PANEL REPORT: The Fathers Of How I Met Your Mother, And How They Mold Ted’s Story
[Editor’s note: this is a review of the panel we delivered at Connecticon. Some of the information may not make sense if you weren’t there directly, or if you aren’t a fan of HIMYM, so here is a link to the power point we presented at the panel. Thanks again to everyone who came down to see us! UPDATE: We are aware there are paragraph formatting issues with this article – we have made multiple attempts to fix the error, and plan to clean this up once we figure out what is wrong with our system. Sorry it is a little hard to read for now! ]
We’ve done panels at quite a few cons now, but Connecticon will always remain my favorite. Ever since we’ve started receiving invitations to attend cons, we’ve gone to Connecticon every year, so the staff consider it a bit of a “home con.” This was a panel we probably were the most experienced for, in particular me because my article that was published here on the same subject got picked up by The Good Men Project when it gained popularity, meaning I had seen it a lot. Nonetheless, it was interesting seeing the subject as a panel almost a year after the article; an extra season’s worth of episodes happened since my article, allowing us to update our information and perspectives. Be warned, this panel and article both contained spoilers for the ending.
We started out with a brief but warranted disclaimer: that we weren’t only concerned with the fathers — or men, for that matter — of the show. The reason we focused on the fathers was that, even throughout the last season, we see Ted as probably the most immature character, yet he is the narrator imparting wisdom to his children. In the last episode, when the story he’s telling his children wraps up and he is in 2030 again, Future Ted recounts his storytelling as, “I kept this short, and to the point.” To Ted, all of his stories were related to the bigger picture and message he was trying to convey — and to get this far in his 50s, it’s clear that he’s more mature as a father than he was from 2005-2013. And he does mention in Season Three that he had to become the person who could meet the mother. Some of the stories of the fathers of the protagonists show behavior he tries to avoid in his own endeavors, some show behavior he wants to emulate, and some just move the story along.
The panel was an hour and a half long, our first one at Connecticon with that time frame, so we got to go really in depth with the history of the fathers and the episodes in which they featured. I won’t go into the full detail in the hopes of having something new to talk about besides what was talked about in the article, so I’ll briefly summarize each of the father figures of the protagonists and move on to the discussion unique to the panel:
1. Jerome Whittaker, known as “Uncle Jerry” or “Jerry,” was Barney’s father. For years Barney knew him as his uncle, a move his mother made to prevent him from growing up with an absent or below-par father (he grew up believing Bob Barker was his father). The two finally reunite in Season Six, and, after some tough conversations, eventually make up.
2. Marvin Sr., Marshall’s father, was probably the most nurturing of the protagonists’ fathers, being deeply involved with, while also supportive of, Marshall’s life. He called every day and cheered him on, but didn’t outright tell him what to do. He passed away in Season Six, and his death influenced all of the characters to reach out to their own fathers (most notably Barney, as mentioned above). After his passing, his influence over Marshall still remains, either as an influential memory or as a ghost during arguments. Season Nine had a particularly interesting case where Marvin Sr. sided with Lily in one of Marshall’s fantasies, solidifying that Marshall (alongside Future Ted’s recollection) remembers him as supportive, but also fair and a voice of reason.
3. Mickey Aldrin was frequently in turbulence prior to Season Five with his daughter for sacrificing family time and money for his dream of becoming a great board game designer, something that caused him to both inconvenience Lily and also miss most of her childhood moments. Season Two revealed subtly that, for reasons revealed when Mickey was introduced, Lily did not invite her own father to her wedding. They made up at Thanksgiving that year, and Season Seven shows him learning to be a father in his middle age — something he eventually improves upon in small ways.
4. Robin Scherbatsky Sr., Robin’s father with the same name, frequently devoted most of the time before the show’s Season One began trying to make her into the son he wanted, explaining her love for guns, cigars, and fierce independence. The more the father issues get addressed over the season, the more she turns into a rounded character who shows weakness and a general feminine side as well.
5. Alfred Mosby, Ted’s father, tends to prefer safe conversation subjects and being “the cool dad” over having serious, necessary conversations or true openness. Ted recounts him talking largely about baseball and hookups, but shying away from important discussions, like his divorce and Ted’s grandmother passing.
