Over the past couple of years, I’ve made my way through the NBC show Parenthood in spurts, finally finishing the series during a pretty epic season of Netflix binge watching. It’s not a perfect show (read: it’s not Mad Men) but I enjoyed it. And some of the themes surprised me. (Psst! Spoilers within! Ye have been warned!)
The plot is built around the four children of Zeke and Camille Braverman: Adam, Sarah, Julia, and Crosby. While the main focus is “family,” it really centers around marriage, not only Zeke and Camille’s marriage but their children’s marriages, as well.
Crosby, the youngest Braverman, is living a life of perpetual adolescence and in his 30s is still sleeping around, living on a houseboat, and being generally irresponsible. But lo and behold, an ex-girlfriend shows up on his doorstep with someone she wants him to meet: his adorable five-year-old son, Jabbar. This discovery shocks him into adulthood.
Crosby suddenly cares about someone more than he cares about himself. He doesn’t become a perfect father overnight but as he gets to know his son over the next few weeks and months, he becomes deeply committed to him. He can’t help but love his little boy and he grieves over the years he was unaware of his existence. Years he can’t get back.
As Crosby and his son’s mother, Jasmine, spend time together with Jabbar, they begin see each other differently. At first very standoffish, Jasmine starts to let Crosby into her life with Jabbar. One of the most poignant moments of the whole series is when Jasmine shows him the video of Jabbar’s birth which brings Crosby to awestruck tears. He wants to be part of this family.
Slowly Jasmine begins to see Crosby as something more than the irresponsible manboy she knew five years before. He makes plenty of mistakes, but he’s dedicated to his new role and fatherhood begins to transform him.
But what’s perhaps even more beautiful is how Crosby begins to fall in love with the mother of his child. She’s is a beautiful, talented woman, but what Crosby is most drawn to in Jasmine is her motherhood. He’s stunned by how capably she’s raised their child, by what a loving mother she has become. She has become a source of wonder to him.
He loves being a dad and tells Jasmine, “I think I’m falling in love” regarding how he feels about sweet little Jabbar. She looks askance at him until he clarifies who he was talking about. But it’s as though Crosby realizes at that moment, that maybe he is falling in love with Jasmine. He’s falling in love with the whole idea of being a family with this woman and this little boy.
The scene that turns their relationship in a romantic direction is the simple act of putting their son to bed. They kiss for the first time since they’ve been reintroduced to each other in the doorway of their sleeping child’s room. The journey of parenthood lets you see someone you know intimately in a completely new light. And isn’t it the mundane beautiful moments that really hit us right in the gut?
There are few things as thrilling as hearing my husband read aloud to my kids at bedtime or masterfully comfort toddler meltdowns. It just gets me. Marriage isn’t one romantic getaway after another. It’s remembering to turn the coffee pot on for your spouse. Or tucking your children into bed. It’s sitting around the dinner table together as a family and choosing to do it all over again tomorrow.
I love that the daily grind of parenting makes Crosby and Jasmine fall head over heels for each other because it’s just as it should be.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for them, either. They have problems. Crosby makes a huge mistake. You wonder if he will be forgiven and if they’ll ever get married. But Crosby keeps fighting for Jasmine and it’s their deep desire to be a family that gets them to the altar despite their failings and difficulties. Their ability to forgive and commit to each other lays the groundwork for their life together–which, although challenging, is very beautiful.
I was honestly surprised that a culture that doesn’t see marriage as a lifetime commitment can accept a show like Parenthood–a show that emphasizes that marriage is something you fight for despite betrayal, disillusionment, and conflict.
The Braverman grandparents, Zeke and Camille, are in the midst of some serious marital issues when the first season begins. Years of problems start to boil and come to the surface. Infidelity is unveiled and everything almost falls apart. But Zeke starts to fight for Camille after brushing her aside for many years. Their problems are not over. But they decide to fight for their marriage. They each make sacrifices so that the last chapter of their life can be lived together.
In the later seasons of the series, the Braverman’s daughter Julia and her husband Joel start to struggle. Having been the couple that has had it all together for most of the series, it’s painful to watch things crumble and Joel check out and then move out. It hurts to watch their children react to the new normal of them living apart.
Finally Julia gives up on Joel ever coming home and moves on. The marriage is all but over when Joel visits Zeke, his father-in-law, to thank him for embracing him as a son for so many years and to say goodbye to being part of the family. But Zeke doesn’t stand for it. He urges Joel to fight for his family and never give up. He won’t take no for an answer, and it’s just what Joel needed to hear.
I loved this moment. Because Zeke hasn’t been a perfect husband, but he fought for his family. And because he didn’t give up, now he can offer that exhortation to Joel. And that scene brings me to the beauty of community in family life.
The community supports the marriage and the marriage supports the community. Without Zeke and Camille’s marriage anchoring the family, would Julia and Joel or Crosby and Jasmine have made it?
When the individual becomes idolized over the community, marriage can so easily suffer. When it becomes one person’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction that matters above all, how easy would it be to walk away? But when walking out means hurting a whole community of people that will be affected by your decision, the motivation to fight for the marriage increases. Joel and Julia may not have made it without the rest of the Bravermans. And Zeke and Camille might not have made it without the community of their children.
The closest thing the Bravermans have to a religion is baseball, but watching them forgive after hurting each other and love despite conflict reminded me of the splendid, painful task of demonstrating Christian charity.
Parenthood shows how love really does cover a multitude of sins. Choosing to love after being wronged, choosing to love knowing you may be wronged again, and fighting for our families even in seasons of dissatisfaction and pain–the result won’t be perfection. But it will be beautiful. God knew what he was about when he created family. Thank you, Bravermans, for reminding me of that.