Every week facial tissue makers (Kleenex and others) across the globe see a surge in purchases due to “ugly crying” by the end of every episode of NBC’s This Is Us. This Is Us stars Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan, and Ron Cephas Jones. It is the story of three individuals who share the same birthday and experience life in ways that is common or similar to the way the world experiences life. One theme that is continually woven through the show from start to finish is the importance of fathers.
24 million children in America live without their biological father in their home. That is 1 out of 3 children who experience fatherlessness. There is a wealth of statistics that indicate the likelihood of adversity for children who live without fathers. NBC’s This Is Us beautifully captures the hardship children experience without fathers, yet captures even more so how children THRIVE when fathers (even non-biological) fathers are present in children’s lives.
The first few scenes of the first episode show Jack’s wife Rebecca, pregnant with triplets, looking like she’s ready to drop them on the floor any moment, yet she is celebrating Jack’s birthday. Without giving away too many spoilers, we discover the heart-wrenching pain Jack endures as his wife delivers three babies through an extremely high-risk pregnancy.
In another scene we discover another father, William, who is a drug addict and new father of a baby boy whose mother died during child birth. William, trapped in his addiction and in no place to be a father, makes one of the best decisions of his life and gives his son up for adoption. We later follow the story of William’s son and how he adjusts to life in an adopted family and his adjustments to life in a blended racial family.
Fast forward 20-something years and the This Is Us story chronicles the lives of three siblings: Kevin, Kate, and Randall Pearson. It is noticeable that every member of the Pearson immediate family is present except for the siblings’ father, Jack. It is later discovered Jack is deceased from an unknown reason and at an unknown time. The viewers speculate for the remainder of the first season the cause of Jack’s death. Knowing the reason for Jack’s death becomes important because of how significant Jack’s life was to his wife and to his children, and everyone watching the show becomes invested in knowing what happens.
You learn about Jack’s life through a series of flashbacks, stories, and memories by each of the three children.
In one of the scenes of Season 1 Episode 13 we follow Kate as she reflects on her current life struggles and how this has been a struggle most of her life and she lands on memories of her father. We see through Kate’s eyes the chilling feelings of loneliness and isolation related to feeling different and being bullied. We also see that despite these feelings of despair Kate was able to rise above and was able to smile again…because of her father.
We witness Jack being incredibly present and available to his daughter, who was experiencing a very depressing situation…on her birthday, nonetheless. What is noticeable is that while her heart may have been broken, her father was right there with her helping her rediscover how amazing and beautiful she is, despite what others thought or said. Jack’s words to his daughter of “Strike a pose” was able to transcend over the negative self-talk Kate was experiencing in that moment. Such a powerful moment and memory in Kate’s life transitioned to the memory of her father’s funeral…a sobering reminder to Kate (and all the viewers) that Jack’s life – his physical presence – was no longer available to Kate.
In flashbacks we discover Kevin and Randall shared a bedroom the majority of their childhood until the cohabitation became combatant for the two and Kevin moved out into the basement. Randall’s differences from his brother became more and more apparent during this time of their life, to the point of the two siblings competing on rival football teams. Kevin’s jealousy at how their parents treated Randall was seen increasingly during flashbacks from this time period of their lives.
Even so, it is Kevin’s compassion towards his brother in the present that grabs your heart and makes you sob uncontrollably! In the present, Kevin knew his brother was experiencing an anxiety attack and Kevin sacrificed his own career and ambition to help his brother through this crisis. Why? Kevin stated it was what his father would do. What an amazing tribute to their father who taught his children, by example, how to be compassionate, sensitive, and selfless and to do whatever it takes to help your family.
Randall loves his father, Jack, but has searched all his life for meaning, purpose, and identification. Anyone who has experienced abandonment by a biological father can relate to the struggle and earnest quest in which Randall has embarked. Randall found his biological father and developed a relationship with him and received answers to many of the burning questions he had all of his life…even those he never knew he had. Even though their time together was short lived, Randall made the most of each breath he had with his biological father and reminded the world how precious life us, but most importantly, how precious are the lives of fathers.
Randall finds his own way and honors the life and legacy of his biological father by staying true to himself and focusing on things that matter and are important. Randall describes a dream to his sister where he dreams of both of his fathers sitting together talking about Randall. The scene captures so much emotion for anyone who has a father, has lost a father, or who never had a consistent father. What an honor to have had two amazing fathers in his lifetime.
This Is Us takes a renewed approach to encouraging fathers to be present in their children’s lives. Rather than focusing on statistics like children who are raised without a biological father are 4 times at great risk for poverty, or that children who are raised without biological fathers present in their lives are at greater risk for neglect and abuse than those whose fathers are present. While those statistics are a sobering reality of a present epidemic in America, This Is Us focuses on the tangible benefits of fathers who have been present.
This Is Us appeals to anyone on the whose lives are influenced to the presence or absence of a father because it highlights how amazing fathers are, when they are present in their children’s lives. This Is Us shows that fathers aren’t perfect, they don’t have all the answers, and they are extremely flawed. It also shows that fathers have the power to change their children’s lives…the type of change the fathers have on their children’s lives is up to the fathers.
The child who never experienced an amazing father is given hope that amazing fathers do exist, even if one never existed in their childhood. It also challenges men who are fathers to do whatever it takes to be amazing in their own lives and in the lives of their children. It even shows the power of second chances for those fathers who, for whatever reason, were not present in their child’s life but can still be present if they choose to be present.