What is interesting, something I pointed out at the panel, was that Ted features his father in the fewest episodes — three, one of which is just his face in a photograph — while Marvin Sr. features in twelve episodes, six of which are after he died, showing a preference to Marvin Sr.’s noteworthy details. We determined this to be because of Marvin’s endlessly selfless nature, something Ted admires in a parent. Ted also shows’s Marvin Sr.’s legacy through Marshall, who later goes on to be very similar, sacrificing his own needs and aspirations for his family multiple times, such as in the decision to move to Italy and the need to take a corporate job on two different occasions to pay the bills, despite his dreams of being an environmental lawyer and judge respectively.
We also noted Robin Sr. and Alfred as interesting parallels; where Robin Sr. had very self-centered intentions when raising his child, who later grew up reasonably adjusted compared to the others, Alfred had good intentions of protecting his son, only to fall short as a parent. One of the most memorable times with Alfred that the viewers can remember is a brunch where Alfred tells the story of how he met Ted’s mother: “At a bar. I think it was an Irish bar?” This causes Ted to exclaim, “When I tell my kids how I met their mother, I’m going to tell the whole damn story!”
This panel had the added perspective of the ending of the show having aired; knowing that the titular mother dies at the end of the story Ted tells his children puts a haunting presence on some of his stories. The story of Marshall’s father passing away suddenly carries even more weight than it did before, for example. One of the more interesting observations is that Ted responds to his children’s encouragements to move on from his late wife and pursue Robin with the response, “I’ve got you guys to think about.” Throughout the series, Ted and the other four main characters show strong disdain for their parents divorcing or getting back together; Ted’s reaction in “Brunch” was appalled and disgusted, Marshall and Lily are horrified to find their parents not only moved on from Marvin Sr.’s death by hooking up (something the tactful Mickey refers to as “family with benefits”), and Barney goes through an intense struggle in trying to let his parents pursue other people and not each other when they see each other at his wedding. If the future kids are correct in assuming that the whole story was Ted just trying to explain his feelings for Robin and ask their permission to date her now that the mother has passed, then Ted has obviously padded the story with plenty of disclaimers sympathizing with the feeling that this could make them a little uncomfortable. He couldn’t even get the words out himself — the kids had to spell it out for him.
We also learn in the finale that Barney himself becomes father to a child named Ellie, which helps brings Future Ted’s stories full circle. Like father like son — both his father Jerry and Barney himself have their lives turn around when they have a child; Jerry describes being forbidden from seeing Barney as rock bottom, and Barney’s induction to fatherhood leads to the scene in the future where, instead of seducing young girls, he actually lectures them about their choices of revealing clothing and early-day drinking.
Nathan and Jonah, who were on the panel with me, had a few problems with this. Nathan pointed out that, while the writers intended for this to show Barney had changed for the better (which he did, to an extent), the final scene was phrased in a way that still showed Barney taking ownership of women’s bodies, only in a more paternal way than a predatory way. Jonah pointed out that Barney does inevitably become a better person as he becomes a father, and considering Robin physically cannot have kids, that just shows how doomed the relationship was to begin with — and almost presents a haunting feeling that life is meaningless without kids (something that would not be surprising for Future Ted to imply while telling this story to his own children). Several audience members at the panel agreed with each of these sentiments.
We wrapped up the panel with the respective lessons from each fatherhood story of the show. Jerry and Mickey taught Future Ted that it is never too late to right what is wronged or make up with someone who has grown distant (a sentiment reiterated in his pursuit of Robin 25 years after their first meeting). Marvin Sr. taught Ted that hospitality is a golden ideal. His own father Alfred taught Future Ted that communication and openness is better than a relationship simply amicable on the surface. Robin Scherbatsky Sr. taught Future Ted that it is okay to be yourself, not what your parents want you to be — and, to a larger extent, to put the kids’ needs first. The show ends on a note that fatherhood is a tremendous responsibility, but also one limited by the child’s right to have his or her own thoughts. In the end, Ted listens to his kids and moves on from the mother’s passing and goes after Robin one last time.
The panel was at 10:30 at night on a Saturday, yet we were nonetheless pleased with the turnout and the activeness of the responses. To everyone who came to see us, thank you!