Some time in October, I think right around the second presidential debate, I decided I was tired of real-world politics. To relieve myself of this and escape for a bit, I started watching the (awesome) TV show by Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing. I never saw it when it was first on. Politics wasn’t interesting to me at that time, middle school to high school years, at least not as interesting as it is to me now. And it definitely wasn’t a thing my father was interested in. He was more into sci-fi (Star Trek) and cop/law shows (Law & Order, JAG, etc.) Not knockin’ on any of those, though, I enjoy a variety of at least semi-intelligent entertainment.
So anyway, I started watching The West Wing. Of course I started at the beginning, and I knew exactly nothing about it going into it. Except that the few other people I know who watched the show loved it. I also loved, LOVED, Newsroom, so I was hoping this would be similar.
And I’m slowly making my way through the series. I just started on season 5 tonight. More than halfway there! And for the most part, most of the episodes are really good. Some are obviously better than others, and a handful stick out as absolutely excellent. There are some great quotes, wonderful discussions, and thought-provoking ideas. It’s eerie how true some of these ring today. It makes me wonder, politically, what things were like at the time the show was on.
However, there is one particular episode that I dislike, and it has really bothered me since I saw it a few days ago. That episode is in season 4, episode number 11, “Holy Night.” In this episode, some political stuff happens, but the big thing for me is the reunion between Toby and his father. Or more accurately, the fact that Josh instigated the reunion.
I don’t have a good relationship with my father. We have not spoken for 5.5 years now, by my choosing. Amazingly, he has actually respected that, which I wasn’t expecting, and I kinda keep waiting for the other shoe to drop in that regard. Without going into the nitty-gritty details, I called him out on something, he did not respond on my terms to it (he tried to respond on his terms), and I told him that he was ruining my life and I didn’t want to speak to him ever again. This is the watered-down version, it was actually much more emotional than I’m making it seem. But the point here is: I actively sought to NOT have a relationship with him.
When Josh brings Jules and blindsides Toby, I could not believe that someone would be so disrespectful of another person’s choice who to have a relationship with. And then, when Josh says, “That I would give anything to have a living father who was a felon, or a sister with a past… That’s it.” That’s all well and good, but can we go back a second to when Toby asks, “Do I get to think what I think?” That should’ve been it. The end. No more. Don’t project your ideas onto somebody else. Don’t project your desires and wants. Don’t try to tell people what you THINK you would do in their situation, when in reality all you know is what YOU would do in their situation, given your entire history and life experience up until this very moment. I swear to FSM, if somebody tried to pull that shit on me, I would’ve flipped the fuck out, laid into my father, and laid into whoever the hell brought him here.
I get it, you want to have a relatively happy holiday episode. None of them have been particularly sunny up until this point, but they’ve all had a general positive resolution. Season 1, “In Excelsis Deo,”, Toby gets the homeless guy a real funeral. Season 2, “Noel,” Josh makes a huge breakthrough in an all-day therapy session (and the fact that they focused on mental health is great, I really love this episode). Season 3, “Bartlet for America,” Leo’s questioning looks like it’s going to take a horrible turn, but it ends up being postponed before an awful truth can come out. And here, in season 4, you have a reunion between son and estranged father.
But it could’ve been so different. Let’s see Toby feel guilt or remorse. Let Josh drop a hint to Toby that Jules is trying to get in touch with him. Let Toby seek out his father. Make it Toby’s choice.
It’s the whole giving your family a second and third and fourth and an infinite number of chances to not be a bad person simply because they’re family. No. They don’t get to be more special than any other person on the street.
Now, I realize that we don’t get a whole lot of backstory into their relationship. Maybe Jules really isn’t a bad person. Maybe he just “fell in with the wrong crowd” or was honestly desperate to try to make a better life for his new son and didn’t know any other way. Maybe once he got out of prison, he did turn his life around, and had respected Toby’s wishes for no contact. (And if we find any of this out later, don’t tell me! I’m not there yet!)
It’s still forcing someone else’s idea of what a family is supposed to be and how a family is supposed to act onto Toby, and by writing it so he caved in, they made that concept ok. It’s not.
You absolutely have a right to not talk to a family member if they are a bad person, if they are toxic, if they are abusive, if they are not a person that is good for YOU.
It’s YOUR life. Nobody can tell you how to live it.