By JORDAN ECARMA
In 2016, I’ve found myself making a decision I didn’t think I’d ever make.
I feel a little weird about it, almost guilty—as if I’m betraying a trust with people I don’t actually know, going back on deeply held convictions.
I’ve been rewatching “How I Met Your Mother” all the way through.
I loved the show and watched the first few seasons enough times for them to be comfort food TV before the finale left me (and plenty of other fans) feeling stabbed in the back. But as it turns out, the show’s unique blend of real-world cynicism and wide-eyed idealism was exactly what I needed in 2016.
And I've been rewarded with new insights on these familiar characters with this viewing. I’m not sure why it took me this long to notice the show’s ultimate twist, but I finally realized that “How I Met Your Mother” has a core structure in spite of its seemingly meandering storytelling: It’s all about dads. Nope, not the mother of the title (who doesn’t make an appearance until the final season), but dads.
(Spoilers ahead. It’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse.)
All five of the main HIMYM characters have some sort of complex relationship with their dads that helps to define who they are. Yes, moms play a role as well, but they don't figure as largely or leave their mark to such devastating effect.
Of the five, Marshall lucked out with the best dad of the lot: a warm, caring, generous father who spent plenty of time with his sons as they grew up, has a loving relationship with their mom, and continues to be an important presence in their lives even after they’re adults. It’s clear that Marshall’s dad, Marvin, gave him the strong foundation of a loving home and happy childhood as well as an example of being a good man and a good father to prepare him for adulthood.
Robin didn’t fare so well. Her distant father had wanted a boy and treated Robin as a son (as much as he could) until she grew up. Robin grew up feeling that she was never good enough, and never receiving that validation from her father left a scar. She’s tough, confident and fearless, but only because she hides that vulnerability from most of the world.
Unlike her husband, Marshall, Lily didn’t have a dad who was always there for her. Growing up with a mostly absent father, Lily had to learn to stand on her own two feet way too early. She doesn’t quite understand Marshall’s close relationship with his dad until she and Marshall are expecting a child of their own. Despite enduring years of her dad’s emotional neglect and absence, Lily eventually forgives him for missing out on the huge moments of her childhood and girlhood.
Barney, too, goes through an important healing process when he forgives his own dad. Because his mom never told him who his real dad was, Barney lives an absurd lie for years, believing that Bob Barker from “The Price of Right” is his father. It takes a lifetime for Barney to delve into his past to find out who his dad is. Barney is arguably the HIMYM character who goes through the most development and growth, expanding from a soulless (albeit hilarious) narcissist to an actual human being who is emotionally rich and finally able to forgive his dad for leaving him to a fatherless childhood.
While Ted’s dad is the most nondescript dad of the bunch, he is still a key influence. In a way, Ted as an adult is living a life where he overcompensates for his dad. Ted’s father has difficulty expressing any kind of emotion. So Ted wears his heart on his sleeve and goes overboard with both caring for his friends and doing things like saying “I love you” way too soon in his dating life. Ted’s dad and mom never really thought they were right for each other, so Ted is obsessed with finding the absolutely perfect One for him.
Ted’s relationship with his own kids is quietly the heart of HIMYM. The entire show is carried by the concept of a dad sitting down to share the biggest, hardest, most heartbreaking, most terrible and most wonderful moments of his life with his kids so they understand where they came from and how much he loves them.
Jordan Ecarma is a former journalist now living the millennial dream: getting paid for writing Facebook statuses (that is, digital PR). She watches her use of the f-word ("feminism") around conservatives and the c-word ("conservatism") around feminists. Find her under @JordanEcarma.