What’s in store for Kate and Toby’s marriage come the This Is Us Season 4 finale? I’m not sure, but I hope it’s some perspective on Jack’s disability.
Since learning in the This Is Us Season 4 premiere that Jack will remain blind, Kate and Toby’s marriage has been on rocky ground. Although Kate seemed to be handling the diagnosis well, Toby seemed distant, spending more time at the gym than at home. After Kate learned in Episode 9 that Toby was venting about her to a female CrossFit buddy, Kate suspected that he was cheating and confronted him.
Unfortunately, the answer she ended up receiving didn’t seem to sit with her any better as Toby confessed in Episode 10 that he’d been distant because Jack’s disability made him sad.
After returning in Episode 13 from a retreat for blind kids and their families that she attended with Rebecca, Kate gave Toby, who told her that he wanted to be a good father to Jack, an ultimatum:
“Toby, I don’t just need you to just want to be a good father to Jack, I need you to just do it.”
Although in Season 4, Episode 14 Toby and Jack bonded while Kate went off to the family cabin with her brothers, upon her return, it still seemed uncertain where things stood between the couple.
To a certain extent, I understand the challenges that Toby and Kate are facing. I was born with a physical disability called Spina Bifida, a birth defect where the spine and spinal cord don’t fully form. I am paralyzed from the waist down and use a manual wheelchair.
I’m the youngest of two children and the only one with a disability. My parents’ first pregnancy was typical. They received the good news, told everyone they knew, spent the next few months reading all the parenting books they could, and after my sister was born, she hit every milestone that those books told them she would hit, e.g., saying her first words, taking her first steps, etc.
So when they got pregnant with me, they expected everything to go as planned. However, weeks after finding out that they were pregnant, they received the news that I would be born with a disability. Doctors always have to prepare you for the worst-case scenario, so the diagnosis they were given wasn’t pretty.
Of course, they were told that I’d never walk. They were also told there was a possibility that I’d never talk and that I may not be cognitive. From what they’ve told me, it was a very difficult time, not because they didn’t love me, but because, as Toby tells Kate in Episode 10, they were left to mourn a reality that would never be realized, left only with a reality that at times was hard to take.
I would never be able to walk except with the assistance of an RGO brace that wasn’t practical for everyday use. My disability would spawn various medical dilemmas that would require surgery. Following one surgery in my early infancy, I had trouble breathing and had to undergo a tracheotomy. When I was finally able to have the trache removed, my parents were relieved. However, this crisis was a reminder that my life would not follow a “normal” trajectory.
This would be a lesson that I would begin to understand between 2006 and 2007 when I faced two serious medical conditions. During that time, I learned how fast my day-to-day life could be turned upside down. One moment my mom, sister, and I would be in the parking lot of a mall, and the next moment we’d be back in the car, rushing to the hospital.
I’d sit waiting for the doctors with my parents as they tried to remain calm, but their demeanors always betrayed them, and I’d be left hoping that I was going to get to sleep in my bed that night.
There were times that I didn’t get what I wanted.
When we were living our everyday life, there were smaller yet just as important challenges to face e.g., how would I receive an education that met the needs presented by my disability, and would I have unforeseen learning difficulties as a result of my disability? Luckily, I always had a great special education team behind me to ensure that I was getting the support I needed.
However, sometimes there was pushback, and my parents and I had to stand our ground.
Through it all, my parents stayed strong, and more importantly, stayed strong together. It’s because of them that I learned how to adapt to a world that wouldn’t always adapt to me.
Watching This Is Us this season has been such a surreal experience for me because it’s the first honest portrayal of raising a child with a physical disability that I’ve ever seen. The reality is that the journey is messy. That’s why when Toby confessed to Kate that Jack’s disability makes him sad, I understood what he meant, and I agreed with Madison in Episode 15 when she told Kate to forgive him.
Toby needs to be a good father to Jack, but both Kate and Toby need to be good partners to each other. As I’ve said in the past, they’ve got a long road ahead of them. Jack’s disability will present many challenges, as he, too, tries to adapt to a world that won’t always adapt to him.
It’s a frustrating and often overwhelming road that they’re traveling on. There will be moments where they’re not at their best, and they’ll need the comfort of knowing they can lean on each other and express their emotions. I’m not excusing cruelty, but I do not believe expressing uncertainty should be punished.
I hope they do make it, and I’m optimistic that they can learn to communicate effectively with one another. However, if they don’t, I hope they can both agree that Jack deserves the best life that they can give him. From what we’ve seen of Jack’s future this season in Episodes 1, 9, and 15, respectively, he seems to be doing well for himself.
I’m just hoping that his success is because of his parents rather than despite them.
The This Is Us Season 4 finale airs Tuesday, March 24, at 9pm ET on NBC.