Follow TV Tropes


Standard '50s Father

Go To
He knows best.

"Serious-minded men who smoked pipes and wore mustaches had written serious instructions saying that this should be done, and so he did it, because he was a serious-minded man who smoked a pipe and wore a mustache and did not take such injunctions lightly, because if you did, where would you be? He had exactly the right amount of insurance. He drove three miles below the speed limit, or forty miles per hour, whichever was the lower. He wore a tie, even on Saturdays."

The Standard '50s Father was born in a small town in the US Mid-West (or, as in the case of the quote above, the English Home Counties). His parents were farmers of some sort, or perhaps his father was a druggist. A veteran, he put himself through college (possibly through the G.I. Bill) and is now a white-collar professional... unless he is the proprietor of some small local business (pharmacy, shoe store, grocery, etc.).

The Standard '50s Father is solid, dependable, and responsible. He's Happily Married to his wife, whom he met when they were both teenagers. And if the love he gives his children is slightly distant, it is no less heartfelt for being so. He's an upstanding citizen who rarely swears or drinks to excess, if he smokes he smokes a pipe, and attends a regular "bowling night" with his friends ("darts" if British). If he plays cards it will be bridge, probably in partnership with his wife, not poker in a dingy room full of cigar smoke. He wears a shirt and tie with dress pants and a cardigan during the day (even while he cuts the lawn on Saturday morning) and sleeps in sensible cotton pajamas. He usually wears glasses. He's buttoned-down, calm, wise, and thoughtful. None but a few things can rattle him: 1.) His daughter getting a boyfriend, 2.) His wife revealing that she's going to have a baby (and her later going into labor), 3.) His wife deciding that she wants a job (assuming that it's her idea and not his), or 4.) The threat of losing his job (combining 3 and 4 could send him into open hysterics). If the Red Scare is in effect, he'll go berserk at the thought of someone close to him being a communist.


When played straight, the Standard '50s Father's primary function is to offer object lessons and moral instructions to the various members of his family. When Played for Laughs, he's the butt of jokes and the perfect example of dorkiness. When played Darker and Edgier, he's often the male version of a Stepford Smiler, hiding his neuroses, insecurities, and other issues behind the fatherly facade, because a man isn't supposed to show weakness in public. Note that he is rarely played straight anymore.

Husband to the House Wife. Father to the Girl Next Door and The All-American Boy. Contrast Bumbling Dad and Amazingly Embarrassing Parents, two tropes created as a direct subversion to this one.



    open/close all folders 

  • Bob, the husband from the commercials for Enzyte brand male enhancement pills. He's the Stepford Smiler type, but instead of insecurities or neuroses, he's trying to hide his massive, massive penis.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In one of Christopher Hart's How to Draw Manga books, he suggests making the father of any magical girl character the reader creates like this for comedic value.
  • Usagi's father, Kenji Tsukino in Sailor Moon.
  • Also Nobita's father in Doraemon, replacing pipe and slippers with a yukata and cigarettes.
  • Fujitaka Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura is the wise and stable and friendly father of The Protagonist.
  • Koudai Ohzaora, father of the titular Captain Tsubasa, when at home. (He works as a marine merchant captain so he spends lots of time travelling through the world.)

    Comic Books 
  • Prysm's "father" in the virtual reality in which she was raised in Teen Titans comic book (the VR having been designed to simulate the world of a 50s sitcom).
  • The Nuclear Family was a supervillain team who fought Batman and the Outsiders. They were robots programmed to act like the stereotypical 1950s Dad, Mom, Son, Teenage Son (Biff), and Daughter — with superpowers, of course.
  • Hyperion's adopted father of Supreme Power acted very much like this but that was only because it was his assignment to give Mark Milton the most wholesome upbringing possible.
  • Mr. Darren, leader of the Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E from Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol fits the darker versions of this trope to a T, to the point where he forces his wife to play a Laugh Track when he comes home from work.
  • Mr. Fantastic has played a Standard Fifties Father pretty straight since his conception (Although Fantastic Four #1 was released in 1961.) and after marrying his college sweetheart. "Wives should be kissed — and not heard!" indeed. Modern interpretations make him more subtly — and egalitarianly — condescending. So while his archnemesis is mocked for being medieval, he is merely Rockwellian.
  • Shade, the Changing Man once encountered a cult led by a man who was obsessed with normalcy, which to him meant forcibly turning everyone in the neighbourhood into '50s nuclear family stereotypes. Wearing a suit and tie and smoking a pipe was mandatory for men.
  • Whiteman, by Robert Crumb, wants you to think he's this, but he has to constantly struggle to suppress his lusts, rages and racial anxiety.
  • In the anti-child abuse comic, Batman and the Ultimate Evil, paedophiles are always drawn as middle-class white guys, often smoking pipes. A very nasty subversion indeed!

