The Head of Jack Pearson’s Family

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Biblical concept of head and headship. I’m interested in the concept in part because it is a theological point of great debate for those who like to discuss gender and biological sex in Scripture and the Church. Headship (a word not actually in Scripture) can be used as a bludgeon to keep women and kids in line, and in some cases, to justify various forms of abuse in the church and home. But on a more practical level, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about headship because I lost one head in my divorce and fell back on another (my dad) after it. Now, my dad is sitting in a hospital room, as dear to me as ever, fighting off congestive heart failure. Between tears and prayers, I contemplate all that he has meant to me as my head (a word by the way he probably has never associated with himself since it isn’t emphasized in his Christian circles). Daddy just IS a head, without being all focused on what the word means in debates about gender and the Church.

I also spent last weekend catching up on all the episodes I had missed of This is Us (SPOILERS AHEAD), including Jack’s death after rescuing his wife and kids from the house fire. The culminating episode for me was not the one with his death, but the episode about the family car, which became a metaphor for his desire to see his wife and kids happy and healthy, or as he put it, “OK.” And the final scenes showed that they were OK. For all they had experienced, Jack’s care of them in life set them on a bumpy trajectory, yet one they survived and even in some cases flourished. He gave them a financial and educational footing. He sacrificed in life to provide for them. And twenty years after his death, his legacy lived on in their lives.

In terms of a Christian story of headship, Jack’s story lacked a vision of spiritual guidance and any kind of church involvement. But it did highlight to me an important nugget of Biblical headship, one that my dad also exhibits to me. For all of our debate about AUTHORITY in the home as it relates to headship, Jack and my dad exhibit instead RESPONSIBILITY in the home as it relates to headship. There are all kinds of authorities in our lives who do not take responsibility for our well-being, for our flourishing. But Jack did for his family, and my dad has for his.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When Daddy says, “Jump,” all of his daughters ask, “How high?” Even as adults, we respect him as an authority in our lives. But Daddy doesn’t give orders much. He never has assumed an authoritarian role in our lives. And Jack didn’t either. Daddy never demanded the right to give us instructions. But he earned the right. He sacrificed for us. Over and over again, he made the hard choices he needed to provide for us, including a college education he saw as a tool to launch us out into the world without debt so that we could in turn provide for our children. Today as an adult with some life experience under my belt, I am aware of the weight he bore on his shoulders to provide for us and take responsibility for our well-being. His delight is for his family to be happy and flourishing, and when we suffer, he steps in to carry it with us as best as he can still to this day.

Black Panther and Wonder Woman gave us visions of woman as ezer and necessary ally in the image of God, but they both did so in unrealistic settings. Still, as a woman, I found both inspirational. In contrast, Jack in This is Us reminded me of the beauty and value of a father and husband who takes loving responsibility for the welfare of his family in a setting I could directly relate to. Jack didn’t seem to know Christ, but he made me think of fathers who do, my father in particular.

I have lost one head, and I have felt that loss in a thousand painful ways. But that loss highlights for me what the concept of head in Scripture represents and helps me now see it when it shows up in good and right ways. Jack was an inspiring picture of a flawed head, and the flourishing of his children (despite their scars and wounds) reminds me of the real life person sitting in this hospital room with me who has, for nearly 60 years, taken responsibility for the flourishing of his daughters and stood in the gap for us when others did not.

That, friends, is a Biblical head.

12 Responses to The Head of Jack Pearson’s Family

  1. Lori February 19, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

    I whole-heartedly agree! It’s a beautiful thing to see the true servants heart and self sacrificial devotion in a husband and father.

    Keeping you and your family in prayer.

  2. Cara Wieneke February 20, 2018 at 9:04 am #

    I just had a discussion this weekend with a family member about why This is Us is so appealing, given how depressing it is. Jack isn’t a “hottie,” he doesn’t have a lot of money, he struggles with alcoholism, and he makes mistakes. So why has he been lifted up to the status of the “perfect” man by many women I know? Because he is a beautiful portrayal of how the “head” of the family should be. You really put it well in this post.

    I think Rebecca is the perfect portrayal of an ezer as well. The scenes where she handled Jack’s relapse and then later telling the children about his death were beautifully done. She displayed strength when needed.

    • Wendy February 20, 2018 at 9:07 am #

      Good point about Rebecca as well!

