The mystery of Jack's life before meeting Rebecca is falling into place on This Is Us. The episode "Vietnam" began to pull the curtain back on Jack's relationship with his younger brother Nicky in addition to providing more insight into both boys' interactions with their alcoholic and abusive father Stanley. Earlier this season, Jack managed to move his mother out of their family home and away from Stanley soon after returning from war, but before this bright spot, the Pearsons had a tense bond with their patriarch. Who is Jack's dad on This Is Us? Stanley Pearson had a major influence on Nicky's decision to fulfill his war conscription.
Throughout the first two seasons of This Is Us, fans have seen enough of Stanley (Peter Onorati) in flashbacks that they have a fairly vivid picture of who he was. Starting from when Jack and Nicky (Michael Angarano) were very young, Stanley's alcoholism was in full swing, and he often physically abused his wife Marilyn. He wasn't the warmest father either, particularly when Jack had returned from war. After Jack's first date with Rebecca, Stanley blamed him for Nicky's death, likely fueling Jack's guilt about the mysterious circumstances of his brother's passing.
Viewers even know how Jack and Stanley's relationship fared later in life. After a period of estrangement, Jack asked Stanley for a loan to buy his and Rebecca's home, but his dad had no idea Jack was even married and essentially accused him of being a broke and lazy bum. In the late '80s, Rebecca and Kate then visited an ailing Stanley in the hospital while Jack was on a camping trip with Kevin and Randall. Jack refused to see him, and while the show didn't quite confirm if Stanley died during that hospitalization, his absence from following storylines definitely implies that he did.
As seen with Jack's own gradual descent into alcoholism, the Oct. 16 episode "Vietnam" revealed that Stanley wasn't always a toxic presence in Jack's life. When Jack was a toddler and Nicky was about to be born, Stanley was attentive and soft towards his family. He waited with Jack as Marilyn gave birth, telling him after the baby arrived that his job was to look after his little brother. Stanley's own father even showed up, confirming that while he might not have been abusive, Jack's grandfather also struggled with alcoholism. At that point, Stanley also didn't drink, but life clearly got in the way of that promise to himself.
Having constantly belittled Nicky for needing Jack to rescue him, Stanley told his younger son upon his conscription into the Vietnam War, "Make me proud, son." Angarano spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the moment affecting Nicky's choice to abandon the brothers' plan of fleeing to Canada, saying:
...When his father says to him, “Make me proud, son,” I think that might be one of the most meaningful things his father ever said to him. The emotional strain that Nicky’s been through as a child has influenced his decision. I think it goes further and deeper than just trying to make his father proud. I think it’s his dynamic with Jack.… It’s disavowing himself from this life that he’s led, which has built him up on broken knees, so to speak.
Kevin and Randall aren't the only Pearson men forever haunted by their father's decisions. We'll have to wait and see if more about Stanley's alcoholic tendencies is explained later this season. Was Jack's own experience with addiction a case of "like father, like son?"
Season 3 of This Is Us continues on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.