I am told I shouldn’t watch Dan Fogelman’s “This Is Us” on NBC because it turns me into a tearing soppy mess. Granted, to be honest, I am a sap when it comes to a lot of filmed stuff. I cry during LOTR and the Hobbit series, during Harry Potter, during Star Wars, during Wal-e and many of the the Pixar shorts (Piper being the latest), and shitty Meg Ryan/Nora Ephron flicks and so on.
Being a sap is something I am completely ok with. As much as my significant other gives me a hard time about pooling over in my own tears during the show it’s just me being who I am. And, I think they appreciate that show of emotion and vulnerability too.
We’ve only really briefly spoken about why the show touches me the way it does. There’s probably a thousand reasons why the show touches me to be honest. In part, it’s portrayal of the complexities of the family and social dynamics during the late 70s and 80s is striking considering my own recollections of the era growing up myself.
Moreso, what makes me cry is the dad, Jack Pearson. There’s a lot of reasons he stands out to me.
First, he’s portrayed in a way that most dads are not from that era — hell most dads of any era even now. Sure, he’s the breadwinner cliche. Sure, he’s the catalyst for the family’s decisions cliche. Sure, he’s playing the paternal role opposite Rebecca’s sacrifices, expectations, beliefs and matriarchal decisions.
But, he’s also given this much more sensible and softer side.
The story talks about the difficulty of his decisions to balance his career and his family which is something rarely breached for male role models. He struggles with his individual goals and aspirations, how he defined them by his family and then how he’s forced to compromise them for the betterment of his family. There are episodes dealing with how he bonds with both the complexities of his daughter’s relationship with the girls around her. There’s time with each of his boys, taking him away from being the “daddy’s girl father” approach and yet it’s not a “boys will be boys” thing either as you watch the struggles with both and how they fit into the world around them and how he’s both trying to guide them while learning on-the-fly for himself how it could work – especially considering the underlying racial tension that having two boys in that era holds. There’s an inside look at how he views the difficulty of the relationship with his wife trying to raise “triplets” and what that does to their expectations, communication, intimacy, family and social bonds, and more. And, in all of that, he’s been ever so much more than the cliche.
I’d like to think, so far, he’s been through some of the decisions I have gone through and come up with a lot of the same results as a father and a husband, and in a lot of ways the kind of father and husband I want to be and in the show’s approach present ways I can learn from in both the successes and failures of the character in my own continuing analysis of myself.
We only see him in the flashback parts of the show so it’s impossible to say that what they’ve portrayed is without larger character flaws than have been demonstrated so far. But what they’ve shown is a much more introspective man than typically is given to either drama or comedy dads and his approach to being a dad, even with it’s retrospective flaws dissecting the episodes, is a hugely unique version of being a parent.
That’s a big part of why I cry when I watch the show. As much as there’s some kind of masculine idea being an emotionless rock it’s never been what I felt comfortable with. I tried that at points during high school and college and not only was I unsuccessful at pretending but I often felt conflicted doing it, especially when I it garnered a lot of teasing and criticism. I discovered during my estrangement and divorce that expressing the full range of my emotions was who I really was and for better, or worse, I did it more freely. Those who could accept it became some of my closest confidants and helped push me to become who I am today.
As I watch the show, and Jack Pearson’s character’s portrayal in dealing with all the aspects of life they are willing to share about him. He struggles with defining himself till his approaching middle age (36) when he hits a turning point where he realizes he not needs to but more adeptly strongly desires to settle down and start a family. In the process he comes to terms with his vice(s) like alcohol, his career and the reality of what can be accomplished, the complexities of family life and how it affects his relationship with his wife and each child, and his own self realization about who he really is…
It is this in why I cry. I can empathize. Not because my life is necessarily anything like his but because I can understand at each decision point. Each time they flash back to him making decisions and we see what each eventually result it creates I am constantly reminded of the line I am so fond of telling others, “there’s no right or wrong, just the choice you make and the consequences that come with it.
I can only hope to be the kind of influence on my padawan the way they so far are showing him with his three children. I can only hope to be the husband he tries to be as well. I can only hope to come to the results his actions appear to have provided for his family. While their currently lives are anything but perfect, and we have no idea what things he’s done in the undisclosed intrirm, who he is is so far pretty inspirational to not be the typical TV dad who is a flat stereotype of either a patriarchal asshole or a comedic (sideman) with few real fatherly traits.
While I will concede there are a lot of “men” on TV presenting many, many variations of what it “means” to be a man and that Jack Pearson is likely not the perfect version of it (actually, his imperfections are kind of the attraction thus far). He seems to have deep, lasting, mostly positive impacts on his children and although we don’t know the reason why his wife is now married to his ‘best friend’ in current day he seems to have a resounding positive impact on his wife as well through their struggles.
It’s something I aspire to without the show, but seeing it cast with all it’s fictitious reality is something that resonates with me. Maybe it’s not “giving me hope” but it’s at least demonstrating to me as a father, a husband and not the original “cliches” of being a “man” that there is a reminder there are many ways to be each