TV TIME: Guide for the Expectant Dad

As Father's Day approaches, prospective fathers look to classic television for pointers on how to handle their upcoming blessed events. I admit that despite a misspent youth filled with reruns, when it was my turn to witness the miracle of life, I did not run around in a panicked frenzy, drive to the hospital without the mother, and hand out cigars to everyone in sight. But the rest of you might not want to take that chance, so let's dive into TV history to see how other new dads prepare for the big day.

Rehearse: Perhaps the most famous childbirth episode of all time is 'Lucy Goes to Hospital' from the premiere season of I Love Lucy. One of the highest-rated programs of all time, it begins with Lucy due to have baby Ricky any minute while Daddy Ricky is jittery and anxious. When Lucy asks Fred and Ethel to come over and act like it's no big deal, they become just as excitable.

How do they deal with their nerves? Simple: They rehearse their roles. Ethel calls the doctor to let him know they're heading to the hospital, Ricky guides Lucy to the door and outside, and Fred gets Lucy's suitcase. After a few methodical dry runs, the trio has the system down. When Lucy emerges from the bedroom and says it's time, though, all heck breaks loose in what is the funniest scene in the series' history, complete with overlapping dialogue, clothes flying everywhere, and William Frawley's devastating forearm shiver knocking Desi Arnaz backwards.

By the time Ricky and the Mertzes get their collective act together enough to get out the door, poor Lucy is left standing alone in the apartment. Fortunately she somehow makes it to the hospital, where Ricky is isolated from her not because he nearly just trampled her in the apartment, but because, well, that's how they did things in the 1950s.

Ricky must leave to perform in his new stage show, and the sight of his returning to meet the new baby while still in 'witch doctor' regalia is iconic in Lucy history, if not all of TV history. I'd like to see it supplanted by Fred Mertz knocking Ricky over that couch, though; to me it's funnier and even scarier than a little phony voodoo makeup.

Be prepared: In 'Where Did I Come From?' from the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show, young Richie asks the immortal question to his parents. Rob is flummoxed, and Laura is amused at his discomfort, but eventually Dad tells the story. It turns out Rob was just a little on edge when Richie was on the way.

A flashback reveals that as Rob and Laura awaited the occasion, Rob slept with his suit on and his hat within arm's reach, springing out of bed as soon as Laura bumps the alarm clock, yelling the two words every respectable TV dad must utter: 'IT'S TIME!' One thing 'Where Did I Come From?' proves is no matter how much pain and distress the expectant mother endures, it is Dad who yells and panics. It also proves people cared a lot more about how they looked in public back then: Rob wouldn't think of dashing to a medical facility without a respectable hat, while today people go shopping in pants barely sturdier than hospital gowns.

His elaborate preparations ultimately go awry, as he faces a staff meeting at work while stuck with his wrinkled and slept-in clothes; he is forced to enlist a laundry truck to get Laura to the hospital, and perhaps worst of all, he has to face Willie the Coffee Man's aggressive danish peddling in the office. Nothing goes as planned, but the unpredictability is probably good practice for raising the child.

Keep Working: Today paternity leave is common, and many fathers take time off before the big occasion to help ensure a smooth process for the mother. Some TV dads, though, decide to keep working right up until the last minute.

We've already seen a few examples, but the most extreme case is Officer Jim Reed, who joins partner Pete Malloy for regular patrol duty in an episode of Adam-12 called 'Baby'. Mind you, it's not just that it's Mrs. Reed's due date. She has begun labor, and he's already dropped her off at the hospital! Jim is organized enough to wear his police blues the whole time so he can head right to work. He'd only be in the way, he tells Pete. Uh, Jim, that's the excuse you use to get out of cleaning the house, not out of witnessing your offspring's entrance into the world.

Hey, that's what you want on the streets of Los Angeles: A distracted cop running around wishing he were somewhere else. What's the worst that could happen? Pete quickly notices Jim is not the cool cucumber he claims to be and scolds him when he gets reckless in pursuing a perp. So the two wind up supplementing their perpetual quest for justice with a perpetual quest for a pay phone so Reed can check in with the hospital.

Maybe I'm a bit harsh, but it's rather disturbing that Reed's carelessness is played for laughs. Malloy exposes his partner's true state of mind when he points out he forgot socks when he left the house. The boys in the locker room share a chuckle, and I half-expect the camera to pan over to another officer saying, 'Shucks, that's nothing! Wilkins here left his service revolver on the bus this morning,' while elbowing his chagrined partner in the ribs. Fortunately, 'Baby' ends well for everyone, and Reed has a semi-sensible explanation for why he came into work. Still, I must conclude the episode isn't the greatest example for fathers who want to save a day or two of leave by working right up to the event.

On Hazel, 'The Baby Came C.O.D.,' friend of the family David pays his way through law school by selling insurance, and Hazel is giving him plenty of business, faking a burn injury in the kitchen to convince Mr. Baxter to take out an accident policy. You'd think an experienced attorney would know a scam when he sees one.

Later, an exhausted David conks out in the Baxter kitchen after a full day of going door to door. When he announces he's quitting legal studies to concentrate on making a living for his family, Hazel throws up her hands and says, 'Well, I don't agree with it, but it's your decision, and I won't interfere.'

