A Valediction for Parenthood

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I watched the penultimate episode of Parenthood last night. It was emotionally exhausting and I cried far harder than I probably should over fictional characters in a television series. When I watched the first episode of Parenthood six years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. It was such a quiet show that seemed to have such humble ambitions – merely telling the story of an American family. I think there was a clue right from the start, though, that this was going to be more than a post-milennial Eight is Enough. After all, their last name is Braverman.

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Braverman! That name must be something to live up to. I actually looked up the name’s origin because I was pretty sure it did not originate with some courageous Saxon stalwart holding off a Viking horde and being called a “braver man” than most and then passing that name on for generations. It turns out to be Jewish surname from the Ukraine, a form of the Yiddish word braver which means good or honest. At least that is what most of the sources say, though one source says it means distiller. Well, the Braverman family does like their spirits. The name is perfect, though, there is something good and honest about this family and their quotidian dramas.

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My favorite memoir is A Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl. In it she tells of growing up in a happy family with no particular traumas and going off to college and taking a study trip to Czechoslovakia where she meets people and nothing dire happens. It is kind of hard to “sell” the book because there’s none of the normal justifications for a memoir, no celebrity, no disease of the week, no trauma, no abuse, no violence, nothing but an ordinary life, but an ordinary life made extraordinary by the magic of good writing and intellectual and emotional honesty. Parenthood is like that – stories of the life mundane made compelling because of good writing, good acting and intellectual and emotional honesty.

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That is not to say Parenthood does not have larger ambitions that to make ordinary life compelling. You can see that in how each of the four children come to represent certain priorities. They are not single-minded because the writers are extraordinary, but for each of them, there is a different priority that we choose when push comes to shove. For Adam it’s family, for Sarah it is love. Crosby’s story is about pursuing one’s dreams and Julia’s about pursuing success. Family, love, dreams and success. That is everything, isn’t it?

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So, next Thursday, I will be saying goodbye to a family I have come to love. I am picking up a box of Kleenex® before then.

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