I've got someone in my network with parent clients where the father is having a hard time visualizing alternatives to his own toxic childhood experience. Can anyone think of some media examples (TV/movies/etc) that can help this man visualize what a kind, connected, engaged father might look like?
The most recent example I can think of is "Full House".
Sadly, for ideological reasons, modern entertainment industry in USA deliberately shows fathers in the worst possible light - either as "missing and not necessary or missed", or "not missing but better off if were missing", or "bumbling Al Bundy morons".
But I will second @GdD's assertion that a movie/TV role model won't be of much help anyway. The trouble usually is NOT in not knowing how you should behave, but in being able to follow the rules of how you think you want to behave in an actual parenting situation, where nerves are thin, patience is thinner, and rational thought is hard to come by.
The best advice I can give is something which seems rather silly but seems to work often - ask around on forums what the likely problematic scenarios will be that will arise, and play-act and rehearse your reactions to them, a LOT, so they are natural and reflexive.
(think of it as parenting katas, if you are into martial arts).
Good and recent examples where the father is present throughout? Good luck!
Having said that:
Bonanza comes to mind - though its been a really long time since I saw any of it and his kids are mostly adults. Growing pains, Cosby, Family ties, Full House and Brady bunch dads/uncles had it together most episodes (most of these dads are of course, not perfect, but making a really good effort and have shining moments).
A Little Princess (hallmark movie version shows the father relating very nicely at the beginning), Swiss Family Robinson, Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner (movie version) really highlights a father that is struggling through it and doing his very best to figure it out. The book is good too, but focuses a lot less on it.
I didn't watch 8 rules for dating my teenage daughter much but the 3 or 4 episodes I did see while John Ritter was still alive, seemed pretty heart felt and like they demonstrated a pretty tuned in dad.
Mathew Cuthbert as a surrogate father to Anne in the whole series about Anne of Green Gables.
My husband just finished reading the Clementine Series with Alice and said that the father figure in those books was someone he'd like to model his own parenting style after more.
Little House on the Prairie "is based on decades-old memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood in the Midwest region of the United States during the late 19th century" (Wikipedia). This series shows a father with a very caring attitude.
So Little house was added and I think that was what I needed to see to round out the whole thing.
On another note, I have an adopted brother that was pretty badly abused until he came to us at 16. I am also married to a man that was emotionally and verbally abused by his father even at the beginning of our marriage. For both of them just the fact that they wanted to be different (and having my Dad to speak with and have as a role model) made enough of a difference. My brother wound up with full custody of all three of his girls when the marriage his marriage fell apart (I really don't know the details nor do they belong on this forum). While my husband still makes mistakes - so do I, and our girl is well loved, respected and cared for.
A change is hard, but can be made with the desire and the help so I'm sure this person is already well down the path just recognizing that he needs to do things differently. He has also sought help and while role models from the media can provide examples, I'm sure with the help and support you are offering, his desire and hard work he will find success.
As a father dealing with the same issue I can tell you that there's no TV or movie that's really going to help with that situation. I also sympathize with his situation. Before my first child was born I was concerned that the lack of good role models was going to hurt my ability to be a good parent, and I looked all around in books, TV, movies, etc for inspiration. On the TV and movie front I found every show with good parents in it was useless because the situations shown in them weren't real. A TV show that had half an hour of a child throwing a tantrum wouldn't get many viewers. Plus, seeing someone on TV be patient in a situation doesn't help oneself be patient in a similar situation, being patient is a skill that must be developed, it's not something you can switch on!
I ended up building a picture of the type of father I wanted to be by taking the negatives I experienced and flipping them. Where I got yelled at I would be calm and measured, where I was treated unkindly I would be kind. I visualized how I wanted to be and decided to work to that.
You know what actually happened? I found that it was the fact that I wanted to be a loving, caring parent went most of the way to helping me to be that father, rather than visualizing or looking at media. The rest is just tactics and learning from the many mistakes you make.
Modern Family is as close as it gets to a my own clan (of family and close friends) as I've ever seen on TV. They give each other crap, they say and do things that irritate, anger, entertain, etc, but underneath it all is the family bond. All the crap that happens between the people is really on a completely different level than the family unit.
I almost made this just a comment to the OP but i wanted to add something: in addition to media, whether entertaining or educational, it's not going to hurt for him to talk to someone. But it's not about sitting down with a counselor and talking about his childhood, from what you say, working on that is not the goal here. Talking with a professional about the specifics of setting aside the memories of his childhood for the benefit of his own children will be a challenge to stay focused. I'm no pro, but I'll bet that group interactions on the subj would be great.