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5 unlikely great dads of the '80s




Father's Day is full of tributes to the best dads of television and film. But what about the forgotten dads? The ones who didn't usually have the starring role, but instead arrived just in time with some important life advice when the real star needed it most. To me, that's what being a great dad is all about: Standing in the background, with one hand on the rear of the bicycle to make sure nothing seriously bad happens.

John Spears was that type of dad. The kind who tried to tell me about the birds and bees when we were emptying the dishwasher one night. And he gave me the single most haunting, yet brilliant, piece of guidance in my life: "Son, you can do whatever you want in life. Take any chance. Make any mistake. But if you bring a girlfriend home pregnant, your mother and I will kill you." No smile. No joke. To this day, I'm sure he was dead serious.

Dad died in March 2007. And I'm probably too old now to bring anyone home pregnant so finally I can rest easy. Each of you will celebrate Father's Day your own way. Me? I'll watch a few movies featuring the kind of dad that I had growing up. The John Spears kind.


5. CRISPIN GLOVER: Anyone can nominate Steve Martin (Planes Trains and Automobiles) or John Candy (Summer Rental). Me? I like the flawed genius of George McFly in Back to the Future. Plus, next to my dad's words of wisdom on baby-making, Glover has the best advice of the '80s: "Like I've always told you, you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." It's teary enough to almost make me want to unload the dishwasher today. Almost.

4. JOHN ASHTON: Oh sure, he's great at Sgt. Taggart in Beverly Hills Cop and as Marvin in Midnight Run. But without him as the dad in 1987's Some Kind of Wonderful, I'm betting Eric Stoltz's character would still be pumping gas today.

3. JOHN LITHGOW: More for Footloose than Harry and the Hendersons, though any dad willing to house Bigfoot has to be given serious weight. The first time I saw Footloose, I thought Lithgow was the greatest villain I'd seen on film to date. Of course, that image dissolves at the end when the Rev. Shaw allows the kids to dance after all. "If we do not learn how to trust our children, how will they ever become trust-worthy?"

2. RODNEY DANGERFIELD: Not one, but two great "dad" movies that decade: Easy Money and Back to School. Any dad that books Oingo Boingo to play my dorm room is aces with me.

1. PAUL DOOLEY: Breaking Away (1979) gets grandfathered in only because I do the best imitation of "Ray Stoller" saying "Refund?!? REFUND?!?" But it's his unusually warm portrayal of Molly Ringwald's dad in Sixteen Candles that nabs him the top spot. And he delivers the one line to take away from the movie: "That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else."

Honorable mention: Hector Elizondo in The Flamingo Kid, Kevin Costner and Dwier Brown in Field of Dreams.

By all means avoid these great actors but bad dads: Clarence Williams III in Purple Rain, Jackie Gleason in Nothing in Common, David Ogden Stiers in Better Off Dead, Albert Salmi in Caddyshack.

[Last modified: Sunday, June 20, 2010 11:48am]


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