36: The Tidy Bow at the End of the Episode. #LifeWideLearning16

I was the Jonathan Taylor Thomas of my family.

The middle child, slightly brainy, who moves down into the basement as soon as he could in order to avoid the older and younger brothers. JTT, as we affectionately called him in those days, was my surrogate for much of the angst I felt for living in such a “normal” family. He was the one that I looked to for much of my formative years, as he was trying to navigate the drama of a family of 5.

Now, my father did not have a tool-related TV show and my parents did not turn to a wise older man who lived next door, but Home Improvement was a really nice mirror to hold up for me. Whether it was trying to figure out if we could ever be as cool at the Tailors or seeing what the “very special episode” might hold, I watched the show religiously and looked for clues as to how I should proceed.

In many ways, I wanted what they had.

I wanted the tidy bow at the end of the episode. I wanted the (mostly) cohesive way that the brothers grew together despite their differences. I wanted the humanistic approach to problem solving that turned to the family and to the community for support rather than religious doctrine.

I know this was a lot to ask of the TV family, but for me it was a second home. For those 30 minutes a week, I felt like there was a family that was just a couple degrees off from ours that I could aspire to. Like, if we just changed a few things, we too would be that happy and wholesome.

Overall, I’m okay that we didn’t end up being the Tailors and that JTT stopped being my fictionalized doppelganger. I’m glad that we moved on from the normal family of a sitcom and embraced the weirdness that was inherent in real people solving real problems and navigating adulthood. But there is a part of me that still lives in the kitchen and connected living room of that house on TV. There is still some small piece of me that wants to part my hair down the middle and sit on the couch with an all-knowing mom and learn a valuable life lesson.

But, now I’m Tim instead of Randy. And I don’t really see the family I am helping to lead as anything like the Tailors. Not just because we have a girl thrown into the mix, but rather because I don’t want that life for my kids. Normal is something that you wrap yourself in because you don’t want to see what else is out there. I want my kids to see beyond normal and embrace who they are rather than try to be JTT.

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