This past weekend I watched one of my favorite movies on TV. The movie is called “Parenthood” and it was released in 1989.
The cast includes a long list of Hollywood’s elite and the story includes many subplots of each smaller family that makes up a larger extended family with Jason Robards as the patriarch. I like Jason Robards in almost anything because 1. I think he’s a great actor, and 2. He looks a lot like my own father and sometimes acts that way as well.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Robards has come to grips with the realization that his favorite son, played by Tom Hulce (he starred in Amedaeus) is nothing more than a small time hustler and will never amount to anything. Hulce has ask Robards to loan him $26,000 to pay of some threatening bookees and so Robards comes to his other son, Steve Martin (who was always the boring one) to ask his advice about the loan. Their discussion leads to a more general conversation about the responsibilities of being a parent and then Robards says something like “You never get to the end; you never get to cross the goal line and spike the ball. You are always a parent.”
I thought about those lines this weekend in the quiet of my house. Things have been a little bit noisier in recent weeks as we have had many other visitors. I have four sons, three of whom are married. My oldest son has just finished a PhD and will be teaching at a university this coming fall. But for about five weeks he and his family, including a wife and 2 children, have been living with us while they make the transition to their new location. This past weekend they took the whole family to the new location to start moving their things into a house they are renting. My second son is still in school and he and his wife have two children as well. My third son is also married but he and his wife have no children. Last fall they proposed a plan whereby they would come live with us for a few months (when their lease was up on their apartment) which would give them a chance to pay of some bills so they could buy a house. We agreed and just a few weeks after they moved in my son lost his job. The silver lining in this scenario is that he has decided to return to college and get his degree that he didn’t finish before getting married. He is attending a local school right now and they intend to move away from our area at the beginning of next year when he enrolls at a different school. My youngest son is still living at home. He moved out briefly a year or so ago and then realized that his old man knew what he was talking about when he suggested that he couldn’t afford to move until he finished school and got a better paying job. So my youngest son is back in the house now.
So over the past several weeks there have been 9 people living in my house where the most we ever had before was 5 (My oldest son had left for his mission before we bought that house and never has lived there full time.) This past weekend Son #1 was away moving into his new home, Son #3 took his wife on a weekend trip visiting some of the campuses he is investigating and Son #4 was sleeping a lot like he often does on Saturday. Son #2 was with his family in the city where he attends school. I like the solitude of an empty house but I also love to have the whole family together. I wish I could help my sons more from a financial standpoint but I also believe it is important for them to pay their own way for the things they really want. My wife and I try to assist where possible but there is always a struggle.
I think of my own parents and how long they assisted us in establishing our lives. I think of the love and emotional support I’ve always got from them with whatever I was doing and I want to provide that same emotional support for my kids, as well as any financial support I can give, for as long as they need it. I think about Jason Robards’ words “You never get to cross the goal line…” and wonder if that will be the case for me. Should it be the case for any us? What obligations should we have as parents? How long before we get to rest?