What ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Can Teach Us About Parenthood

I blame my sons for my Bob’s Burgers addiction.

I had ignored the Fox show about a blue-collar dad and his burger joint for years. Then my children found it on Netflix.

The animated show isn’t just good for a couple of big laughs per episode. Like the best TV programs, it’s got essential truths baked into its DNA (even if my boys don’t sass me quite as much as Bob’s kids do—yet).

The story is hopelessly simple. Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) runs a burger restaurant along with his wife and three precocious kids. His beloved Linda (John Roberts) is the nagging voice of reason. Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Louise (Kristen Schaal) provide most of the comedy hijinks.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better vocal cast in any animated show.

The business teeters on the edge of collapse every season. It’s only through Bob’s dedication, and the quirky support of its regulars, that it stays open.

As a father, I can’t help but learn a thing or two while watching those Netflix reruns. For starters, failure isn’t just an option; it’s part of everyday life. The restaurant gets shuttered at least once a season, it seems. The bills overwhelm. Disaster strikes with alarming regularity.

And yet, Bob refuses to quit. He’s the quintessential entrepreneur. In one episode, he wakes up in a cold sweat after dreaming he was an office worker rotting away in cubicle hell.

He’d rather fail with his restaurant than live a life that doesn’t suit him. That makes him a hero in my book. He’s also sending a powerful message to his children: Follow your dreams. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it.

Bob’s role modeling as a parent isn’t always on target. He tries to be a good father but misses the mark early and often. His punishments don’t necessarily work, nor do his attempts to teach his children the essentials about running a store.

But this, too, sends a message: Dads aren’t supermen. We’re just like everyone else, trying to do the right thing while juggling a dozen chores a day. When Bob occasionally stares down a local bully, be it his landlord or the health inspector, he loses nine times out of ten. You can see the fatigue in Bob’s receding hairline and expansive waist.

In other words, Bob is a complicated but real human being. He can’t conquer his jealousy of neighboring restauranteur Jimmy Pesto. He’s ultra-sensitive to his critics. He can’t realize when he’s being stubborn, which is once every three episodes. He’s flawed. Just like me. Yet he’s comfortable in his own skin. That’s something every father should aspire to be. Don’t we take enough abuse from the outside world?

What Bob tries to do, even if his efforts prove futile, is instill a sense of tradition into his family. Consider his enthusiastic love for Thanksgiving day pageantry. Sure, it usually spells disaster for the family, but Bob simply wants to give his children something tangible they can pass along to their children someday.

The Belchers’ marriage isn’t the kind you read about in romance novels. He’s not particularly careful about his appearance. Linda sometimes forgets her husband needs an outlet for his frustrations.

Together, they make the sacrifices necessary to keep the restaurant open. It’s the best decision for the whole family, which lives above the restaurant. In an age when nuclear families feel like the exception, not the rule, their togetherness is more than welcome.

Bob’s Burgers connects in a similar way The Simpsons first did so many years ago. We’ve had enough of perfect families who fix all their problems in under thirty minutes

This father appreciates a show where problems can’t be resolved with cloying, heart-to-heart speeches or hackneyed “wins.” It’s just like life—if life was set to the tune of an organ that makes flatulence sounds on command.


  • Jon Camp

    My wife really likes this show, but the bits I’ve seen just haven’t hooked me. I might have to try starting from the beginning perhaps.

    • notthatGreg

      There’s an episode in either the first of second season where, in the middle of a crisis, Bob cries out “I’m literally grasping at straws!” That and the town’s landlord (voiced by Kevin Kline) were enough for me. I also enjoy the puns in the opening credits, but that may not be enough of a hook for you.