The End of Parenthood
First, a toast to all the things. To that gorgeous wedding location, with its craftsman beams framing the family and their love. To Haddie’s speech to Max that was really all about her, which is sort of typically, beautifully Haddie. To Julia and Joel and their four children. FOUR. To Hank and his best man who doesn’t say much. To that memorial, and to that baseball game, and Amber, who was an essential part of Camille & Zeek’s “third act”.
I sobbed. Why would I pretend I didn’t sob? Probably I started when Zeek told Sarah she was his favourite, cried all the way through everything to do with Victor’s sister (though God, I wish we’d gotten to hear him learn he had a[nother] sister), and had some merciful relief from the tears when Kristina and Adam were playing musical headmasters.
Here’s the thing about that, and about everything. The resolution of all the stories, the flash-forwards to how everyone was, yes, it was a lot of dream situations and amazing outcomes. A lot of babies – did you see Aida’s hair?! A lot of pregnancies. And the biggest cheer of all, of course, wait for it …
AMBER IS MARRIED TO JASON STREET!
Now, I know there was some debate online over whether or not they were married but I’m pretty damn sure I see a ring on his finger, even if I can’t see hers. Oh and that’s his daughter. They met at a play gym. SQUEE.
So yes, things turned out well for a lot of people. But when you think about it, the whole show has been a beautiful fantasy, one that nonetheless felt real. Most shows lay out their thesis in the pilot, somewhere or other. Parenthood certainly has that. “Dad…there’s something wrong with my son.”
But the real thesis statement, of course, is revealed at the end of season two.
“You do not have permission to mess with my dreams.”
Zeek tells Amber, and she sobs, and knows it’s true. And so all the children do his bidding in the following years – doing their best to find lives and families and, to a much lesser extent, careers that make them happy, because his dream is a large happy family.
That’s why I think Parenthood isn’t actually about being a parent exclusively. Only half – maybe even less – of the issues on the show are about how to deal with your children. Instead, much more significantly, they’re about how to deal with your parents, when you’re 18 and when you’re 38. They’re about how to deal with your adult siblings, and your adult spouse, the person who promised to be by your side forever but doesn’t necessarily change at the same time or the same way that you do.
The show is called Parenthood because we all come from parents, of course, but really, it’s about adulthood, and how, no matter how old you are, actual adulthood- feeling like a grownup – seems just out of reach, like how the horizon never gets any closer.
That’s why the show was so wonderful. That’s why Crosby and Amber had a special relationship – they were both working their way through similar states of wanting to understand themselves more than they did. That’s why Julia was devastated by her divorce – but also kind of liberated. That’s why Sarah’s endless romantic pursuits ended not with the great love affair, the devastating joy of The Sound and The Fury governing her days and nights, but something much quieter, softer. A love for who she is today, not who she might have been.
In the end, that’s adulthood, and Parenthood. Making constant adjustments to reconcile the person you thought you’d be with the person you’ve become, after making so many small course corrections for the people you bump up against. For the siblings you didn’t expect to have. You don’t think Sydney’s adulthood is going to be affected and changed by her self-image going from being an only child to one of four? We saw Drew’s nascent adulthood affected by the instability of his childhood and the relative security of his adolescence. We saw Max – Lord, did we see Max. But every choice his parents made, no matter how much we abhor it, was about helping him to someday be an adult who could function in the world.
So in the end, that’s the dream. Parenthood isn’t about who you become when you have children, though of course it changes you in all kinds of delicious and frightening ways. It’s about that never-ending quest to become an adult – a person of your own making – knowing that you’re constantly being buffed and sanded and washed over by the other people around you.
Remember what Friday Night Lights was about? A Town. A Team. A Dream. For how many people did those dreams turn out exactly the way they’d envisioned? Almost none … but they still had beautiful lives. For a few – Matt Saracen, Crosby, Sarah – life turned out better than they could have envisioned.
“You do not have permission to mess with my dreams”, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll look the way they did the first time you dreamed them. Life gets in the way.
May God bless and keep you always.