Ever since the first season of ‘This is Us’, America has been buzzing about their new favorite T.V. Dad—Jack Pearson. Jack is noble, courageous. He is romantic, reflective, humble, kind, and also pretty attractive. He is committed to his family, made live-altering selfless decisions for them, all the while, juggling an addictive past.
As an English teacher, I always consider Atticus Finch the model example of a father—loyal, trustworthy, moral—so when it appears that some other T.V. dad might take his place for father of the century (Jack Pearson), I have to ask myself—can the two even be compared?
Initially, I wanted to say that YES, both Jack Pearson and Atticus Finch are the same caliber of a man—that they both exhibit qualities and characteristics that set them apart from all other fictional beings—that they both represent a kind of hope for humanity and provide an ideal to reach up to; unlike Don Draper or Frank Gallagher, while both of these men have their own personal hubris (Atticus—his commitment to loyalty, and Jack, his alcohol addiction), their selfless nature and ability to read situations with wisdom and grace is enticing, and the constant state of self reflection and emotional turmoil makes us feel bad for them—because we know they are better people than they think themselves to be (Right, when Atticus is defeated after the Tom Robinson trial, or Jack is upset after taking the boys camping, we see both men in unsettling positions where they feel worse about themselves than we think they should). After a few weeks of thoughtful meditation (which is why it has taken me so long to post about this), I have decided that no—Jack Pearson cannot be compared to Atticus Finch.
Don’t get me wrong—Jack Pearson is a wonderful father, husband, and person; we obviously see this when he goes in to save the dog, and then selflessly sends Rebecca away as he takes his last breaths. His dedication to his family and to raising his children to be strong, confident, empathetic citizens is a philosophy we all should hold. The way he adores Kate is so cute, as if the only desire he has in his life is for her to feel accepted and to be happy. His support of Randall—a child that isn’t even his own—is inspiring because Jack truly sees the souls of people. And, his determination to raise an empathetic Kevin, despite his stubbornness, shows so much wisdom into people. His love for Rebecca is endearing—that she truly comes first in his life. But that is where Jack Pearson’s moral universe appears to stop—at his family.
In our consumerist society, Jack Pearson reminds us that we must make sacrifices in our lives, and very rarely can we “have it all”. Certainly, we can all think of those people who seem to have strong familial relations AND hold uber successful careers, but for the majority of us, at some point, we must make choices between our family or our career; in the case of the Pearson’s, Jack chooses his family (I mean, he might have also been able to balance a successful career, but he dies before that happens, thus reinforcing the example he is to the commitment towards family).
Atticus Finch’s moral universe, on the other hand, extends past his family. In fact, while Atticus is still a great father—he, too, mentors his children to be empathetic, kind to each other, understanding of others, much of Atticus’ energy goes towards keeping the frays of Maycomb together; Atticus supports Calpurnia and the black community when representing Tom Robinson. When the Mad Dog roams down the street, One Shot Atticus Finch kills the dog (with much remorse but also with a sense of duty).
Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development focus on the intention behind an action, and how that intended action extends to a moral universe. In the first few stages, Kohlberg would say that the moral universe is basically limited to the self—you do something because YOU will personally receive a reward (or want to avoid a punishment). In the third and fourth stages, Kohlberg would say that the moral universe is you and anyone you immediately interact with—you do something because it will impact those around you (and thus, ultimately also impacting you). And, in the fifth and sixth stages, Kohlberg would say that the moral universe is limited to everyone—no matter their race, class, gender, age, orientation, etc.—that you do things (like pick up the litter in the street) because you genuinely know it is what’s best for humanity.
Not to demean him, because being a Stage 4 in Kohlberg’s eyes is still actually pretty moral, but I feel like this is where Jack Pearson is limited—his moral universe stop at himself. While we could make the assumption that Jack lives this life outside of his family, we rarely see his interactions with his co-workers, with classmates, with strangers—his actions are focused on his family. I would argue, however, that Atticus Finch sits at a Stage 5 in Kohlberg’s eyes (he can’t be a Stage 6, because Kohlberg saves his Stage 6 for people like Jesus, Ghandi, and maybe Martin Luther King Jr.).
So, can Jack Pearson replace Atticus Finch? No. While Jack Pearson might be the heroic husband and father that a divorced-laden, tragedy-down trodden, fake news saturated America might be hoping for, Atticus Finch can still hold the title of the Most Moral Fictional Dad.