Sunday, April 30, 2017

Handling the Truth

When I was growing up, I knew one guy who was adopted.

All the other kids I knew lived with their biological parents. Some lived with their mothers — mostly because their parents were divorced (although I knew one guy whose father had died) — but they knew who their biological fathers were or had been.

I don't think my friend who was adopted ever knew who his biological parents were. That kind of information just wasn't handed out freely in those days.

His adoptive parents didn't even tell him he was adopted until he was 13. I was probably his best friend at that time, and I was the first one he told. It made me think about something I never thought about before — what it would be like to not know where you came from.

In hindsight, I was lucky. I lived with both of my parents, but that didn't strike me as anything special. It was just the norm in the tiny Southern town in which I grew up. Married couples seldom split up in those days, no matter how bad things got.

Things have changed in my hometown. For one thing, it is hardly tiny anymore. And, for another, divorce is much more commonplace than it was then — or maybe people are just more open about it now. I don't mean to suggest that that is a good thing — clearly some families are better off if the parents do not live under the same roof — but there is no stigma attached to divorce now. When I was growing up, the myth that divorced women were "hot to trot" was alive and well among the horny adolescent boys in my hometown, and it made it easy to believe that the children of divorce could not be sure who their fathers were.

Thus the basis for the episode of How I Met Your Mother that first aired 10 years ago tonight — "Showdown."

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) was sort of between most of my friends and my friend who was adopted. He did know who his mother was. He grew up in her house with his biracial brother, but he did not know his father's identity.

Apparently he asked his mother about this so frequently that one day, apparently in an exasperated impulse, she pointed to the TV, which was showing an episode of The Price Is Right, and told him that Bob Barker was his father.

It was always an ironic twist that Barney, who was skeptical of most things, apparently believed everything his mother told him.

Then, in the episode that aired 10 years ago tonight, after years of carrying on a rather one–sided father–son relationship with the TV set, Barney was going to appear on The Price Is Right and try to meet his father.

The simultaneous story in this episode dealt with Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall's (Jason Segel) upcoming wedding and Ted's (Josh Radnor) attempts to compose an appropriate best–man toast to the happy couple. Marshall kept censoring his efforts, though, and Ted was ready to give up.

Then a subject presented itself. Lily and Marshall were trying to spend the last two weeks before their wedding apart. Lily had been staying with Robin (Cobie Smulders), where she discovered that the stress of wedding preparation had rendered her too skinny to wear her wedding dress so Robin had been forcing Lily to eat every high–calorie food they could get their hands on.

But Marshall and Lily hadn't been able to live up to it. They met at a motel for a few hours each evening, prompting Ted to observe in his toast that, even after a 10–year relationship, Marshall and Lily couldn't spend so much as a night apart.

Meanwhile, in his appearance on The Price Is Right, Barney won the Showcase and was on the verge of telling Barker the truth — as Barney knew it — but in the end he didn't. He was asked why.

"If you've lived your whole life thinking one thing," Barney replied, "it would be pretty devastating to find out that wasn't true. I just don't think Bob could have handled it."

He did, however, give many of his prizes to the happy couple as wedding gifts.