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Dad! No one wants to hear your stupid Vietnam stories!


Quite often, especially in shows set in the 50s and 60s, the father figure will be a veteran. Whether he's a Standard Fifties Father or an Overprotective Dad, he's capable of being a real hardcase in the right circumstances. Yes, even the Dads who appear to be nothing but creampuff can be tough guys when they need to be, and he bases it all on his years of military service.

Often this is pulled in situations where a younger (almost always male) character needs to be browbeaten or intimidated. Whether the dad was merely a marine, or the equivalent of FOXHOUND, at some point, they'll bring it up in a not-so-casual way when they need to remind the younger character that they aren't as soft and yielding as they seem to be.

Quite a few female characters are given a Veteran Dad as an excuse for why she's tough and independent, but it can also be a Freudian Excuse if he was a tyrannical martinet who lorded over his family with an iron hand. Sometimes this allows female characters to have access to unusual skills or assets, on the assumption that senior military officers use their aviation regiments as their kid's private chauffeurs.

This effect can also happen if Dad used to be a cop, or a government agent of some sort. In comedies, it often turns out that yeah, Dad was in the Army... but he was a cook, or a file clerk, or a mechanic, or had some other less than intimidating job.

This was a Justified Trope not too long ago, given the almost back-to-back nature of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Given the ongoing War On Terror, one can expect this trope to come back into prominence.


Examples of Dad the Veteran include:


Comic Books

Film

 Greaser Punk: "Who the hell are you, old man?"

Hub McCann: "I'm Hub McCann. I've fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I've seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I've won and lost a dozen fortunes, killed many men, and loved only one woman with a passion a flea like you could never begin to understand. That's who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!"

  • In Juno, Juno's dad blatantly states that he's a war veteran. The precise war is never quite pinned down.
  • Played with in War Horse, where it isn't quite the trope it'd be in a post-Great War setting. Mr. Narracott is shown as having fought in the Boer War, and it's hardened him somewhat, but not in a positive sense. He refuses to talk about what he did or even acknowledge his medals and regimental pennant. His wife explains the situation to Albie, his gentle and somewhat simple-minded son, but it doesn't keep him from attempting to enlist in World War One at the first opportunity.

Literature

  • Played with in William Beamon's novel The Sunshine State. Teenage Darryl is warned by his girlfriend Sandra's father that "he'd been in the Army during the war" (the war in question being the Vietnam War) and that if Darryl "got fresh", dad might have to hurt the boy. Later when he's alone with her, he jokes about the warning, theorizing that her dad (described as "round, well-padded, balding, and genial" earlier in the novel by Darryl himself) had probably been a cook or a file clerk. She hastily corrects him:

 "Who dad?" she asked. "No, he was an Army ranger. He'd be dropped behind enemy lines to rescue prisoners of war and stuff. He knows how to kill people about a dozen ways with his bare hands. I saw him beat up a guy who was trying to break into our car outside of the movie theater with a rolled up magazine. You know... special forces kinda stuff."

Live Action TV

  • Howard Cunningham from Happy Days is a perfect example of a kindly, wise Standard Fifties Father. But when he needed to be, he could remind his children (and he even reminded the Fonz at one point) that he'd been in the army during "the war" (it is assumed he's talking about World War II), and could still throw down if he needed to. It was later revealed that he had been a file clerk.
    • Or a cook, depending on which episode you're watching.
    • In justice to Mr. Cunningham file clerks and cooks saw quite a bit of action during the Battle of the Bulge...
  • Nikki's dad from Malcolm in the Middle.
  • Parodied in Seinfeld when Frank Costanza told a war story about being in the military...as a cook. It was played in full-blown What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome? flashback style.
  • The Major from Soap was a WWII veteran.
  • Bill Engvall did this to his daughter's prom date on The Bill Engvall Show.
  • Freaks and Geeks, set in a time when conscription was a recent memory. Harold Weir served in the Korean War, and Mr. Andopolis was in the Air Force.
  • In Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray's father Frank was a veteran. He served in Korea and tends to bring it up when he's trying to get away with something.
  • The Dad in The Wonder Years was a veteran of the Korean War. It came up fairly frequently (including as a justification for why he didn't need to stop and ask for directions).
  • Red Forman on That 70s Show is a vetaran of both World War II and The Korean War.
  • Smallville: His military service so defines Lois Lane's father, that even she refers to him only as "The General."
  • Jill Taylor's father is a gruff war veteran who fought in World War II and the Korea War.
  • Martin from Frasier was both a Korean war veteran and a retired homicide detective. This didn't come up that much in the Retired Badass way, but was simply another facet of Martin's generally masculine persona in (comedic) comparision to his more effette sons Frasier and Niles.
  • Played with in Mad Men. Technically, Don is a Korea veteran, and he has a Purple Heart, but the more pertinent fact about his service is that he caused the accident that wounded him and killed his commanding officer, then stole the dead man's identity and used it to desert and start his post-war life. Naturally he feels less than pure unadulterated pride when he's asked to stand up along with other veterans at a Memorial Day event and sees his kids beaming and applauding. Later, Betty's father comes to live with them and brings his grandson a box full of his WWI memorabilia, including a helmet belonging to a German he's pretty sure he killed. Don is disturbed and tells him not to put romantic ideas about war into Bobby's head. (In Don's other life at the office, his best friend Roger Sterling never misses a chance to brag about his WWII service, particularly to young Smug Snake Pete Campbell.)
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, Mary's father is a WWII veteran. He bores everyone except Sally with his war stories. Hilarity Ensues when he and Sally decide to hook up (note he's still married).
  • In The Monkees episode "The Chaperone", Davy tries to date the daughter of a military man, but has a difficult time finding time alone with her because he runs his household like a barracks.
  • The Red Green Show once featured an advice segment for what to do if there was no war when you were the right age, yet people still expect a war story.

 Red: Oh yeah, I was in the war. The big one. The Gasoline Price War of '69...

  • John "The Colonel" Camden is the children's paternal grandfather, who used to be in the Marines. He was a Colonel in the Korean War and was evacuated for an unknown explanation in 1953.
  • John Winchester was a Marine Corporal in Vietnam, home again some time in his early twenties to marry his sweetheart. We know him as the hard-bitten, driven Crusading Widower who raised his two sons in a kind of traveling boot camp, so it's quite a shocker when Time Travel in season four reveals that he came back from the war still a cheerful, outgoing young fellow. Whose idea of a date was apparently going out for milkshakes.[1] The Marines may have given him the tools to kick ass with, but the Badass Blood Knight The Stoic hunter thing was all him and his vendetta.

Video Games

  • In World in Conflict, Captain Bannon's step-dad (a comrade in arms of his late actual father) is a retired veteran who constantly belitters Bannon for not being a good enough soldier, even in situations where Bannon couldn't do anything.

Western Animation

Notes

  1. This time travel is not to the fifties. It is to 1973.
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