On Thursday nights, I’d shuffle two little boys into their PJs, perform more than one dramatic reading of “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and whisper goodnight prayers. Then, I’d tuck away under a blanket of my own, grabbing the remote and keeping tissues in sight.
Thursdays were for “Parenthood." The series closed up shop for good, and I’ve been thinking about why I connected with the network drama so much. My husband is unabashed in his claims that the show is terrible. (He also has a knack for hyperbole and likes watching “Flea Market Flip." So, yeah.)
But “Parenthood” wasn’t terrible. In fact, it was really good — the character development, the cohesive writing, the moving performances, the artful shots — all of it.
So here’s what made “Parenthood” so great:
The writers dealt with authentic, real-life issues in a way that didn’t make the plots seem over-dramatic or over-done. It was sentimental without being syrupy, realistic without being rigid.
The hour-long drama was so good because it cultivated empathy. So often, it’s the fiction books I read that sow compassion and understanding into my heart. I suddenly viewed cancer as something raw and real. I saw the conversations and the struggles of teenagers wrestling with abortion. I watched a soldier wrestle with PTSD and saw the addiction many struggle with in a new light. I heard families ask authentic questions about God. Through the TV, I saw it all — relationships reconciled, dreams dashed, and hurts healed.
I began to see bits of myself, and other people I love, in so many of the characters. When Julia wrestled with her identity when she decided to stay home, I understood. When Kristina advocated for her special needs son in countless IEP meetings, I got it. When Crosby and Jasmine wrestled with race, I was held captive.
I watched women find their brave and do hard things. I saw them pursue passions, start businesses, love without agenda, create with their hands and their hearts and their minds and their souls. I saw women support their husbands and spur them on to be the men they were made to be. I saw mothers advocate for their children and stand on the front lines for them, even when they could barely stand. They were wild and free women and yet still women who struggled to get carseats in the car and make sure the bills were paid. Women who wrestled with being a wife and a mom and a professional. Women who came to motherhood in different ways in different stages of life. Women who burned the pancakes and doubted and feared just like all of us.
“Parenthood” allowed me to see shades of gray in an ever-polarizing black-or-white world.
It brought together multiple stories with the common thread of family.
A family that didn’t always look alike. A family that wasn’t always biological. A family that didn’t always agree.
But they were a group of people that, through whatever they were navigating, could come together at the table. They had grace for each other, welcoming each other into an intimate life where you find yourself laughing and crying in the same sentence.
I think we need to see real. And in so many ways, the fictional Braverman clan was more authentic and transparent than many real families we know. And I think that’s why the show resonated with so many of us.
“Life is short, you cannot know how impossibly fast it goes by. So just enjoy this baby. Cherish this time. Cherish every minute of it,” Camille Braverman. (Yes, I just quoted her like she is a real person. This is where I’m at and I’m okay with that.)
“Parenthood” hit chord with so many of us because it was simply a show about what it is to be human.
What it is to go through the hard stuff and come out on the other side, maybe with a few bruises, but always with a stronger heart.
I’ve been thinking about a scene from this season. Zeek and Camille drive back to the big, two-story home where they raised their family. Zeek remembers that he had hidden an autographed baseball in the rafters of the barn (to protect it from the two young sons who were fighting for it). The aging grandparents head back “home”, planning to ask the new owners if they could take a look and retrieve the ball. The car pulls up to the house, now inhabited with a new family. Little boys are running around the yard, in some sort of epic battle. A little girl plays on the swing set, and a golden retriever sleeps in the shade. They watch as a mom, clearly pregnant, open the front door and shouts something to her little tribe.
And in that moment Zeek, a character who has transformed in the course of the series from a gruff father to a soft-hearted man, decides to keep it there for good. “They’re gonna think they found the hidden treasure,” he says. “It’s gonna be the best day of their lives.”
And the finale? It was touching and beautiful and provided closure — everything a series ending should be. The last six minutes have no dialogue — just glimpses of what the future holds for each member of the Braverman family. And, because of course, it’s set to a beautiful acoustic cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” — performed by Iron & Wine.
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young