America has a long tradition of sitcom dads, from The Brady Bunch to Modern Family, stoically solving crises within 30 minutes. But Alan Thicke, the Canadian actor who died Dec. 13 at 69, brought new energy to a familiar genre. As Dr. Jason Seaver, psychiatrist pop on ABC’s Growing Pains (1985–1992), he bore vanities unrelated to his kids–he was supportive but still at times pedantic, full of hot air and thus easily punctured. Later in life, Thicke’s ability to play with the dad archetype served him well on How I Met Your Mother (he had a recurring role as himself) and Unusually Thicke, a reality show about his family (featuring son Robin, the singer). Both roles introduced Thicke to new generations of viewers, who seemed to love “America’s dad” just as much as their parents did.
This appears in the December 26, 2016 issue of TIME.