NBC’s hit family drama “This Is Us” just ended its first season — to a chorus of strong emotional reactions. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it yet, I won’t go into what happened, but a lot of the show is about fatherhood, and that’s very appropriate for today, March 20, the Feast Day of St. Joseph.
Joseph, a simple but honorable carpenter in Nazareth, was the spouse of Mary. He not only had to take on the notion of a wife who became pregnant by supernatural means, but raising a child who was also the Son of God. Now, THAT’S a dad.
“This Is Us” looks at a family at two points in time: the past, when the young parents, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), are dealing with marriage and raising triplets, including an adopted child, taken in after one of the triplets dies at birth; and, in the present day, as the siblings (Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley) in their mid-30s, deal with dating, marriage, divorce, kids, etc.
We see Jack raising his own children, and then, after his death, his divorced friend Miguel (Jon Huertas), stepping in as a stepfather, with all the complications that brings.
In the present day, daughter Kate (Metz) has a lot of issues surrounding the loss of her father (she still watches football games with the urn containing his ashes). At the same time, adopted Randall (Brown) is in the middle of an emotional maelstrom with his birth father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), whom Randall just found, but who has been dying of cancer. Randall is also a loving father of two daughters himself, with patient wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson).
The show deals realistically with a lot of the challenges and joys of being a dad, but it offers a portrayal of fatherhood that’s much too rare in today’s entertainment. Today, many young men are reluctant to get married, let alone become fathers. And a lot of TV fathers — and real fathers — seem to be willing to do anything to get away from their wives and kids for a time.
But Jack, the son of an abusive father, has desperately wanted to be the dad he never had, and to be there for his children. He’s sacrificed for them, taken jobs he didn’t want, swallowed his pride to ask his father for money to get a home, and even sold his prized car.
As hard as he tries, Jack’s not perfect. There are some marital issues, there’s drinking, and there are times he’s working too much.
But in one episode, called “The Big Day” — a prequel that shows what led up to the triplets’ birth — which aired in January, Jack is out with Miguel and other friends at the golf course. There, the guys explain how golf is their escape, how it gets them away from their wives and families for “five blissful hours.”
Even though very pregnant Rebecca is a little nuts at the time, Jack doesn’t want to get away from her. He says, “I want to freeze time just so I can get a little more.”
The same episode featured firefighter Joe — seen briefly in the pilot — who brought the abandoned baby that would grow up to be Randall to the hospital, after he was left at the fire station. In “The Big Day,” the firefighter, who’s a sincere Catholic, confesses to his priest about the breakdown of his childless marriage.
Joe first brings the baby home to his wife, in hopes of salvaging the relationship, but she orders him to take the infant to the hospital. But later, when they talk again, the wife admits that his gesture touched her heart.
They reconnect with the love they felt at the beginning and go out with a coffee date.
And it doesn’t end in youth. Obstetrician Dr. Katowski, or Dr. K. (Gerald McRaney), reflects on picking up the pieces after the death of his wife. Years before, they lost a child, which inspires him to suggest that Jack and Rebecca adopt Randall. But first, he needs to tell his own worried children that he will grieve and move on at his own speed and in his own way.
Here’s the promo:
Life is complicated on “This Is Us,” just as it is in reality — the family is nominally Christian but not churchgoers, and there are some edgy elements — but one of the strongest messages that comes through is that fathers matter, fathers can love their families just as much as mothers do, and that, if we didn’t have good fathers, we aren’t necessarily doomed to repeat the mistakes.
With hope and faith, there’s always a choice to be better and do better.
That’s a message lots of fathers — and mothers — need to hear every single day. You can do this, and despite all the trials and heartbreaks, it’s worth it.
Image: Courtesy NBC