Yep – I said it. He’s wise. Well, really the brilliant screenwriting team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel are the wise ones. Wow…Babaloo. Wonder how MKL would feel about naming our little one Babaloo (if it’s a boy – clearly not a girl’s name). Where was I? Ah, yes – Keanu. Ganz & Mandel wrote the movie Parenthood. I love that movie. It is not only well-written, but also directed with a keen eye for emotional nuance by Ron Howard. It boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast: Dianne Weist, Jason Robards, Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Rick Moranis, a very young Joaquin Phoenix, and my favorite – Martha Plimpton. Amid this talented crew stands a pre-Matrix, pre-Speed Keanu Reeves. At the time, he was best known as one half of the time-traveling duet of dumb, Bill & Ted. But after one particular scene in Parenthood, I had a feeling he could really act. In a fleeting moment of clarity, Reeves’ simple, stoned character, Tod, utters the best line of the film:
“You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish!
But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father. “
Solid truth. When I was 13, my mother took me to see Parenthood. I laughed at it then; though looking back, I probably only caught about 70% of the humor. But even at 13, I knew this line had the ring of truth and insight. You see, it was around that age that I discovered my father is indeed an asshole. That opinion was only confirmed as fact as I aged. Sadly, he did not become less of an asshole, just an older asshole. My parents divorced when I was a toddler, and though I spent virtually every summer visiting him as a child, I’ve been estranged (by my own choice) from my father since I graduated high school. I’ve seen him a few times since – I tried to be the adult and invited him to our wedding. He came. I regretted it. When we bought our house I tried again to establish a bond, but it just wasn’t meant to be. So I have resigned to living out my days without my “real” father in my life. I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful mother who was always parent enough for two. She also made sure that there were father figures in my life in such a way that I actively seek out those relationships as an adult (yes, I’ve talked to my therapist about it).
In the wake of our Labor Day extravaganza with Winky and the Honey Badger, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes people good parents. It isn’t that my father doesn’t love me; I’m quite sure he does. He just never shuts up about himself long enough to tell me or show me. MKL’s mother is not a bad parent either. She just has absolutely no clue how to show her daughter how much she loves her. I took that weekend as a lesson in how not to parent. It makes me wish there was some TLC show where Stacy London and Clinton Kelly-type characters show up unannounced to makeover your parenting style. But there’s no such show. Even for the sake of 15 minutes of reality tv fame, no parent is going to open him/herself up to that kind of public scrutiny. What did you say, Kate Gosselin? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I hate watching MKL hurt from the words her mother screeched at her and vowed that I’d never make our child feel that way. And then I realized that neither my father nor MKL’s mother set out to hurt us. We were just collateral damage.
As a nanny, MKL is exposed to yet another family’s parenting style. In an attempt to refrain from passing judgment, I’ll just say that we would parent this child differently. Very, very dfferently. They chose to have him – he’s adopted. They wanted a child just like Winky & the Honey Badger did…just like my parents did. Just like MKL and I do. Thinking about this in the context of our soon-to-be baby scares the hell out of me. I suppose no one really thinks they’ll harm their children emotionally, but so very many people do just that. We’re good people, my wife and I. We want to have a baby because we both have a biological instinct for motherhood. We’re nurturers by nature (confession: I totally started singing “You Down with O.P.P.” in my head when I typed that!), and we’re pretty sure we’ll be good at this parenting thing. But as with any other couple, there’s a huge chance that we’re going to send this kid into therapy, just like our parents did.
So I’ve made two decisions: 1) We will begin saving now for both a college fund and a psychology stipend; and 2) we will never, ever forget how our parents’ words shaped who we are today. We’re not even pregnant yet but we both love our child too much to do that kind of damage. In essence, we will follow the teachings of the wise Keanu. And I think the world would be a much better place if more people did the same.