À la Tolstoy, good fathers are good in similar ways. But every bad dad is bad in his own unique way.
Portrayals of dads in film are a study in the changing cultural expectations of men, and ideas of what masculinity should look like in a heteronormative relationship. Men are often presented as bumbling babysitters instead of caretakers — that onerous task nearly always falls on the mother.
The "bad" movie father is usually presented in one of three ways: violent and abusive, indifferent to the point of neglectful, or the detached workaholic in need of an enlightening journey. If you think back, the fathers in some of our favorite childhood movies like Elf, Star Wars, and Matilda all fit the three criteria one way or another.
The "good" fathers are also a bit caricatured, mostly in the way each expresses love. There's the overprotective and annoying dad, the action movie dad keeping his child safe, and the dad who does as much of the care taking as the mother. Think My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Taken, and Mrs. Doubtfire.
As more and more real men have become caregivers — a Pew study found there were almost 2 million stay-at-home dads in 2012 — the characterization of fathers has accordingly changed. Audiences no longer accept the inattentive dad who isn't sensitive to the needs of his kids. Especially if he also excuses himself from caregiving duties. This year's most criticized father, Tully's Drew (Ron Livingston), is shown as mostly working, playing video games, showing a complete lack of care for his wife's mental health, and doing only the minimal amount of caregiving. A soccer game and some math homework assistance does not an attentive father make.
But just a generation or two ago, Drew's minimal caregiving would have scored him high marks. Compare him to the father from 1998's Stepmom: Luke Harrison (Ed Harris) is not considered a bad father, yet he hands over all caregiving duties to his ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) and girlfriend (Julia Roberts).