Long before he was known as Robin Thicke’s father, Alan Thicke was famous for personifying the World’s Coolest Dad, Dr. Jason Seaver, on Growing Pains. Those of us who grew up in the sitcom heydays of the 1980s know all too well that there was an abundance of honorable TV dads to look up to — but my heart always belonged to just two. And since the memory of Cliff Huxtable has sadly now been ruined for us all, Jason Seaver will forever remain the embodiment of the “good dad” for me.
Growing Pains first aired in 1985, the same year I migrated to the United States. I was 6 years old at the time and the culture shock left me speechless — literally. I stopped speaking altogether, just long enough to fail 1st grade. That’s right: Failed.
Needless to say, that was a huge deal in my little 6-year-old world. Looking back, it was most likely caused by the intimidation of speaking words my tongue couldn’t yet master, but whatever the case, I flunked first grade. And while I have very few memories from those days, I can still to this day vividly recall the first time I saw the opening credits for Growing Pains.
“As Long As We’ve Got Each Other” may just be the catchiest theme song of all time — and it had me hooked from the very first bar. I can still hear it replay in my mind; just as I still remember the way the opening sequence changed by Season Two, when childhood photos of each cast member flashed across our screen. There were photos of Kirk Cameron as an awkward pre-teen; Joanna Kerns as a mom-to-be, pregnant with her own daughter; and of course, there was Alan Thicke — as a young boy in grade school, and later as a teen.
Those photos soon became an iconic part of my own childhood memories.
My induction into becoming an American was heavily influenced by watching television that first year. Growing Pains epitomized what a wholesome American should be and allowed me to take comfort during a tumultuous transition. And sweater vest-wearing Jason Seaver — the always gentle and wise patriarch — became my absolute favorite. During the years I spent watching the Seavers from my living room, my own parents endured a long-distance relationship, as my dad worked in Saudi Arabia and my mother raised her four children in urban Chicago. This went on for my first eight years in America.
This all made me much more anxious than my siblings and I was often terrified that my mom would die and we would have no one. I had a great relationship with my father when he did visit — twice a year, for two weeks at a time — but when he wasn’t there, the absence of a protective father gnawed at me. My dad and I wrote to each other constantly, but sometimes it took weeks for the letters to arrive and when they did, they were always redundant.
As hard as I tried, you simply cannot live your life with someone who is 6,900 miles away. And so, I found solace in my sitcom dad.
So maybe it’s no wonder why I was enamored by Alan Thicke’s character — a devoted work-from-home dad (a rare thing in those days) who was always around to help his four kids solve their problems. While my older sister plastered Teen Beat magazine photos of Kirk Cameron across our bedroom walls, I had a magazine cutout of the entire family.
When I heard the news yesterday that Alan Thicke had passed away at the age of 69, I was shocked and saddened, to say the least. And then my mind immediately flashed to one of my favorite episodes of Growing Pains, when Kirk Cameron’s character Mike missed curfew and came home late. Jason responded with such calm humor that it allowed Mike to confide in his dad as a friend. It seemed very ambitious, even at such a young age, to imagine my parents having a similar cultural understanding because already, our childhood experiences had diverged into such different worlds. That episode stuck with me because of the empathy Alan Thicke displayed.
Because it wasn’t something that had been a real threat in their world, it never occurred to my parents to discuss drugs with me. They were just terrified that we would eat pork and educated us extensively on it. (We’re Muslim.) But now if I were ever offered cocaine, I knew what to do, thanks to Dr. Seaver.
Dr. Seaver was — and always will be, to many of us — the coolest, friendliest dad that ever graced our living rooms. And it’s clear that it wasn’t just his character. To those who knew him best, Alan Thicke really was the coolest. We hear it again and again in the tributes that have come in the last 24 hours alone.
On Instagram yesterday, his son Robin shared a heartfelt message with fans. “He was the best man I ever knew,” he wrote. “The best friend I ever had.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, who got his start on Growing Pains, also released a statement about Alan on Facebook today, sharing:
“Alan was a devoted father, husband, friend and role model. He knew how to harness the power of the entertainment industry to be a positive influence in so many lives — including mine. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I had to work with Alan early in my career. He had tremendous class, a huge heart, and he taught me and so many others the valuable lessons about humility and gratitude. I’ve seen him a number of times over the years and when Alan Thicke walked in the room, quite frankly, no one was cooler. I miss him already.”
No one ever really tells you that one of the saddest parts about getting older is having to endure the deaths of the people you grew up watching. The ones you grew up idolizing.
Rest in peace, Alan Thicke — and thank you for the childhood memories.