There’s no doubt that real-life dads give great advice, but for many people, some of life’s most poignant lessons come via the television screen. From the value of a dollar to the importance of hard work, sitcom dads have inserted financial help and advice between laugh tracks for decades.
In celebration of Father’s Day, take a moment to look back at some of the best money lessons sitcom dads like Philip Banks, Red Forman and Danny Tanner shared with their children — and audiences.
Fred Sanford, ‘Sanford and Son’
In season six, episode eight of “Sanford and Son,” junkman Fred Sanford, played by Redd Foxx, takes out a bank loan to give his son, Lamont, an impressive wedding present.
Sure that Lamont wouldn’t accept the money if he knew it was borrowed, Fred decides to lie and say he’d been saving his whole life for the cash. When he reveals his big-hearted — but wrong-headed — plan to his pal, the friend sarcastically replies, “That’s good. And if he buys that, I got some oceanfront property in Kansas you can sell him.”
Sometimes even sitcom dads make misguided financial moves, but audiences can learn from their mistakes: You should never give others presents you can not afford or money you do not have.
Howard Cunningham, ‘Happy Days’
In season 11, episode five of “Happy Days,” a particularly tear-jerky episode, Richie Cunningham finds little support for his dream to move to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. TV dad Howard Cunningham, played by Tom Bosley, eventually backs his son’s move — and offers to pay for it.
“Richard, you remember before when I was telling you about the sacrifices I made for my family?,” Howard asks. “Well, for a little while, I forgot why. But it’s because I wanted my children to go as far as their gifts could take them.” After handing his son a blank check, he says, “Now you take this and you fill in whatever amount you think you need.”
James Evans, ‘Good Times’
In the pilot episode of “Good Times,” TV dad James Evans, Sr., played by John Amos, reminds his loved ones that family is more important than money when his wife, Florida, requires an expensive medical procedure.
When Florida apologizes, James asks why she’s sorry. Florida replies, “That operation cost all the money we had. Now you work all day and take a second job and work all night. I’m so sorry.” James’ heartwarming — though certainly not politically correct — response is, “Baby, you say you’re sorry one more time and I’ll give you something to be sorry about.”
Tony Micelli, ‘Who’s the Boss?’
In the pilot episode of “Who’s the Boss,” dad Tony Micelli, played by Tony Danza, takes a job as a housekeeper for a wealthy female executive. When his daughter, Samantha, marvels at the luxurious home and wonders out loud how a woman could afford to live in a such a spectacular place, Tony informs her that success doesn’t depend on gender.
“She works hard and she’s real smart,” Tony tells Samantha. “Hey, you could do the same thing.”
Jason Seaver, ‘Growing Pains’
In season three, episode 18 of “Growing Pains,” Mike Seaver, played by Kirk Cameron, discovers that his Hawaiian romantic flame will be in California. When he begins making plans to visit her, TV dad Dr. Jason Seaver — played by Alan Thicke, who died suddenly in 2016 — explains that while love is free, travel is not. The exchange goes as follows:
Jason Seaver: “Mike, airfare to California is very expensive.”
Mike Seaver: “I know, dad, but Carol is lending me the money.”
Jason Seaver: “Oh, get outta town!”
Mike Seaver: “Okay, thanks dad, bye!”
Al Bundy, ‘Married With Children’
Ed O’Neill brought disgruntled, chauvinistic, over-the-hill TV dad Al Bundy to life in “Married With Children.” Money was a common theme in the working-class Bundy household.
In season nine, episode two, Al’s loafer son Bud asks for $700. Al Jokes that they could sell the house, but then they’d still have to come up with the other $500. Then, to explain that there is no money without hard work, Al says, “Bud, if you need money, you should do what a wise man once said, ‘Yip-ip-ip-ip-ip, mu-mu-mu-mu-mu-mu-mu — Get a job.'”
Danny Tanner, ‘Full House’
In season one, episode six of “Full House,” responsible dad Danny Tanner, played by Bob Saget, tries to explain to his daughter, D.J., that there is no such thing as savings for a spendthrift.
