Courtesy of NBC Meredith Baxter, Justine Bateman, Michael J. Fox, Michael Gross and Tina Yothers pose for this publicity still from the third season of "Family Ties." The show aired from 1982-1989 on NBC.

This weekend, we celebrate our nation's 243rd birthday. Google "Fourth of July TV episodes," and you'll see a list of shows featuring picnics, fireworks and parades.

But my favorite Independence Day-related TV episode doesn't feature any of those things and instead concentrates on the real reason we celebrate - our Declaration of Independence from England. Not only is it my favorite episode related to the Fourth, it's also my very favorite episode of one of my all-time favorite TV shows - the '80s classic, "Family Ties."

In the episode, appropriately titled "Philadelphia Story," Steven Keaton (the criminally underrated Michael Gross) is asked to testify before Congress about PBS funding. But Steven doesn't feel like he's up to the task. His son, Alex (Michael J. Fox), who is working on a college paper about the Declaration of Independence, tries to convince his dad to testify by telling him that Thomas Jefferson probably felt the same way when he was asked to write the Declaration, which would become one of the most important documents of all time. When Steven argues that he's not a great man like Jefferson, Alex tells him, "Great events make great men."

Later that night, Alex's dream transports him to Philadelphia on July 3, 1776, where he witnesses Jefferson (whom Alex envisions as looking like Steven) turning down the offer to write the Declaration using similar excuses as his father. Knowing the importance of Jefferson writing the document, Alex convinces him to accept the task.

Some of the funniest moments of the episode come as Alex tries to help Jefferson with the writing, encouraging him to use "self-evident" instead of "pretty darn clear" and convincing him to use the yellow crinkly paper instead of the regular. As Alex's dream continues, John Hancock (James Cromwell) reads the document to his fellow members of the Continental Congress the following day (July 4), and they are so impressed, they squabble over who should sign it first.

When Alex wakes up, Steven, echoing Jefferson's words, decides to testify before Congress, leaving Alex to wonder if his experience was more than just a dream.

The episode relives a significant part of American history through humor, but it also teaches us an important life lesson. Alex is right when he says that great events make great men (and women). So even though we may feel inadequate now, answering the door when opportunity knocks can make us who we aspire to be. We just can't be afraid to take the chance. It's a great message to ponder as we celebrate our freedom this weekend.

"Philadelphia Story," the 16th episode of season three of "Family Ties," can be streamed on Amazon Prime or CBS All Access.

Angela Henderson-Bentley writes about television for HD Media. Contact her at