    Comic Strips 
  • Mafalda: Mafalda's father Ángel, though he can be more neurotic than the standard.
  • Dagwood Bumstead of Blondie.
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's Dad looks a bit like one of these, wearing an outdated suit to his job as a patent attorney, and trying to present an image of stern discipline and authority to his son. He's also the Trope Namer for Misery Builds Character. He occasionally subverts it by making up bizarre Just So stories. For example, he tells Calvin that the reason that old movies were in black and white is that the world was black and white then and that the sun sets each night in Arizona, which is why the rocks there are so red. He also practices cycling as a hobby, with a few strips focusing on his escapades.
  • Henry Mitchell in Dennis the Menace (US) fits this trope to a T (and it probably helps that the strip itself began in the fifties); he's tall, thin, has black hair, wears glasses and a tie, is Happily Married to Alice, his bond with Dennis is stronger than that of Alice, and in his earlier appearances, he smoked a pipe.
  • Mark Trail of Mark Trail, even though he was invented in the '40s, not '50s.
  • National Lampoon: "The Appletons" was a regular strip, a very typical "50s family" with a dad who's a smiling, pipe-smoking psycho who constantly messes with his kids' heads.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • It's a Wonderful Life's main character is a slightly darker take on this: he's genuine, but of course, he's just lost his job.
  • Pleasantville, as a parody of the good old days, features one.
  • In the movie White Christmas, Bob invokes the pipe, slippers, newspaper idea of a husband when ribbing Phil, who has just (supposedly) gotten engaged.
  • Sam Neill's character in Bicentennial Man fits this trope despite the film being set 20 Minutes into the Future.
  • In Vanilla Sky, it is implied that David invented a father figure for himself (Dr. McCabe) in this mold, based on Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Christopher Walken's character in Blast from the Past.
  • The title character of The Stepfather cultivates this image for himself and seems to think of himself like this. At one point, he's explicitly compared to Ward Cleaver. Unfortunately, the accent here is on cleaver . . .
  • Brad Pitt is surprisingly effective as one of these in The Tree of Life, with strong elements of Dad the Veteran and Tough Love as well: he demands respect and strict decorum from his sons at all times and believes his sweet-natured wife to be "naive."
  • Audrey imagines Seymour this way in Little Shop of Horrors. She even sings, "He's Father; he knows best."
  • Chris in The Woman seems to think that he's one of these, but is in fact a very dark subversion.
  • Disneyland Dream features the Standard '50s Father in his natural habitat, being amateur filmmaker Robbins Barstow's record of his family's vacation to Disneyland in 1956. Surely nothing is more Standard '50s Father than Dad giving his son a crew cut.
  • Ed Avery from Bigger Than Life provides the page image. Interestingly, he's a subversion, as he develops severe physical and mental health problems.
  • Colonel Strickland from The Shape of Water is a pretty thorough deconstruction of this trope. He is deeply unsatisfied with his bland, mediocre home life, and is constantly driven to progressively more depraved acts because of this. He conforms obsessively to the social mores of his time period, feeling that he always has to be "in charge" and tends to overcompensate because of this. That's not mentioning that he's a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Bible-thumping Hate Sink.
  • Libby's father Dave Mannering in I Saw What You Did bears many of the classic hallmarks: he is a besuited, pipe smoking businessman who is sweetly overindulgent of his daughters, and has a tendency to downplay his wife's concerns as typical female overreaction. Kit's father John Austin is similar, but doesn't smoke a pipe, and is probably too suspicious and proactive to truly fit the mold.
  • Bicentennial Man: Sir, known to everyone else as Richard Martin, undergoes some minor changes, mostly expanding his lines and giving him the role of mentor to Andrew. He is very dependable, and does a good job of teaching his moral opinions to other family members. His clothing, naturally, reflects his affluent yet conservative style, with him choosing cardigans and ties in the relaxed setting of his home, even as fashions change around him.

