Bad dads make for good television. Tony Soprano verbally abuses his kids, Don Draper has an affair with his daughter’s teacher (and generally neglects his children), and Walter White chooses meth over family. But no one really cares about their poor parenting skills because they’re inherently flawed anti-heroes. Of course they’re terrible parents, we think to ourselves. It’s much harder to absolve the sins of the television father when viewers are supposed to think said father is great. And there’s one exceptionally shitty dad whose piss poor parenting is constantly on display, yet rarely acknowledged: Ross Geller.
The primary appeal of Friends — and why it constantly ranks high on Netflix’s most-watched list — lies in watching a group of lovable, but immature 20-somethings goof around while they figure out their lives and find their place in the world. Their jobs are jokes. They’re broke. And their love lives? DOA. And for most of them, that’s fine. Sure, Chandler, Monica and the crew start off as lazy, shallow slackers, but they aren’t responsible for anyone other than themselves. Ross is different. He begins the series with the discovery that his ex-wife is pregnant with his child, and assures her that he will be a fully present dad. He has clear responsibility his buddies do not.
But once his son Ben is born, Ross shirks nearly all parenting responsibilities.dad. Throughout the show’s 236 episodes that span 10 years, Ben appears in a grand total of 16 episodes. That means Ross sees him less than twice a year. He lives in the same city as his child but would rather spend time dating, messing around with his friends, and hanging with his illegal pet monkey than be a part of Ben’s life.
But maybe Ross deserves a break. After all, quality of time is more important than quantity of time, right — especially when you’re constrained to a sitcom structure, right? But the majority of Ben’s appearances show that Ross has awful priorities when it comes to raising his son.
Take season three’s “The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel“. Ross sees Ben playing with a Barbie doll and loses his damn mind, forcing his young son to give up the Barbie in favor of more “manly” toys. Nice job reinforcing that toxic masculinity at a young age, Ross.
Then look at season six’s “The One On The Last Night.” Ross pretends to spend time with Ben to avoid helping his friends move, but the “Ben” he’s hanging out with is actually a dummy with a pumpkin for a head. Why Ross doesn’t just go actually spend time with his son is a mystery. Yes, Friends is a sitcom and narrative structure demands shortcuts. But we can only divine what we see on the screen and what we see is that Ross is a terrible father to Ben.
When Ross’ second child, Emma, enters the picture, he shows some improvement on a lot the mistakes he made with Ben. Sure, his antiquated resistance to hiring a male nanny for his daughter shows he still has some issues with toxic masculinity, but at least he’s a much more of a presence in his daughter’s life. Unfortunately, all that progress is undone when the awful truth is revealed: He only cares about Emma because she can get him closer to Rachel.
Towards the end of the series, Rachel is set to move to Paris for a job and will take Emma with her. He’s devastated and does everything he can to convince her not to go. Not once is he ever concerned with losing Emma. He doesn’t care that his daughter will be living across the ocean and he’ll see her on major holidays. His only issue is that his on-again, off-again girlfriend won’t be around for him to fall back in love with once a year.
No, the point of Friends was not to show off Ross’ parenting skills. But it does him no favors. Throughout the show’s 10-season run, it’s clear that Ross doesn’t care about being a father. Give us Tony Soprano or Walter White any day of the week. At least they’re honest with themselves. All Ross cares about is being a good friend.