The inspiring empathy, kindness, and patience of our television father figures
By Sonam Kaloti, Arts Editor
There are plenty of great male role models on television, whether it be in shows, movies, or cartoons. It’s not always obvious that these characters are great role models to learn from though—they just happen to be so likable that viewers will gravitate towards them unknowingly. Sometimes these men feel like a father figure (or grandpa, or uncle), but sometimes they’re just good people who take on more responsibility than they’re expected to. Their empathy, kindness, and honestly are what make these characters sparkle. (Spoilers ahead for Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Stranger Things!)
Uncle Iroh – Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar’s best man, Iroh, would have been a main villain had the show season one started a couple decades earlier. However, after failing to conquer Ba Sing Se, Iroh was heartbroken by the death of his only son. This moment was all it took for Ozai to claim the Fire Lord throne out from under Iroh.
This was definitely for the best, regardless of Iroh’s initial feelings of failure having lost his rightful throne. Iroh became increasingly closer to his nephew, Zuko, and became a changed man.
Throughout Avatar, he is soft, personable, and understanding. He is patient with his nephew who is angry at the world, typically taking the brunt of Zuko’s rage. He is a guiding light to Zuko, reminding him at every turn that he is worthy and is destined to create his own purpose. For Zuko, who is easily the most torn and confused character on the show, Iroh’s guidance is undoubtfully the most important presence in his life. In his darkest days, the mere thought of Iroh’s utter conviction of Zuko’s purity is enough to get Zuko to get back up and follow his own heart, which plays into Zuko becoming one of Aang’s greatest allies in the war.
Iroh, however, is a kind, beautiful, loving soul to everyone he meets. He offers his calm wisdom to any passerby whether it may be enemies of his nation, enemies of his own nephew, or even a man attempting to mug him in an alley. Iroh always stays true to himself and it is incredibly encouraging.
Iroh’s character is so fantastic that he continues being a guiding light many decades later, in The Legend of Korra. Having died long before the show’s timeline begins, he presents himself in the spirit world—ironically, he often guides Korra’s lead characters both physically, and with their innermost turmoil.
Phillip J. Coulson – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Coulson (Clark Gregg) is about as “cutesy father figure” as it gets. The show begins with Coulson hand picking his own team of agents who become a close family throughout the first season. As the show progresses, all of the characters go through phenomenal developmental arcs which create a very intimate watching experience. Coulson becomes a father figure to his entire team, but especially to newest recruit and orphan Skye (Chloe Bennet).
He takes on the entire team’s individual burdens and carries all of their shame. He also makes many mistakes, but he always tries, and if anything, this just makes it more realistic.
Steve Harrington – Stranger Things
Didn’t expect to see a teenager on here, did you? Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) was the kind-of-asshole jock boyfriend of main character Mike Wheeler’s (Finn Wolfhard) sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer). Steve, overall, is a pretty silly character with many immature traits one could assume of a high schooler.
In season two, however—after Steve and Nancy’s breakup—Steve, being in the know about the strange events occurring in their town, was still around quite often despite Nancy having moved on.
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), having been adopted by Hopper (David Harbour), had a pretty sturdy and somewhat over-protective parental figure. However, while all the other adults were busy or simply not aware of what was going on, Steve found himself responsible for the rest of Eleven’s team. With Mike, Max (Sadie Sink), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) under his supervision, Steve’s earned himself a spot on this list.
Taking on a parental role in general is difficult, let alone for four kids when you yourself are a teenager (not to mention they are kids targeting, and targeted by monsters). Yet, in a beautiful character arc, Steve Harrington went from being an arrogant jock to a near-fatherly figure—especially to Dustin, to whom he shared both hair and girl advice to.
While these are only three of the many fantastically written male characters out there, they speak volumes to traits that everyone can learn from and adapt into their lives. These are good people who, even through a TV screen, can encourage you to do better just by watching them be themselves, and that’s good role modelling.