I'm kidding, of course! Instead, the master manipulator sets on a course that leads to Mr. B not only getting David enough commission to afford law school, but also paying his back rent, buying an upgraded room at the hotel...I may have missed something, but I'm pretty sure by the end of it all George is on the hook for the baby's future law school tuition. I admire David's work ethic and commitment to his family, but perhaps the real lesson here is it pays to have meddling friends with well-off employers.

The titular farmer of 'Quiet Sam,' an early Andy Griffith Show installment, also has a strong work ethic, tending his fields at night because he's running the house and doing the shopping while his expectant wife rests. The only problem is Sam (the late William Schallert), with his stoic concentration on the tasks at hand, arouses suspicion from the locals. And by 'the locals,' I mean Barney and Floyd.

Their suspicious nature causes a mix-up that ultimately ends in the glorious sight of Floyd, believing Andy is in danger at Sam's place; assembling a 'posse' I wouldn't trust to provide security for Bingo Night at the VFW. Lucky for Sam and his wife, they don't cause any real trouble, but unlucky for the prospective parents, the doc is out of town, meaning Sheriff Andy has to deliver the baby.

Andy concedes he's nervous, but as he tells his deputy, he's the only one to do it. Barney quickly agrees, likely realizing that on Mayberry's 'Emergency Child Delivery' depth chart, he outranks Opie and Otis. While the suddenly chatty Sam and Barney swap war stories, Andy does a masterful job of bringing the baby into the world off camera. We never see the mom--a clever strategy by the producers that reinforces the sense of desperate isolation from which Quiet Sam finally emerges to call Sheriff Taylor for help. It also enables the producers to save a few bucks by not hiring an actress.

Stay focused: At the beginning of Bewitched's 'And Then Were Three', Darrin is committed to getting wife Samantha to the hospital, and his focus is admirable. Tabatha is born without any complications as Sam arrives safely with plenty of time.

Unfortunately, Darrin is often focused on the wrong thing. Specifically, he frets about whether his offspring will be 'normal' or a witch. Psst, Darrin: Your wife just gave birth to your flesh and blood while you were puffing a pipe downstairs (It wasn't even his pipe!). Now would be a good time to say something like, 'I'll love our daughter more than anything, no matter how she turns out.'

Darrin's anti-magic attitude, troubling at best under ordinary circumstances, makes little sense here. I loved my kids just the way they were as soon as they entered the world, but if they could have made their own dirty diapers disappear by twitching their noses? Let's just say I wouldn't have complained.

The real highlight of this episode isn't Darrin's verbal missteps, but the exchanges between Agnes Moorehead as Endora and special guest Eve Arden as the protective nurse who cares for Samantha after the delivery. I'm not usually a fan of long-running series adding babies, but I would have gladly welcomed another Stephens child next season if it meant seeing Arden and Moorehead sparring again. It's nice to see someone stand up to Endora without resorting to Darrin's brand of Witch-ism.

Get in shape: We finish our survey of great expectant father moments in television history with a look at arguably the second-most famous birth of the era: that of Pebbles Flintstone in 'Dress Rehearsal,' AKA 'The Blessed Event.' Pebbles is the cutest newborn ever to grace the small screen. (Thank goodness she takes after her mother.)

But while Pebbles arrives without catastrophe, there are some Flintstones hijinks first. Fred proves his television father bona fides by going bonkers while waiting for Pebbles. To his credit, though, Fred does not go into this circumstance without solid prep work. As the episode opens, Fred pumps iron at a Bedrock gym—all the better to get in shape so he can walk the floor, he tells Barney. I am not sure if he means walking the infant to sleep around the house or just the standard nervous pacing in the waiting room, but either way, it's an excellent idea. After all, he'll need those legs to drive Wilma to the hospital on time.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about 'Dress Rehearsal' isn't Fred's panicking, which echoes the earlier I Love Lucy episode. It's not even the hilarious practice run he makes with Barney dressed as Wilma -- Rubble wore drag almost as often as Uncle Milty. The standout part of this episode is an odd abandoned gag.

An exchange with the charlatan trainer at the gym makes Fred go to the doctor's with a bottle of rubbing alcohol in his pocket. When the doc draws some of Fred's blood (the most strenuous thing I had to do when my firstborn was coming was choose which DVDs to pack for the hospital stay), he inadvertently collects the booze instead, and...nothing really happens except for a brief joke. The amazing thing is the bottle is visible in Fred's pocket through the scene -- the kind of attention to visual detail for which Hanna-Barbera TV animation is not known. You keep thinking it will pay off later, that Fred's sketchy test will get him booted from the hospital, but no, Fred is actually a fine (if jumpy) father.

'Dress Rehearsal' ends on a lovely, relatively subdued note as we see that while all the exercise helped Fred survive the pregnancy, the real work is done by Wilma, and the Flintstones meet their beautiful cooing baby. The moment we see Pebbles is an effective contrast to the chaos that fills the rest of the show. Perhaps the real lesson television provides expectant dads is this: As long as you can somehow hold it together enough to not interfere with the birth, the moms will reward you with miracles you'll enjoy for many Father's Days to come.

Rick Brooks is the proprietor of Cultureshark, a blog in which he uses an often irreverent approach to express his reverence for the classics and the un-classics.