When D.J. informs Danny that everything is half off at the Fashion Mart, Danny replies, “Of course that doesn’t save me any money because you’ll just buy twice as much stuff, right?” To which D.J. replies, “I like your attitude.”
Jack Arnold, ‘The Wonder Years’
Jack Arnold, played by Dan Lauria, is the TV dad of Kevin, Wayne and Karen Arnold in the coming-of-age dramedy “The Wonder Years.” A gruff, blunt Korean War veteran and child of the Great Depression, Jack doesn’t hesitate to cut down Kevin’s lofty work, life and financial expectations.
In season three, episode 18, Kevin asks Jack what he would write if he had to tell the story of his life. Jack replies, “I get up at 5 in the morning. I fight traffic. I bust my hump all day. I fight traffic again. Then I come home. Then, I pay my taxes. The end.”
Dan Conner, ‘Roseanne’
In the first episode of season five of “Roseanne,” working class hero Dan Conner, played by John Goodman, gives the family a lesson on exactly how little mercy they should expect when dealing with lenders after falling behind on payments.
“They said, ‘You’re four months behind on your first mortgage, three months behind on your second, we want our money by Friday,'” Dan said of his conversation with his bankers. “‘And here, have a calendar.'”
Carl Otis Winslow, ‘Family Matters’
A spin-off from the show “Perfect Strangers,” family matters centers on the Winslow family — headed by dad and Chicago P.D. Officer Carl — and their pesky, nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel.
In season four, episode 10 of “Family Matters,” irresponsible son Eddie asks Carl, played by Reginald VelJohnson, for money to buy gifts for Christmas. When Carl asks how much money Eddie needs, Eddie responds by asking Carl how nice he wants his gift to be. Carl replies, “I’ll tell you what, son, why not give me cash for Christmas?” He then puts the money he was holding back in his pocket.
Philip Banks, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’
Successful silver screen actor Will Smith got his start on the television show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” James Avery played Will’s uncle, Philip Banks.
In season one, episode 22, Smith’s character gets dangerously in over his head gambling on billiards at a pool hall. When his Uncle Phil comes to bail him out, Will discovers his uncle is a pool shark. Not only does Phil rescue Will, he also teaches him a lesson on the transient nature of money. When Will thanks his uncle for getting him out of trouble and winning his money back, Phil slyly replies, “Your money? I’ll play you for it.”
Red Forman, ‘That ’70s Show’
In the second episode of season one of “That ’70s Show,” TV dad Reginald “Red” Forman, played by Kurtwood Smith, reminds the family that the finite nature of money puts limits on generosity.
When asking his son Eric what he wants for his birthday, Red tells him, “Whatever you want. Money is no object, as long as it’s reasonable.”
Hal, ‘Malcolm in the Middle’
In season seven, episode 22 of “Malcolm in the Middle,” TV dad Hal, played by Bryan Cranston, teaches the family an accidental lesson in the dangers of excess frugality.
When his wife pleads with him to pay a repairman to fix the broken television, Hal responds that it’s a waste of money and that he’s perfectly capable of doing it himself. Before he can finish his sentence, he’s electrocuted.
Charlie Harper, ‘Two and a Half Men’
In season four, episode five of “Two and a Half Men,” down-and-out brother Alan Harper, played by John Cryer, groans about his financial burdens to his well-to-do playboy brother, Charlie, played by Charlie Sheen. When Charlie offers to continue helping Alan with money, Alan says that Charlie has already done enough.
Sarcastically reminding him about both the benefits and limits of generosity, Charlie replies, “Yeah, but it’s not like I’m keeping a tab — $26,382 … to date.”
Phil Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’
In season four, episode 18 of “Modern Family,” TV dad Phil Dunphy, played by Ty Burrell, teaches his son, Luke, a lesson in money psychology when Luke offers to eat spilled sugar off the floor for a dollar.
“Luke, what have I told you about doing things for money?,” Phil asks. His son replies, “If you charge more, they’ll think you’re worth it.”
About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.