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The dads on TV are apologizing to their daughters. They admit to being lousy dads. They stand there and cop to everything they did wrong, ever; they say things like: “I’m sorry I was never there for you,” or: “I know I’ve been a shitty dad,” or: I’m sorry that I wasn’t there before, I want to be there now.”

The dads on TV tell their TV daughters: “I’m sorry that I missed every birthday, every graduation, every important time in your life when I should have been there. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me and I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness but I am going to try from now on,” and so on and so forth and their daughters hug them and give them another chance because at least they care enough to show up and say these things—at least they admit they were shitty.

The TV daughters are pretty and have perfect hair and toned bodies and when they cry their makeup doesn’t run. When they say things to their dads they don’t scream, they patiently spell things out for them. They always have one important anecdote ready to throw in the TV dads’ faces; such as “Remember the time you forgot to pick me up from school and I caught a cold waiting for you out in the rain?” And then the TV dads hang their heads and say “I’m sorry” and then break out more apologies—“I hope you can give me another chance,” they say, and you can tell they mean it, at least in the moment, you can believe there is hope. They do things too, to show that they care, they show up for graduations and birthdays, they bring their TV daughters gifts, small items, proof that they care. A new notebook for the TV daughter that always loved to draw. An old piece of jewelry that belonged to the TV daughter’s grandma. A small but important token, a meaningful shorthand.

The dads on TV are apologizing because they are fictional. In real life dads don’t apologize or feel sorry, or try to make amends. In real life dads say things like “Hey how’s it going? Anything new?” after they haven’t called you in, like a year. Or they say “Let’s do dinner one of these days,” after you tell them you’ve been having a difficult time because your best friend is dying, and then the dads say “Hm, that’s a shame,” and then never call you back to follow up and months later send you texts like “Why aren’t you answering your phone?” and “How long will you be mad at me? Haven’t you punished me enough?” and “I called you on your birthday, you must have had your phone off, I really called you.”

On TV dads figure things out; in real life they refuse to, even when you spell it out for them and you say “You were a lousy dad and you were never there for me and you don’t know the first thing about me.” In real life the dads never change because they are more fake at parenthood than their fictional counterparts—and finally, the daughters are done pretending.