While I’m more apt to watch "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" re-runs than I am to give a new show a chance, one dramedy I’ve been with since its beginning is "This Is Us" on NBC. The series revolves around the present-day lives of the three adult Pearson triplets, Kevin, Kate, and Randall, interspersed with flashbacks to their childhoods in the 1980s and 90s, growing up with doting parents Jack and Rebecca.
The biggest mystery that's been woven into the show’s plot since early in the first season, when older Rebecca shows up to Randall’s house with a different husband, is what happened to Jack Pearson. After quick flashes from the present day to Jack's 1998 funeral, fans clawed at their screens wondering how Jack passed away so young (presumably in his 50s.)
Finally, in Sunday night’s episode, the cause of Jack's death is revealed. Following a house fire in which the whole Pearson family escapes, the amount of smoke Jack inhaled proves fatal. While being treated for second-degree burns in the hospital, he unexpectedly goes into cardiac arrest and perishes from a “widowmaker’s” heart attack.
The line from the episode that I found so significant was when Rebecca returns from the hospital after the death to their friend Miguel’s house, where the kids are recovering (and have assumed their father is still alive). After breaking the news to a devastated Miguel outside, she orders him not to cry right now, and if he can’t, to take a walk around the block first, because she has to go inside and “ruin my kids’ lives.”
In an era of entertainment that preaches diversity of character and strong women over the prototypical father-figure or male superhero, this scene beautifully combines a mother’s parental instinct to be strong for her children in the face of tragedy with recognizing the importance of a family unit with two parents.
Starting with Al Bundy and Homer Simpson, the television cookie cutter has created silly, bumbling fathers on screen, while the mother is always the tough parent, the voice of reason. Through the series, Jack definitely has his flaws: he’s a twice-recovering alcoholic and he plays favorites, (especially with daughter Kate, tending to spoil her as daddy’s little girl because of his sympathy over her struggles with weight).
Through those moments, however, Jack has shown himself to be a patient and steadfast teacher for his children, telling his sons to own their choices in life. He gets angry over star high school quarterback Kevin’s disinterest in a recruiting visit from the Pittsburgh football coach, because of his ambitions to play at Notre Dame. He's constantly helping overly anxious student Randall to breathe and take his life one step at a time, and trying to help insecure Kate see herself as beautiful and talented, even if the world’s standards may not see her as such.
Thankfully, feminists haven’t penned too many patriarchy complaints about Jack. Instead, you should do a Twitter search for #ThisIsUs every Tuesday night from 9-10 p.m., and see the flood of tweets either showing attraction to Jack, or wishes that he were their husband or father.
It shows that there is a real desire for strong, fatherly role models in entertainment. For every TV show with a bumbling father, divorced parents, or other forms of broken families, there are still plenty who want the traditional American family on TV. Many see their own fathers in the chiseled, goateed face of Jack Pearson.
Neil Dwyer is a graduate of the University of Miami, a political and sports broadcaster, and a freelance writer.
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