Will our fathers’ stories be our own?
Many flaws in CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother” have been shrugged off as acceptable byproducts of the protagonist Ted Mosby’s unreliable narration, from plot holes and contradictions to extremely biased or unlikely scenarios. But accepting the logic that Future Ted is a flawed narrator (as most fans do, given he’s old and retelling stories from well over a decade and a half ago) occasionally leads to one question: how does Ted pick which stories to tell his kids?
Some stories, when put in that context, will seem like odd choices to pass down to the children, like the tale about the time Barney nailed seven chicks in one week. But others are kind of touching in their own right – most notably, how Ted began relationships with his friends and heroes. Ted mentioned in Season 3 that he had to become the man who could be with the unidentified Mother before meeting her, and I believe he keeps the stories of various father figures close to heart because they molded him in these formative years, and continue to do so from the life he now narrates form.
By this point, we’ve seen the fathers of all the main characters on screen, and most of them are, sadly, not so ideal. Lily’s father was the deadbeat dad constantly using the family money for his own aspirations. Robin’s father constantly tried to mold Robin into the son he always wanted, and neglected her when she failed to measure up. Barney’s dad abandoned him at a young age and didn’t make contact for over thirty years, leaving Barney to believe for the better part of his life that he was the son of Bob Barker. Ted’s father had a decent relationship with the family on the surface, but ultimately could never talk about anything serious, and ended up waiting inappropriately long to tell his son that he had divorced his mother. Marshall’s dad could’ve been a great role model for Ted; he’s loyal to his wife and kids, and unbelievably supportive – but then he died in Season 6, leaving the whole family a little broken.
On the surface, none of these stories seem relevant to the story of how Ted met some girl with a yellow umbrella – so why does it matter that Ted remembers these tales? The crazy fan answer could be that each of their father stories somehow actually is relevant; for example, Ted meets The Mother at Barney and Robin’s wedding, but Barney wouldn’t have wanted to settled down had he not reconnected with his own father and saw how a party animal can eventually settle down when he stops loving the swinger lifestyle, but he wouldn’t have agreed to make peace with his dad had Marshall not used his own father’s passing as leverage to win an argument during his moment of mourning vulnerability (and furthermore, Barney wouldn’t have even known who his father was had he not started to search for him after Marshall’s father passed away).
But there’s more to it than that; in many ways, we can tell that none of these fathers are the kind of father Ted wants to be. His own father was especially daunting for him because everything about how Ted’s father met Ted’s mother seemed all wrong; the getting together phase was mediocre and unromantic, and they split up after learning several years down the road that they weren’t each other’s “The One.”
Each other father figure – the moocher, the constantly dissatisfied, the disappearing act, and the one that died too soon – are all especially relevant to audience members who relate to having grown up with these men. But Ted, who is noticeably immature but trying to grow, is trying to avoid these things in the pursuit of the mother of his kids. And, with enough thought, one can argue that the various relationship Ted has left would brought many of those qualities out of him. Had he married Robin, he would’ve ended up like his dad, marrying the wrong girl that was almost what he wanted but still not quite there (or the “Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand,” as Klaus labeled the concept in Season 8). Had he married Zoey, his career would’ve been cut short a bit too soon. Had he married Stella, he would’ve caused Stella’s daughter to have a dad (her original father) that wasn’t in her life. Had he married Victoria, he would’ve been dissatisfied with his life that cut out certain friends to make it work. Lily’s father figure may be an exception here, however; if anything, the recurring joke of “Property of Ted Mosby” stickers everywhere in Season 8 has established everyone else as mooching off Ted.
Ted may not quite be mature enough to know what he must become before he’s ready to wed, but he’s seen many examples of what he can’t be if he’s going to find The One. Going into the last season, described in many cast interviews as “the longest wedding weekend ever,” I look forward to watching Ted grow up just a little bit more. Soon we’ll know what story will be his own, what man he will become. For the girl with the yellow umbrella, yes, but also, for himself.
Photo: AP/CBS Productions, 2012