  3. Dawn February 20, 2018 at 11:04 am #

    I have also been thinking much about headship, gender roles in the church and slowly revisiting complementarian and egalitarian views. These are lovely thoughts, Wendy. I am yet to catch up on This is Us, but I have an honest question for you. You say when you lost your head, you returned to the headship of your father. I have two daughters that are approaching adulthood. Neither is married and both are still dependent upon her dad and me (we are still married). But I am thinking a lot about my identity as an individual apart from my husband and about my daughters approaching adult womanhood and independence. My question is why you feel the need as a grown woman to have some form of male headship over you. I am intrigued. Was it calculated or did it just happen because it felt natural to you to revert to what you had always known?

    Also, I haven’t seen Wonder Woman or Black Panther, but have heard comments praising the powerful female characters as leaders, problem-solvers and independent of a man. You mention them here, but only briefly. Care to expand your thoughts on those roles?

    I am very interested in teaching my daughters to become whole individuals with thoughts, feelings, insight, contributions equivalent to their male counterparts in today’s society (as Christians and from a biblical worldview of course). I think I am thinking on these things in light of the Me Too backlash to the place of “unempowerment” for women in so many areas of society. And it’s interesting because a lot of this is based on power grabs that incite our disdain rather than on sacrificial service that invites our respect and wins our hearts (like Jack Pearson).

    So much food for thought here, Wendy. I love it.

    • Wendy February 20, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

      I think some of the issue is that so many heads have abdicated their place in the home, abandoning their wives or children, or they have abused their place in the home, harming their wives or children. So it is good and right to raise our daughters with agency. My dad did that. He raised us with an education in particular so we would not be dependent on his income. And he advised us on life choices rather than instructing us in a particular way, always respecting our decisions. But when things fell apart for me, he did not abdicate his responsibilities or abandon me. My dad raised me to be independent, but he also created a safety net for me. It’s not a paradox to hold to both. Somewhere I have an article on the idea of a “safety net” of protection rather than an “umbrella” of protection, which is often used in conservative circles when talking about headship. Safety net is a good metaphor, because inherent to it is the idea of independence and agency, but not without a community that catches you when you fall.

      I came home when things fell apart for a myriad of reasons. We flourish best in community, and this was the community that naturally fit the needs of my children and myself in this season.

    • Wendy February 20, 2018 at 12:04 pm #

      My parents would say in many ways that my sisters and I are a safety net for them now as much as they are for us. Such is the power of family and Christian community.

    • Pia February 20, 2018 at 6:28 pm #

      Dawn (and Wendy),
      I echo this from your writing: I am very interested in teaching my daughters to become whole individuals with thoughts, feelings, insight, contributions equivalent to their male counterparts in today’s society (as Christians and from a biblical worldview of course).
      A few weeks ago I listened to a talk given by Jen Wilson at at Gospel Coalition conference for woman. I have the link here, but in case it doesn’t come thru, google Jen Wilkin Raising Daughters Beyond Stereotypes. It’s a one hour nine minute podcast. Jen said some things you don’t normally hear about raising Christian girls/woman. A couple of times I found myself thinking, “Did she just say that?” Admittedly, I found it refreshing.
      Here is the link:

    • Dawn February 21, 2018 at 9:24 pm #

      Thank you both, ladies, for your links. I will read and listen further.

  4. Wendy February 20, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

    Found the article. And as I reread it, it really catches what I am still thinking about heads and headship as God intended and Jesus modeled.

  5. Nicole Kriebs February 20, 2018 at 12:25 pm #

    I really appreciate your blog posts and am an avid reader of them!! There is something that I want to share with you that I am finding so incredibly encouraging. God has put our lives in similar paths. I am currently going through a very painful, shocking, and unwanted divorce. And just as your father is in the hospital, so is mine. My Dad has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and will be undergoing brain surgery tomorrow afternoon.
    I’m very thankful for your writings and transparency of sharing your heart and wisdom through your pilgrimage here on Earth!!
    I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for allowing God to use you to help me and other Christian women through our own pilgrimage to heaven!!!

    • Wendy February 20, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

      Thank you for sharing that, Nicole. This journey is not for the faint of heart, is it?! I pray your dad’s surgery goes well.

  6. Pia February 20, 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    Wendy, what you wrote here about your dad is beautiful.