There are many reasons to praise NBC’s hit drama This Is Us. From its tear-jerking script to its depiction of real-life issues such as unhealthy body image, racism and the pursuit of happiness, it’s not surprising that the show quickly picked up a huge following. While each member of the cast is incredible—shoutout to Sterling K. Brown for taking home an Emmy for his role as Randall Pearson—there’s one who consistently has us blubbering like a child: Milo Ventimiglia.
As Jack, the patriarch of the Pearson clan, Ventimiglia digs deep, showing us his strength, his weaknesses and his loving compassion. From the very first episode, we see Jack struggle with losing one of his triplets in childbirth to then fighting a serious battle with alcoholism. Though he’s clearly not a perfect man, he is one to own up to his mistakes, fight for his wife and children and repeatedly prove why he is truly #DadGoals. Don’t believe us? Here are a few examples from the series’ first season:
The stress of raising three children is starting to get to Jack, sparking a struggle with alcoholism. After a heated argument with his wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), Jack sleeps outside their bedroom door all night long waiting for her. When she wakes, he promises to stop drinking altogether. “From here on out, I’m going to be an 11 for you, baby,” he tells Rebecca. “Screw that: I’m going to be a 12 for you from here out. I’ll be an 11 for the kids.” Yep, we’re crying. For a while, at least, Jack stops drinking, and becomes the 12 he promises to be.
After losing one of the triplets in childbirth, Jack and Rebecca make the choice to adopt a baby boy born on the same day and left at the same hospital. While they return home with three children as planned, they both find themselves succumbing to grief over the newborn that didn’t make it. “I feel guilty when I think about him and then, you know, I feel guilty when I stop thinking about him,” he tells Rebecca. Despite the pain, though, he never lets grief stop him from being the best father he can be to his three children.
Whether it’s 1980 or 2017, body shaming is a serious issue that young children face. On a family trip to the pool, Kate (played in her adult years by Emmy nominee Chrissy Metz), Jack and Rebecca’s daughter, is made fun of for being overweight. Jack finds her wrapped in a towel, refusing to show any skin. Knowing how beautiful she truly is, he’s saddened to watch her go through such self-doubt. He then proceeds to make up an elaborate story about an old, ragged shirt and how it has magical powers. “If you wear it, your enemies will see you exactly how you want to be seen,” he tells Kate. As a plus-size person myself, this scene had me weeping all night long.
Randall, Jack’s adopted son, spends some time with his father at his office. Showing him building plans, he notices Randall’s aptitude for math. Randall becomes nervous, however, knowing that showing how smart he is will mean he should go to private school for gifted children. He breaks down to Jack, explaining that getting high grades will cause him to be treated better than his two siblings, one of whom—his brother, Kevin—he already struggles to get along with. Jack assures him that grades do not matter: He treats all his kids with the same love, support and care, no matter their weakenesses or strengths.
After Jack and Rebecca realize that neither of them can be the black father figure/role model that Randall needs in his life, they sign him up for a martial arts class led by a black man. During initiation, the instructor asks all the dads to sit behind Randall, saying, “We are your community. We are gonna be the ones who hold each other up.” Jack then does exactly that, holding Randall on his back while doing pushups. While this obviously shows his incredible strength (#WorkoutGoals?), the scene also depicts the powerful connection between father and son, and how blood ties are not the only measure of a family.
On Christmas Eve, Kate is rushed to the hospital as her appendix is about to burst. Within the span of a few minutes, a montage of clips from the night at the hospital is shown. In each, we see Jack comforting his daughter, holding his sons close and being a pillar of support. While no words are spoken in these few minutes, we can clearly see from Jack’s face the depth of the love he has for his children, a love that is truly remarkable.
Sitting on the bathroom floor, illuminated by fairy lights and candles, Jack pulls his and Rebecca’s wedding vows out of his bag. The episode then flashes back to their wedding, where we hear Jack say, “Saying ‘I do’ means saying ‘I will.’ I will love you today and every day for the rest of my life.” As he continues to recite his vows, we are left swooning over his love for Rebecca and the dedication he makes. When the flashback ends, the two look at each other and both state that they’ll be okay, no matter what trials they’re facing. I may not believe in soulmates, but this is, undeniably, the definition of true love.
On opening night of his Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) play, Randall calls him to say he’s running late at the office and won’t be able to make it. Kevin is obviously upset, but he realizes that something’s not right. He flees the theatre to find Randall, who, it turns out, is in the midst of a breakdown at his office. Following the example of his father, without speaking any words, Kevin sits next to Randall and comforts him. While Jack is not directly present in this scene, we see the loyalty and love that he has passed down to his children and how he remains with them long after he’s gone.
In the season finale, Jack and Rebecca find themselves in a huge argument, unable to make amends. Jack decides to move out for a time, breaking the hearts of every single viewer. Before leaving, he confronts Rebecca one last time, recalling the moment they first met. “You were my big break. And our love story—I know it may not feel like it right now—I promise you, it’s just getting started.” End scene. End season. End our lives. Cue the tears.
To end on a positive note, Jack shows love, both as a husband, as a father and as a man, each and every episode. He is flawed, just as each one of us is. But he never gives up on what he believes it. As a longtime fan of Ventimiglia, this is hands-down my favorite role I’ve seen him in. He takes the show’s emotional writing to a whole new level, breaking and warming our hearts at the exact same time.
Season Two of This Is Us premieres Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Gianluca Russo is a New York based freelance writer whose work has been published in BUST Magazine, Brit+Co, Romper, Byrdie, Playbill and more. Visit www.GianlucaRusso.webs.com for more of his work and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @G_Russo1.