from the animated series Tale Spin, though he wasn't married to Rebecca, and wasn't Kit's actual father.
Cosmo and Mr. Turner of The Fairly Odd Parents. The show is fair enough to show that Mrs. Turner isn't that much brighter... That may explain Timmy.
And in one episode Mr. Crocker. Ironically, despite normally being a Child Hater, he's shown to genuinely care for Denzel Jr.DJ Poof. Though, his parental skills are quite questionable since Crocker tried to teach him how to shave in total darkness and how to drive... despite the latter being an infant.
Jack Fenton of Danny Phantom. One good look at him and you can tell he's not meant to be treated seriously... at least until he gets dangerous (specially if his family is at risk). He is also something of a Genius Ditz, having invented at least half the Fenton gadgets, which go between being useless (The Fenton Ghost Gabber) and working a little too well. (Fenton Ghost Catcher, Ghost Peeler, Ectxo-Skeleton).
However, he still manages to be a sympathetic character by the fact that he's (usually) aware of his bumbling-ness and tries his best to not mess up.
Jack:(to Undergrowth) Get your filthy roots off my town, you horticultural terror! (to Maddie) Thanks for writing down the word "horticulture," sweetface.
Maddie: I didn't want you mispronounce it during the battle cry, hun. First impressions are very important.
Jack: And you married me anyway.
Oscar Proud from The Proud Family. Oscar Proud is an unsuccessful inventor of snack foods. He regularly engages in, and loses, competitions with his Rival "The Wizard." He is the frequent victim of cartoon-slapstick mishaps. His mother, the "cool" grandmother Sugar Momma, insults him constantly. And to top it all off, many episodes portray him foolishly overprotective of his daughter Penny.
Hugh Neutron from Jimmy Neutron. Many times, Hugh would screw up one of Jimmy's inventions.
Dexter's father in Freakazoid takes it to ditz levels. When imprisoned, he can't even learn to do tally marks correctly.
In Dexter's Laboratory, both parents, though their primary flaw was being clueless to Dexter's Laboratory (and he has a memory erasing gun, so its more like they look stupid by comparison to their supergenius son.)
Also, Dexter's father turns out to be a stunt biker when his job is finally revealed (up to then, he left every day dressed for an office job), making him much cooler and more competent than the typical example.
Mr. X from The X's is your typical bumbling father, who knows 50 ways to destroy a man with his bare hands alone.
Although that's one case where the wife isn't that much better. Oh, sure, Agent K is competent, but she's also paranoid and confrontational.
Randy Marsh in South Park has drifted in this direction over the years; in the beginning he rarely appeared (and the first episode he played a major part in needed him because he was a scientist); now, he usually gets caught up in every stupid fad, and is frequently portrayed as the single dumbest individual in any of the kids' families, while his wife is one of the sanest (...of the adults, at least).
Becky Botsford's adoptive father has no idea she's the titular Word Girl, and often makes stupid mistakes and screw-ups.
Really, the show has no intelligent adults in it at all. Well... none that aren't also either insane or evil.
Pop of Happy Tree Friends. Its usually fatal for Cub when he's Distracted By The Shiny. He means well, but he doesn't exactly live in a world which pities mistakes or oversights. (Or seemingly safe and sensible decisions for that matter.)
Lawrence Fletcher of Phineas And Ferb. While he is neither dumb nor irresponsible nor lazy, he can be quite dorky.
Dr. Doofenshmirtz is also a glaring example of this trope, highlighted In Vanessa's song
Kim Possible averts somewhat this trope with Kim's father, who is a rocket scientist and is more an Absent-Minded Professor than a real Bumbling Dad, and who has often dispatched sage advice, even if he does still refer to her as "Kimmy-cub". Ron's Dad, on the other hand, once showed up in public wearing a cape.
There have been times when he bumbled due to being distracted when he's advising Kim. Like that time he accidentally launched a rocket ahead of schedule when talking to Kim on the phone.
Looney Tunes: Foghorn Leghorn is not Egghead's dad, but his eagerness to play father figure to Egghead always lands him in slapstick mayhem.
Peppa Pig's Daddy Pig is a rare pre-school kid's show example.
El Tigre's father Rondolfo Rivera, AKA the legendary hero White Pantera, isn't as bumbling as most examples, but he comes off as way too goody-goody, especially for his Anti-Hero son and Card-Carrying Villain papi.