For the second time ever, the TV show How I Met Your Mother made me cry. The most recent episode, “Legen-Daddy,” is about how Barney Stinson finally meets his dad. The only other episode to ever make me cry was when Barney’s brother, James, meets his dad (they have different fathers). These episodes have made me cry because I still have yet to meet my father.
Tonight’s tears weren’t as bad, though, I must admit that much. A few tears fell, but no tissues were used. But it isn’t always this way. In fact, I think I cry the most for the oddest of reasons; like when Hiccup’s father tells him he’s proud to call him his son in How to Train Your Dragon, I cried. I’ve never heard those words and so I cried. And when I finally learned the right way to shave, which was (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) the summer after my sophomore year of college, I cried then, too. You see, not having a father around to teach you the basics of how to be a man changes the way you grow up.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve cut myself frequently while shaving. And the embarrassment was twofold; first off, I had a mark on my face and second, that nick reflected how I had never really learned to shave. Of course, there have been other moments along the way which have also reflected things I was never taught because my father wasn’t there (like changing a tire or asking a girl out), but tonight’s moment of tears was brought about more so by the whole picture of life without a father.
In the episode (I suggest you watch it first – it’s Spring Break, you can afford the 25 minutes or so) Barney’s dad comes to his doorstep. Shortly after they meet up at McLaren’s Pub – the main bar they all usually go to – and his dad and him have that awkward conversation. The first depiction of the story we get is Barney’s dad being exactly like Barney; a womanizer who likes Scotch and frequently gives high-fives. But the real story is something quite different. Barney’s dad is lame.
I should really let you watch the episode because it shows it in a way that I never could, but what stood out to me tonight was Barney’s reaction to meeting his father. He wanted his dad to be cool all his life and when he finally realized he wasn’t, he made up a story to keep that cool-dad dream alive. Towards the end of the episode, Barney finally has the heart-to-heart talk with his dad that he needed. After finding out his dad had had another son and named that son after him (Jerry Jr.), something sort of snapped in Barney. He immediately left his dad’s house, went outside, and started trying to rip down the basketball hoop. He figured it was the last thing he could have from his father, since he didn’t have a childhood with him or his father’s name.
“You’re a lame, suburban dad… Why couldn’t you be that for me?”
That’s what Barney asked Jerry, his dad. And that’s where I started to feel the wound open up a little bit again. You see, having no idea who your father is or what he’s like, you begin to mythologize him a little bit. You begin to imagine him in a certain way with a certain tone of voice or whatever. You create the ideal dad, so to speak. And when Barney realized that the dad he actually had wasn’t anything near what he dreamed him up to be, he didn’t know how to react. I wouldn’t either. As odd as this may sound, I used to believe I had a white dad simply because everyone else in my family was white. I would daydream ceaselessly of me finally meeting him and getting to play catch with a baseball or something. And in every daydream, we were both white. Reality eventually hit, of course, when I really considered my brown skin in the mirror. Like Barney, I didn’t know how to depict my father as someone with brown skin. I didn’t know how to react to reality.
The line that really set the tears rolling, though, was the very last line of the episode, “A kid needs a hoop.” Barney had taken his father’s basketball hoop – the one set up for Jerry Jr. – and had brought it over to Ted’s new house. Ted mentioned early on that he wanted a basketball hoop for his kids, so Barney brought the hoop over and gave it to Ted. Ted, Marshall, Lily, and Robyn all were asking him how things went with his father, but he didn’t talk about it; he fought back tears as he said, “A kid needs a hoop,” and stared out the window, as if he was re-imagining the childhood he would have liked to have had with his own father, but didn’t.
It isn’t easy to open up about not knowing my dad beyond simply saying I never met him. Diving into those details is diving into the pain left by his absence. It isn’t fun and renders one an emotional wreck. But it’s needed. Barney, I think, eventually accepted the reality of his life situation; that he would never have that ideal childhood, so he brought the one relic of his painful past to the place of someone else’s hopeful future – Ted and his kids. This is the call of the fatherless generation; to redeem our painful memories by turning them into someone else’s hopeful futures – hopefully our own children. As far as I can see it, there is no one to blame for my father not being around; for all I know, my father’s father could have done the same to him. But what I do know is that I can break that cycle with my life and the legacy that I leave.
My children will not only know who there father is; they’ll hold his hand as he walks them into their first day of kindergarten; wave to him as they hop on for their first bus ride; and they’ll let him hug them and take as many embarrassing pictures as he can on their graduation day just because he’s their dorky dad.
They will have a full life with their dad.