Regardless of Jack’s gruff personality, there were several episodes that gave viewers a peek at the man inside that tough outer shell.
John “Jack” Arnold, played by Dan Lauria, was the no-nonsense patriarch of the Arnold Family on the hit series The Wonder Years. Jack was a sometimes grouchy, Korean War veteran with a strong work ethic, doing his best to provide for his family in the late 1960s.
Jack was a hard man to know, rarely expressing any emotion aside from the occasional angry outburst – usually aimed at his kids. Regardless of Jack’s gruff personality, there were several episodes throughout the series that gave viewers a peek at the man inside that tough outer shell. Here are the 10 Best Jack Arnold Episodes.
Jack suggests he and Kevin build a treehouse after Norma tells them to spend more time together. Neither of the men seems thrilled but doesn’t want to disappoint the woman of the house.
Things are going smoothly for the father and son until the voluptuous neighbor next door catches their eye. She is a beautiful woman who does her gardening in a revealing tank top that leaves nothing to the imagination. The Arnold men pretend not to notice but have a hard time focusing on anything else. A treehouse visit from Norma prompts a flustered Jack to tell Kevin he is a little too old for a treehouse.
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
The family helps Karen move out of her college dorm and into an off-campus house. Jack blows a gasket upon learning she will be sharing the home with her boyfriend Michael and demands she move back to the dorms. Karen refuses, telling her father she has to live her own life and he heads home angry.
Later that night Norma finds Jack in the basement checking on some previously done repairs. He’s found a crack in the foundation of the home he’s built and tells Norma he thought he’d done a good job. She’s not sure if he’s talking about the house or something deeper but answers just the same, “You did the best you could.”
SCENES FROM A WEDDING
The daughter of Jack’s boss is getting married and the Arnold family is invited to the wedding. No one is thrilled to be going but do so regardless. At the reception, things go downhill.
Wayne is given the cold shoulder by the bride and later insinuates they slept together. Kevin is trying to woo a girl he meets but has a little too much to drink and throws up on her. It is Jack however who makes the day a memorable one. His boss constantly flirts with Norma. Jack puts up with it for a while but toward the end of the reception he finally confronts his superior telling him, “If you don’t take your arm off my wife I’ll break it off.”
While struggling to pass his SATs, Wayne decides to join the army along with his buddy Wart. The year is 1972 and the Vietnam War is still raging so this decision terrifies the Arnold family, especially Jack who is a Korean War veteran.
Jack meets his son outside a medical facility where a heartbroken Wayne informs him he won’t be enlisting because he failed his physical due to his psoriasis. A relieved Jack comforts his depressed son as Kevin watches from afar. Later on, his buddy Wart heads to Vietnam.
McKinley High School is caught up in basketball fever. The team is having a great season thanks to its star player Bobby Riddle, played by a young Jim Caviezel. Jack stresses to Kevin to remember where his priorities are and concentrate on his schoolwork rather than basketball.
The team makes it to the championship and Jack decides to tag along with Kevin to see what all the fuss is about. As the game progresses, Kevin becomes annoyed at his father’s constant basketball commentary and opinions. Unfortunately, the team loses so Kevin attempts to cheer up Bobby, who he idolizes. With Jack watching from the stands, Bobby tells Kevin to get lost. Later on, while eating at a diner, Jack tells his embarrassed son not to think too harshly of Bobby since it’s hard being a hero. Kevin finally realizes the real hero is sitting across from him.
POTTERY WILL GET YOU NOWHERE
Norma decides to take a pottery class and Jack is not thrilled. She is upset that her husband is not being supportive and the couple has a big fight in front of the kids.
The next day, the awkward tension is interrupted when Norma cuts her hand while doing housework. As she cries over the kitchen sink, Jack tenderly wraps his arms around her from behind, making sure she is alright. He comforts her and they kiss passionately.
Jack is barely in this season four episode, but his brief scene turns out to be one of his best. Kevin talks Paul into throwing a party with hopes of rekindling his romance with Winnie, but is crushed to find out she’s bringing her new boyfriend. In an attempt to make Winnie jealous, Kevin invites Madeline as his date. At the party, Kevin hurts Winnie’s feelings after telling her she meant nothing to him while Madeline is fed up after being used.
Kevin returns home depressed and looks to have some alone time in the garage but finds his dad trying to repair the lawnmower. Jack, sensing his son is upset, asks about Winnie. Kevin admits things between them are pretty much over and asks if they can go inside. But he doesn’t make it inside, instead collapsing into his father’s arms. Jack does his best to comfort his son telling him to just hang in there.
THE TIES THAT BIND
Jack gets a promotion at work which means a nice bump in pay, but requires some traveling. The good news comes during the holiday season when money is tight. Reality sets in on Thanksgiving Day when Jack is unable to make it home. The big empty chair at the dinner table casts a dark cloud over the meal as the family realizes the extra money is not worth it without the big guy around.
At the last minute, Jack’s flight is diverted and he can meet the family at the airport. As he steps off the plane, Norma runs to his open arms. They embrace and share a passionate kiss as the kids realize how hard the time apart must be for the long-married couple.
Tension is brewing between Jack and his daughter as Karen approaches her 18th birthday. He is having a hard time accepting her liberal way of thinking while she feels it’s time he starts treating her like an adult.
Things come to a head at her birthday party when Karen informs Jack she may not go to college after graduation. She blows out her candles and is prepared to leave the house friends but opens one last gift – from her dad. He gives her his old “kit bag” from his time in the Marines. Jack tells her he used it a lot in his travels and she can do the same. Karen’s mood has softened and she is touched by the gift. Before going to bed, Jack turns the porch light on for his daughter.
MY FATHER’S OFFICE
Kevin is curious about what his dad does at work and why he always comes home in a bad mood. With encouragement from Norma, Jack agrees to bring Kevin to work with him at NORCOM so he can learn a little more about his father.
Jack tries his best to teach his son about his job as a distribution manager but is constantly distracted by his duties. During a coffee break, Jack confesses that he once had dreams of captaining a ship and using only the stars for navigation, but sometimes life has other plans. After seeing his father get chewed out by his boss, Kevin realizes why he often comes home grumpy and is now aware of the sacrifices Jack has made for his family.