     Fan Works 

  • In Child of the Storm, Joe Danvers Sr. is a darker variant on the trope - a Stepford Smiler who tries to force his older two children (a sporty Action Girl and tomboy, and a quiet and artistic boy) into the roles he feels they should follow: the demure Proper Lady (though he'd settle for a Girl Next Door) and The All-American Boy (like his youngest child). In a complicating twist, he does actually love his children, sincerely believes that he's doing what's best for them - even when that extends to asking Harry to Mind Rape his daughter into compliance - and was genuinely good with them when they were small... and not defying his expectations.

  • Mr. Young in Good Omens is pretty much the Platonic ideal of this kind of character. He's so serious-minded that in the finale his mere arrival on the scene is enough to dispel Satan.
  • Mike Nelson perceives himself as one around youngsters. He writes in his book Mind Over Matters that anytime kids wind up in his house: "Somehow, though I don't own one, a pipe ends up in my hands, my hair automatically Brylcreems itself into place, I look down to find slippers on my feet, and I'm wearing a robe." He then goes on to utterly creep them out by dropping increasingly dated references, starting with quizzing them on the popularity of Tone Loc and ending with advising them to take precautions against the Bubonic Plague. "Oh, the kids today, how they love me."
  • Coping With Parents by Peter Corey, a humorous guide for kids, suggests that unlucky readers may discover their father really is just a newspaper with a pipe and slippers attached.
  • Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird may be the quintessential example. He's a lawyer from a small, Southern town who is willing to uphold due process when a black man is accused of raping a white woman. He stoically endures being spit in the face by his enemies and definitely imparts wise lessons to his children.
    • He returns in Go Set a Watchman as a darker version of this trope.
  • Mr. Brown from the Just William series (father to the main character).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ward Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver. This paterfamilias set standard — to the point of being the former Trope Namer.
  • Steve Douglas from My Three Sons.
  • Jim Anderson from Father Knows Best.
  • Howard Cunningham from Happy Days.
  • Dr. Alex Stone from The Donna Reed Show.
  • Dr. Jason Siever from Growing Pains.
  • Mike Brady of The Brady Bunch.
  • Ozzie Nelson from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (and the sequel series Ozzie's Girls).
  • Lloyd Nielsen from the extremely short-lived Hi Honey, I'm Home.
  • Rob Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show is a comedic version of this.
  • Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show has some of the associated traits. The guidance he gives his son is the most obvious quality.
  • Jack Pryor from American Dreams. Despite being made in the 2000s, he's a mostly idealistic portrayal and never does anything worse than being overprotective at times.
  • The Adventures of Superman once featured the same actor as Ward Cleaver, Hugh Beaumont, portraying a 50s father with a hidden past as a gangster.
  • Henry Winchester from Supernatural has elements of this. A suit and tie are his main clothing choices, with a trench coat and fedora for when he goes out. He took his son, John, to see Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy and keeps a picture they took together in his wallet. The only major deviation is his job: demon hunting.
    • The Monster of the Week in "A Very Supernatural Christmas" is a pair of pagan Gods. While they have no children, they dress, talk, and act like a couple from a 50's sitcom. Emphasis on "act".
  • Carl Winslow from Family Matters during the first couple seasons. Was also the Bumbling Dad at this time.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Ted," John Ritter plays this type of man, who gets involved with Buffy's mom. Of course, he turns out to be a killer robot.
  • Subverted in Mad Men with Don Draper - when you realize he is the 50s dad at the end of the first episode, it comes as a surprise. And of course, he is most definitely not a paragon of American virtue (what with the affairs, stolen identity, etc). Oh, and the divorce. Let's not forget he drove his wife to divorce. (Or perhaps she drove herself to it. Whatever).
  • Community - in "Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy", Chang wants the chance to be a father to Shirley's son (it's a 50/50 chance he's the biological father) and Jeff tells him Shirley might give him the chance if he acts responsibly, just to get him out of his apartment. Chang starts dressing and acting like every '50s tv sitcom dad in a clear case of Sanity Slippage.
  • Harshly deconstructed on the very retro-'50s Twin Peaks with Leland Palmer, who becomes increasingly vulnerable as we see him mourning the death of his only daughter, and the uncovering of her dark secrets that come with the murder investigation, and he's forced to deal with his failures as a father. Also, he's the killer.
  • Call the Midwife: Dr. Turner is a reconstruction of the trope: an actual father in the 1950s (the series begins in 1957), who actually dresses like the stereotype (although he smokes cigarettes, not a pipe), he's a genuinely wise, caring physician with much love and firm but fair discipline for his son Timothy. However, as a widower, he has trouble balancing his hellish work schedule and his duties to Timmy; this gets easier after he marries Shelagh, the former Sr. Bernadette. He also has distinct Bumbling Dad tendencies at times, and his obligatory experience during the War (as he was a medical graduate, working in a field hospital) resulted in a mental breakdown (from all the goriness of the wounded, sick, and dying in the war).
  • The Man in the High Castle subverts the trope with John Smith, a loving but authoritative American father who has a proper breakfast with his two kids and homemaker wife each morning... while in uniform as a high-ranking Nazi SS officer.
  • Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show was a reconstruction of this trope for The '80s. Bill Cosby envisioned him as everything that a father (and specifically a black father) should be, an aspirational, kind-hearted family man with a playful sense of humor and decidedly old-school tastes in music who is always there for his kids. This was a big part of why Cosby's arrest for sexual assault hit so hard for so many people: creating and playing Cliff for eight seasons had earned him a reputation as "America's Dad".

