I am not alone when I say that This Is Us is one of the best shows on television. Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, and Justin Hartley win you over with their ensemble acting, but the real credit goes to creator and writer Dan Fogelman. Fresh, taut, raw, honest, This Is Us really is part of us.
There will always be shows where people see themselves reflected back in the storylines. Maybe they relate to a character or they share a similar life experience. It’s only natural to connect with a show that thrives on the human condition. This show, though, DAMN! It oozes catharsis, and the bond I feel for the Pearson family is beyond ridiculous.
Their story is my story and my story is their story. My family also had a father who was an addict, my parents had three children (the “Big 3”), and all of us struggle with our father’s tragic death, albeit from an overdose, not a house fire.
Kate is one of the Pearson Big 3. The younger of the surviving Pearson triplets (the third child died in labor), she was always “daddy’s girl”. It didn’t matter what she looked like, how well she sang, or if she skipped school, her dad put her up on a pedestal. In his eyes, she could do no wrong and she thrived on the attention. Of course, she has her issues too. She has a complex about her weight, especially with model-thin Mandy Moore as her mom, and in the aftermath of her father’s passing, she puts the blame squarely on her own shoulders. “If only” is Kate’s unfortunate life motto. It’s time for Kate to put her guilt aside, to heal, and to chase her dreams.
My sister is Kate. A bit overweight when she was younger (she still thinks she is but she is perfect in my eyes), a girl with a stunning singing voice, she was the apple of my father’s eye. She was the one who would do anything for him even when the rest of us were fed up or overwhelmed by his addiction. She mourns him every day and has a hard time moving forward. She never did chase that dream of being the next American Idol, too busy burning the candle at both ends to keep food on the table, but as her kids got older, she went back to school to get a degree in social work. By helping other families deal with addiction, she will hopefully find her own way to heal.
Kevin is the oldest of the surviving Pearson triplets but acts much like the baby. He relies on his sister to pull him through the tough times, and he has most things handed to him on a silver platter. Much like his father, he is the charmer of the family. Being good looking doesn’t hurt either. As an actor on a popular TV show, he literally plays the part of the guy who has it all going for him. He has money, fame, and love. The problem is he never really deals with the death of his father. Knowing he treated his father harshly in those final days, his guilt brings him into a dark place. He pulls away from his family and things fall apart.
Then there’s my brother Dennis. He’s not an actor and he’s not famous, but he is good looking and he is the baby of the family, i.e., my parents doted on him (even though he never saw it, he got away with EVERYTHING). He is a tough bird. Following in my dad’s footsteps, he worked side by side with him in roofing and construction for years. Dennis was the one to sass talk my dad when he fell off the wagon, the one to call him out on his behavior. He didn’t see that my dad was looking for help because he was blinded by the pain of what our father’s addiction did to our family. Now he grieves the loss and struggles to get his own life on track.
Randall is the odd man out and not just for the color of his skin. Literally adopted as the third member of the Big 3, he is not flesh of their flesh or bone of their bone, but he is a Pearson all the same. He distracts himself from the struggles he had growing up by trying to build what he thinks is a perfect life— marriage, two kids, a high-paying job, a big house. Problem is, when he gets there, it’s not what he wanted after all. Only after a breakdown does he realize he has to stop being a perfectionist and finally do what it is he really loves. To do that, first, he has to make amends with the past.
Minus the adoption, that is pretty much me in a nutshell. I pushed myself and I pushed myself hard, anything to remove the stain that was my father’s addiction. The first to go to college, I became a doctor. I got married, had two kids, and bought a nice house. Problem was, despite my best efforts, I was not happy. The administrative burden of clinical medicine burned me out, and when my dad died, I left too many regrets on the table. So I started over. Now I work part-time from home as an advocate for patients, spend more time with my family, and have that much needed personal time to chase my passion for writing. As I work through the loss, I am finding a better balance. It’s what my dad would have wanted.
We all have stories, we all suffer loss, we all have regrets, we all somehow or other get by. It is comforting to know we are not alone. If you need more This Is Us fodder for Season 3, Dan Fogelman, give me a call.