Mary Poppins revisited

“Mary Poppins” has always been one of my favorite movies, although I’ve probably only seen it a few times in my life. It came out before VHS and DVD and Netflix and streaming video, so we went to the movie theater to see it one time, then maybe again if it came out on TV. But my parents did have the album for “Mary Poppins” and “Sound of Music”, so I can sing you any of the songs from those classics. They are part of me.

I don’t get too bent out of shape when supposedly historical movies bend the facts a little, so I loved Tom Hanks as the lovable Disney and Emma Thompson as the difficult Mrs. Travers. And the movie got me thinking about the deeper meaning of the fun musical. At one point in “Saving Mr. Banks”, I believe it is Walt Disney who comments that Mary Poppins did not come to save the children, but to save the father, Mr. Banks – hence the name of the film. The children knew what they wanted – a nanny who was fun and pretty, yet at the same time would give them the structure they needed to feel safe- kind of like the perfect school teacher. But deep down they wanted more from their parents, their father in particular. And he needed to be shown that his children were just as important as his job. I would have related to this theme in 1964.

My father was a good Christian man, a WWII vet, a successful executive with Burlington Industries. a leader in the church and community. He loved his family, but he wasn’t around alot. Daddy had a very nice basketball goal put in for me, but he never came out and shot baskets. He was there for most of my piano recitals and chorus concerts, but he was often gone in the evenings to Chamber of Commerce or deacon meetings, or out of town on business trips. If I wanted to spend time with him,  I had to meet him on his turf, watching a ball game or helping him in the yard. I loved sitting next to him at church and leaning my head against his arm.

This is not a criticism of him. Most men in the post war era saw their primary role as provider for their wives and children, not playmate. He would often make the comment that he worked hard for us. Daddy grew up during the Depression, and while they were not poor, they didn’t have lots of extra money. In one candid moment, he said that during his time at Clemson during the early 40’s, he was embarrassed to invite friends home because his mother still cooked on a wood stove. He rose to the ranks of vice president in Burlington Industries and we had a beautiful home. He came home each night and fixed a drink, ate supper, then watched the news. I realize now that he surely had lots of stress in his job and that he just wanted to relax. But, similar to the Banks’ children, I wanted a closer relationship with my father for much of my life.

I recently heard on the radio that parents spend more time with their children today than they did in the 1970’s. At first I thought ‘No way!” In the 1960’s and 70’s when I was growing up, very few mothers worked. My mother was a stay at home mom, although that term was not used, it was just assumed that a mother was at home. But despite the fact that she was not off at a job, I was not spending lots of time with her. She was in the house cooking or cleaning and I was playing. I knew she was there, and that was security, but she was not in worried about keeping me entertained.

When Adam came along, he became my world. Just like parents today, practically all my time was spent with him. I remember consciously thinking when he was born that I wanted him to always feel that I liked him as well as loved him. I don’t think I ever felt that my parents liked me well enough to spend time with me. I knew they loved me, but I was never quite sure that they really wanted to be around me.

Today, the pendulum has swung the other way and parents’ lives revolve around their children and their activities. Most parents I know spend much of their week-end at their children’s sports events or taking them to fun places. This is not a bad thing – I think parents today are closer to their children than when I was a child. But I wonder how the next generation will operate – will our children be more balanced as they juggle work, children, spouses, church, school and fun time?  Will the pendulum swing the other way and go back to a time of parents and children living separate lives in the same house?

“Saving Mr. Banks” is a touching movie about daughters trying to please their fathers (Mrs. Travers as a child in the no-win situation of trying to please her alcoholic father) and fathers trying to please their daughters (Walt’s insistence that he keeps pressuring Mrs. Travers for the film rights in order to keep his promise to his daughters) and in that way is a classic story. Mary Poppins and Bert help Mr. Banks realize his need to let go of some of his responsibilities and reconnect with his children. Our generation of parents heard that loud and clear

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