Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why Tony Soprano was the Best Father in TV History

I took a poll on my Facebook page recently asking who readers thought was the best fictional TV father? While the responses ranged from Bundy to Brady, the greatest number of people said Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby’s beloved OB/GYN from The Cosby Show. One reader’s reasoning:

One father who never even occurred to me before this conversation turned out to be among the most popular choices: Tony Danza’s Tony Micelli from Who’s the Boss?  One reader summed Tony up perfectly to me:

Those two fathers, though seemingly polar opposites (one a successful physician, the other a baseball player turned housekeeper), were actually quite similar as the primary goal of both was to give their families a better life. And if you mixed those two dudes together, you'll get who I think is the greatest father in TV history: Tony Soprano.

As a die-hard TV fan, I was a rabid enthusiast of HBO’s The Sopranos throughout its entire eight year run, starting with episode 1 and ending 1 second before the show’s cut-to-black culmination in episode 86. Needless to say, I was shocked to hear of the untimely recent passing of James Gandolfini for several reasons, not the least of which is that he has a brand-new baby at home who is a couple weeks younger than my 9-month-old Littler Dude. A true tragedy. 

Beyond being a great father, Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano was arguably the most compelling protagonist/antagonist combination ever seen on TV. As both a doting father to his two kids, Meadow and AJ, and a godfather of the largest organized crime family in New Jersey, Soprano ruled two distinct households successfully, but never faultlessly.  It was the perfect dichotomy of “fathering” experiences and Tony managed to lead an atypical, yet successful, work/life balance.
The Soprano family, in happier times
You might wonder how I can say that a murdering, thieving gangster could be considered a quality father. The truth is that Tony Soprano is the only “real” fictional mobster, and one of the few "real" fathers, we’ve ever seen. He had issues with his parents, spouse, job and kids, just like pretty much any other parent. He battled endless temptation. His friends frequently let him down or double-crossed him. But he also sought therapy to deal with all of those conflicting ping-pong balls bouncing around his head.  I can’t think of another celluloid Mafia Don who has ever been as vulnerable as Tony Soprano consistently proved to be over the years.*

Tony's other family
Like most people, Tony’s family life was full of challenges. Living in an upscale New Jersey neighborhood, his kids faced the usual struggles that teenagers commonly must deal with regarding school, friends and substances. The Soprano kids became more withdrawn from family life upon learning, kind of, about their father’s line of business. Tony’s parenting philosophy was influenced heavily by his own upbringing, which was often the subject of his therapy sessions. While he was afraid to tell his friends about his therapy and use of anti-depressants for fear of being viewed as weak, I believe he did it for the benefit of not only himself, but also his family. He spent vast amounts of time with Dr. Melfi uncovering layers of damage that his parents, especially his mother who at one point tried to have him killed, instilled in him.

One episode that always sticks out in my mind about the kind of parent Tony was is an early episode titled “College” where Tony took Meadow to visit some schools in New England. In the long car ride up the coast, some big issues were discussed, including drugs, drinking and Tony’s alleged line of work. Tony and his daughter dealt with an uncomfortable line of questioning that went both ways, and that awkward conversation opened the lines of communication for them going forward. The episode later showed Tony being put in another awkward position when he unexpectedly bumped into a former colleague, who’d disappeared years prior into Witness Protection. Faced with the choice of spending quality time with his daughter and doing his “work” made Tony choose how to balance two very important matters, something most parents have to deal with every day. I won’t give away what happened, but will say that Tony was a great multi-tasker.

So while you may scoff at my choice for TV’s best father, and wonder why I didn’t choose Ward Cleaver, Father Ingalls or even Dan Conner, I selected someone who regularly showed the inner-strength to deal with extreme adversity for the betterment of his family. To me, Tony Soprano was that man. 

James Gandolfini, RIP.

Who do you think is the best Father in TV history, and why?

*=Don’t even mention Robert DeNiro in Analyze This, which was released two months after The Sopranos premiered, as he was just playing a hokey parody of a mobster.


  1. I loved this show! Tony Soprano. Born and raised by an Italian family, that show connected with my life on many levels, minus the life of crime and murder of course. No maffia in my family.

    Great tribute to Tony! Surprised and sad to hear of his passing.

  2. Well done!! I've read many tributes to this amazing man and character in recent weeks, but I think yours is definitely on top because you recognize a topic that is definitely a "pop culture" conversation these days (although never addressed in this context)the work-life balance. Tony was one of the few characters you loved to hate and hated to love. So many times writers create characters that are Robin Hood of sorts. They do bad things yet you can sympathize. However, over time, most turn down the dark road and you lose your compassion for them. Tony was one of the few that you loved til the end. You wanted him to face his demons, fight them and come out on top as the best dad and mafia boss a man could be... Wait, that's weird, isn't it?

    I too was a fan from beginning to end. Not only did my husband I love the show but every MOnday I'd chat with my dad about it and we'd speculate and pontificate about the life of the Tony. And it was the only conversation where either of us could say "pussy" without dying of embarrassment;) Hey, it was a guy's name, right?
    Anyway, awesome post!!

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