Parenthood’s Practical Wisdom

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What does it mean to live well?

Close your eyes. Close your eyes and imagine that moment when you realize you can no longer hedge, that a decision must be made, that it require courages and may in fact hurt someone you love. Imagine the moment where the script you have played over and over again in your head is called out from stage left and delivered in front of an audience for the very first time. Imagine you are telling someone you have cancer, and the embarrassment or fear that involves. Imagine admitting infidelity. Picture what it feels like to be exposed in the emotional hidden-behind-closed-doors nakedness we all share as humans.

When I tell people I love the show Parenthood, I get one of three reactions. The first is a look of disbelief that good shows still come on network television. I can understand this look. The second is that of unknowing and, in the case of the tragically under-appreciated Parenthood, I can only look upon with pity. But the last gaze is the one I love. It is the responding look of a kindred spirit. “I know, right?” I imagine this person saying behind moistening eyes.

First, a disclaimer – I don’t I get emotional that often, and especially not in regards to TV shows. Sure… Friday Night Lights can elicit a tear or two if catches me on an off-day, and The Wire can rip at me with its bleak moments of despair. But Parenthood is different. As much as I know how crazy this sounds, I feel like I know these people. Maybe more importantly, I know what it feels like to be these people.

Which brings me back to that moment I mentioned earlier. Those moments where reality implodes in ways that make us realize living in our heads is no longer possible. Those moments that require what Aristotle called practical wisdom, or knowing how to live well. This always seems like a great idea until we realize that living well is never living perfectly, that courage is what it is because lacking it so entices the masses. Indeed, this kind of wisdom to live well often means navigating a situation where no one comes out unscathed.

These are the moment where Parenthood lives. Consider the following scene. (NOTE: Spoilers from Season 4 involved).

Haddie, fresh off to college at Cornell, has just found out her mother has breast cancer. She can’t focus, she can’t study, and she calls home to her father to find out the true story. She realizes the bull shit she has been given to sooth her spirits, and she’s not content to let her family hide.

What does a dad do here with his daughter on the line? What does practical wisdom look like? On the one hand, Adam clearly wants to protect his daughter from what he knows will hurt her. After all, he knows clearly how deeply his wife Christina’s sickness hurts him. But Haddie is not the little girl he held in his arms years ago. She is an adult, and the stories we tell kids don’t stick as well as they grow older. And Christina is her mother just as much as she is his wife. Even if he doesn’t want to, he can’t say in the moment, “I am not ready to talk,” or hang up the phone. Adam has to speak. We all do. In the end, as much as might protest through memory and anticipation, life is eventually lived in the present. It’s good to be reminded of that every once in a while on a Tuesday night.