Parenthood is Very Rewarding by Thomas Putnam
Toward the end of GRAND HORIZONS, the father says to his wife (who has announced she wants a divorce), his eldest son, and his daughter-in-law, “Parenthood is very rewarding.” This comment comes after nearly two hours (representing a full week) of upheaval as his family seems to be falling apart. It's debatable whether this man, Bill, is being completely genuine or is he being sarcastic or snarky or something less than genuine—just trying to say the right thing and not really believing it.
It doesn't appear in the action of the play that Bill finds parenthood to be very rewarding. He really doesn't have much to say about anything. He kind of goes with the flow of what he thinks might make people happy. Yet the oldest son reviews all the special events he experienced in his life: “every Christmas. Every birthday. Every baseball game..Every family photo, every family trip, every hug, every lesson learned, take your pep talks, your matching plaid pajamas.” These were all part of the fabric of his growing up with two parents who provided for him and kept him safe. Yet, because of some family secrets now revealed, he sees all these family activities/celebrations as “bullsh!t.” He can't trust that these events were real or worth anything.
There is a great deal of exploration of parenthood in this play and I could quote a number of lines that help to inform that line towards the end of the play: “Parenthood is Very Rewarding.” But I've just read today some thoughts that could also inform our broader exploration of parenthood.
“We have made mistakes with our children, which will undoubtedly become clearer as they get old enough to write their own books.” This from the author of Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Remember Jean Kerr? The book is charming and fun but I'm wondering in her honest moments could she truly say what she was doing with that wild bunch of kids was rewarding.
“Yes, Mother...I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.” Bill and Nancy in this play could have learned some wisdom from Alice Walker's mother. Whether Bill and Nancy tried to hide their flaws, or whether their sons just couldn't see them for whatever reasons, the boys did not see that their parents are real, whole people—flaws and all.
“It's a wonderful feeling when your father becomes not a god but a man to you—when he comes down from the mountain and you see he's this man with weaknesses. And you love him as this whole being, not as a figurehead.” Hmmm, I wonder if Bess Wohl read this quote of Robin Williams when she was writing the play.
So where are we. Don't kids need to see their parents as gods for a while; as beings that can do no wrong and can protect them? Then, when they are ready to write their own books...that wonderful realization that “hey, these ordinary, human beings did a damn good job of protecting me and keeping me safe and taking me on family trips and watching my baseball games and giving us all matching pajamas.” They're not divine beings at all; just flesh and blood who were doing their best.