Modern Fathers in Modern Family: The Impact of Generational Differences on Fatherhood Styles

  • Kathryn Pallister


With a name like Modern Family, the ABC television show that debuted in 2009 telegraphed its intent to represent families in a way that accurately reflects contemporary constructions of family life, and, in doing so, provided an opportunity for society to revise its notion of what a “family” might look like, due in part to the parenting styles of the fathers in the program. In a recent review of Modern Family, journalist Tim Dowling notes that “one of the main complaints voiced by so-called men’s rights activists is that in popular culture husbands and fathers are routinely portrayed as moronic incompetents … More sensible men’s advocates, meanwhile, maintain that men are still straitjacketed by old expectations, and given no room to express vulnerability, doubt, or any emotion besides anger. Masculinity, it seems, just doesn’t furnish the modern male with very many acceptable ways to be.”1 While Dowling goes on to address the show’s portrayal of Phil as the most “subversive” of the four fathers, the characters of Jay, Cam, and Mitchell also contribute to a mediated understanding of fatherhood that legitimizes a variety of “acceptable ways to be” a modern father. Through the vehicle of comedy, which exposes each of the characters’ best and worst qualities, viewers can both witness and interrogate the qualities of the “traditional dad” and the “new dad,” a distinction that emerges quite clearly as a new generation of men take the parenting reins from their own fathers.


Parenting Style Baby Boomer Modern Family Authoritarian Parenting Style Permissive Parenting Style 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Cabrera, Natasha J., and Catherine S. Tamis-Lemonda. “Fatherhood in the Twenty-First Century.” Child Development 71,1 (2000): 127–36. Scholar
  2. Dowling, Tim. The Guardian. “Modern Family; Horizon: The Power of the Placebo—TV review. Phil Dunphy Is Still a Real Man—Part Monster and Part Role Model.” Accessed online:
  3. Fogel, Jennifer M. “Reality Parenting 101: Celebrity Dads, Reality Sitcoms, and New ‘Old-School’ Family Values.” Conference Papers—International Communication Association (2009): 1–27.
  4. Foot, David K. Boom, Bust and Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift. Montreal: MacFarlane and Ross, 1996.Google Scholar
  5. Frazer, June M., and Timothy C. Frazer. “‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘The Cosby Show’: Nostalgia and the Sitcom Tradition.” Journal of Popular Culture 27,3 (1993): 163–72. Scholar
  6. Giancola, Frank. “The Generation Gap: More Myth Than Reality.” Human Resource Planning 29,4 (2006), 32–37. Scholar
  7. Hulbert, Anne. “Look Who’s Parenting Now.” The New York Times. July 4, 2004. Accessed online:
  8. Lancaster, Lynne and David Stillman. The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace. New York: Harper Business.Google Scholar
  9. Lifecourse Associates. “Generational Archetypes.” Lifecourse Associates. 2014. Accessed online:
  10. Mclaren, Leah. “Leah McLaren: Facing the decision to hire a male nanny gave me pause” The Globe and Mail, March 4, 2015. Accessed March 8, 2015
  11. Modern Family. “The Bicycle Thief.” Episode number 2. Directed by Jason Winer. Written by Bill Wrubel. ABC. September 30, 2009.Google Scholar
  12. Modern Family. “The Incident.” Episode number 4. Directed by Jason Winer. Written by Steven Levitan. ABC. October 14, 2009.Google Scholar
  13. Modern Family. “Run for Your Wife.” Episode number 6. Directed by Jason Winer. Written by Brad Walsh and Paul Corrigan. ABC. October 26, 2009.Google Scholar
  14. Modern Family. “Truth Be Told.” Episode number 17. Directed by Jason Winer. Written by Joe Lawson. ABC. March 10, 2010.Google Scholar
  15. Modern Family “The Old Wagon.” Episode number 25. Directed by Michael Spiller. Written by Bill Wrubel. ABC. September 22, 2010.Google Scholar
  16. Modern Family. “Princess Party.” Episode number 39. Directed by Michael Spiller. Written by Elaine Ko. ABC. February 16, 2011.Google Scholar
  17. Modern Family. “Bringing Up Baby.” Episode number 73. Directed by Steven Levitan. Written by Paul Corrigan and Brad Walsh. ABC. September 26, 2012.Google Scholar
  18. Modern Family. “Snip.” Episode number 75. Directed by Gail Mancuso. Written by Danny Zuker. ABC. October 10, 2012.Google Scholar
  19. Modern Family. “The Wow Factor.” Episode number 90. Directed by Steven Levitan. Written by Ben Karlin. ABC. March 27, 2013.Google Scholar
  20. Modern Family. “The Future Dunphys.” Episode number 91. Directed by Ryan Case. Written by Elaine Ko. April 3, 2013.Google Scholar
  21. Modern Family. “Under Pressure.” Episode number 109. Directed by James Bagdonas. Written by Elaine Ko. ABC. January 15, 2014Google Scholar
  22. Modern Family. “Other People’s Children.” Episode number 113. Directed by Jim Hensz. Written by Megan Ganz. March 12, 2014.Google Scholar
  23. Pehlke II, Timothy, Hennon, Charles, Radina, M. Elise, Kuvalanka, Katherine. “Does Father Still Know Best? An Inductive Thematic Analysis of Popular TV Sitcoms.” Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers [serial on the Internet] 7,2 (2009): 114–39. Scholar
  24. Scharrer, Erica. “From Wise to Foolish: The Portrayal of the Sitcom Father, 1950s–1990s.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 45,1 (2001): 23. Scholar
  25. Statistics Canada. “Generations in Canada.” Last modified December 18, 2013.
  26. Strauss, William and Neil Howe. Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1991.Google Scholar
  27. Strauss, William and Neil Howe. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy—What the Cycles of History Tell Us about America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. New York: Broadway, 1997.Google Scholar
  28. Strauss, William and Neil Howe. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage, 2000.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kathryn Pallister 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Pallister

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations