Since television became a mass medium during the 1950s, the single dad paradigm has been a staple of prime time television. From Mayberry to the Ponderosa, the single dad character has shown courage in the face of adversity, strength in the wake of tragedy, and common sense in the presence of chaos.
And he has done it alone. Well, not exactly.
The single dad genre in classic television often pairs the single dad character with a counterpart that has three characteristics: no romantic link to the single dad, performance of household duties traditionally falling under a wife’s domain, blood relative or trusted advisor.
Bonanza: Ben Cartwright and Hop Sing (Lorne Greene and Victor Sen Yung).
Family Affair: Uncle Bill and Mr. French (Brian Keith and Sebastian Cabot).
Bachelor Father: Bentley Gregg and Peter Tong (John Forsythe and Sammee Tong).
Gimme A Break: Carl Kanisky and Nell Harper (Dolph Sweet and Nell Carter).
The Beverly Hillbillies: Jed Clampett and Daisy Moses a.k.a. Granny (Buddy Ebsen and Irene Ryan).
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father: Tom Corbett and Mrs. Livingston (Bill Bixby and Miyoshi Umeki).
And let’s not forget The Andy Griffith Show: Andy Taylor and Aunt Bee (Andy Griffith and Frances Bavier).
Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, North Carolina relied on his Aunt Bee for the best cooking this side of Mount Pilot. His six year-old son, Opie, played by future Happy Days star and film director Ron Howard, initially resented Aunt Bee because he was fond of Rose, the Taylors’ housekeeper leaving to marry Wilbur Pine. The first TAGS episode, The New Housekeeper, sets up the dynamic.
Although not stated explicitly, Opie is suffering a tremendous loss. His mother died when he was “the least little speck of a baby” as explained by Andy, perhaps a benign way of saying that Mrs. Taylor died during childbirth. Or soon after. Now, the only female influence is leaving, to be replaced by a woman that “can’t do anything like Rose can. She can’t fish or hunt frogs or play baseball with me like Rose did.”
Andy, the single father with down-home pragmatism, sees Opie’s problem as its solution. He introduces Aunt Bee to baseball and fishing, but Opie sees Aunt Bee’s dearth of skills. Tragic, in his eyes. When Opie learns that his bird, Dickie, flew away, Aunt Bee confesses that she cleaned the bird cage earlier and perhaps left the cage open.
Furious, Opie wants nothing to do with Aunt Bee. But when Opie overhears her saying goodbye to Andy, he learns that Aunt Bee thinks very highly of the younger Taylor. Further, she would love to do the things that he likes to do.
Predictably, he begs her to stay. He reasons, “Well, if she goes, what’ll happen to her? She doesn’t know how to do anything. Play ball or catch fish or hunt frogs. She’ll be helpless. So that’s why she’s gotta stay. So I can teach them to her. You need me!”
By the way, Dickie returned. All’s well that ends well in Mayberry.
Y’all come back now, ya hear?!
Oh wait, that’s The Beverly Hillbillies tag line. Sorry, Ellie Clampett. Hey, have you met Andy Taylor?