  • The Dad in the music video of Simple Plan's "Untitled."

    Video Games 
  • As the Fallout series is based on 50s culture with Zeerust technology, many Subversions, Parodies, and Deconstructions of this character appear throughout.
    • Jack Smith and his neighbour Willy Wilson in Fallout 3 are almost iconic. Serious men who dress properly, care for their small families, don't vote for no commie beatniks and don't take kindly to strangers using bad language where the kids can hear. They love their families and believe that it's a man's job to "bring home the bacon". Quite literally since Andale is populated with cannibals.
  • Octodad attempts to be one. But he's really an octopus.

    Web Comics 
  • Ghastly's Ghastly Comic:
    • Subverted with Smokey: he looks like he's stepped straight out of the staid starchiness of Fifties suburbia, but it soon becomes clear he's as filthy-minded as the rest of the cast.
    • Ghastly himself looks like the perfect stereotype of the '50s father.
  • Homestuck:
    • Played with: at first, Mr. Egbert appears to be one of these — a caring, pipe-smoking, hat-wearing, sensible man — albeit with a bizarre passion for harlequins that convinces his son John that the elder Egbert is a street performer. And then it turns out that he's secretly a.) a perfectly ordinary businessman whose apparent harlequin fixation is in fact an attempt to support John's chucklevoodoo-induced love of clowns and b.) a superhumanly strong, Made of Iron Papa Wolf capable of taking out enormous monsters with his bare hands. And he's also John's half-brother via cloning. It's complicated.
    • After the Scratch, most characters are iterated into different forms and different lives. Aside from being Properly Paranoid due to Crockercorp's influence and lacking interest in clowns, Mr. Crocker is the exact same as Mr. Egbert.
  • Elliot is cast as one of these in a dream sequence in El Goonish Shive: "Sleepy Time: Elliot's Dream, Part I".
  • Red Meat: Ted Johnson looks like one of these, with this slicked hair and pipe, but is yet another subversion. He's as much of a perverse Cloud Cuckoolander as any other character in that strip.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

  • J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, icon of the Church of the SubGenius, is a parody of this type.

Alternative Title(s): Mister Cleaver, Pipe And Slippers Dad


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: