Here's a question I'll bet you haven't pondered lately: What would you do if your brilliant and somewhat precocious 16-year-old daughter was dating and becoming serious about a 19-year-old recovering alcoholic?
This was the situation explored on Tuesday night's episode of NBC's dramedy Parenthood, one of my favorite television hours. If you haven't checked out the Braverman clan, headed by the incomparable Craig T. Nelson and the luminous Bonnie Bedelia, I highly recommend it.
Granddaughter Haddie met Alex at a food bank where she is a volunteer and he is a volunteer coordinator. The product of a very rough childhood with little parental guidance, Alex shared the fact that he is an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous as soon as their attraction to one another became undeniable. The fact that he is African American was not an issue to Haddie -- her uncle is the father of a five-year-old with a black woman -- and it goes unacknowledged in the script until Alex goes to Haddie's house for dinner. Her little brother, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, blurted out "You're black," when the two were introduced.
Alex knocks it out of the park with Haddie's parents -- he is handsome, charming, mature beyond his years and uncommonly poised -- until the conversation takes a turn that requires Alex to reveal his problem with alcohol.
This is the point in the program when my attention split between the action on the screen and the rerun in my mind's eye. My sixteen year-old-self was faced with a similar dilemma in my real life. The details were different, but the ensuing drama was almost indistinguishable.
Haddie's parents agonize over their next steps. They recognized the dicey nature of the terrain they were about to tread. What kind of message would they be sending to Haddie if they decide to disqualify Alex as an appropriate boyfriend for her? Wouldn't that fly in the face of the ideals of redemption and second chances? After all, Alex was currently clean and sober and attending meetings regularly.
When her parents ultimately decided that Haddie was too young "to deal with adult issues" and ordered her to end the relationship, she went ballistic. When her ranting and raving didn't change their minds, Haddie met Alex anyway and failed to tell him she was forbidden to see him anymore.
Of course she got caught.But Alex didn't make it any easier for her father to stay the course when he showed up at the Dad's office and discussed it like a man, told the stunned father what a great dad he was, and vowed to honor his wishes.
Haddie did what any normal, pissed-off teenage girl would do under the circumstances. She ran away to her grandmother's house. That is exactly what I did!
The whole time I was watching this unfold, I was pulling for the young couple. I thought her parents were wrong...ish. I thought there were other ways they could have dealt with their concerns about their daughter's best interests. But her parents had ruled, and I'm a parent, so...yeah.
It remains to be seen how the conflict is resolved on the show. In my case, my boyfriend was a big-time athlete, two years older and a well-brought-up gentleman. My mother objected to his tendency to want to keep me unattractive to other guys. He didn't want me to wear any lipstick or perfume or tight-fitting clothes. She also thought I was too young to be so serious about one boy.
So, when I was finally forbidden to continue the relationship, I ran to my grandmother and grandfather, who allowed me to stay with them for several months until my mother and I could reach a compromise. Years later, he broke my heart. My mother and I still have problems over this period of my life. She resents her parents for "interfering" and taking me in. I resent her for being so domineering, even as I readily admit that she was right about the guy.
No matter how much we wish for one, there will never be a How-To manual for raising children. Like every other parent before us and those who will follow, we simply have to make it up as we go along. Who's to say what the right decision will be for Haddie's parents? No crystal ball will tell them if Alex will have a relapse and expose their daughter to substance abuse. Sometimes it just seems like parents cannot win for losing.