I saw Mary Poppins in a whole new light last night.
If you ask me, Mary Poppins is the most relevant musical playing Broadway. Consider this: Mr. Banks, the father in the story and a banker by trade, denies a loan applicant who tells him that his final product is "money," instead choosing to fund a man with plans to build a factory and provide employment. When the first applicant takes his business elsewhere -- and makes the competing bank a load of money -- Mr. Banks is devastated.
But when the applicant's scheme falls apart, the other bank loses everything. Turns out, you DO need an end product other than "money."
But politics and economics aside, I was intrigued by the story, because as much as we think we know the story of Mary Poppins, in many ways, it's the story of a man becoming a man.
I never paid much attention to George Banks before, the father of the children who reside at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. He's a mean, out-of-touch parent who can't be bothered by small children. His job, as he sees it, is to provide for them and their job is to leave him alone.
But last night I learned that Mr. Banks lacked nurturing as a child. He was raised by a cold, strict nanny who discouraged his love of astronomy, an interest he eventually tossed aside as useless and childish.
Of course, as Mary Poppins works her magic, Mr. Banks learns that people come before money. He learns how to give his children the affection they crave. And he rediscovers his love of astronomy.
Funny -- Banks' journey to full manhood looks a lot like the journey outlined by author Michael Gurian in The Purpose of Boys.
Boys, Gurian says, go through seven developmental stages on their way to becoming healthy men. One of those stages, Stage Five, is the Discovery of Personal Power. Occurring in adolescence, it's a time when your son taps into himself and find his true loves and talents.
George Banks missed this stage. His true love and talent -- astronomy -- was dismissed as a waste of time. He began to go astray.
"Our sons cannot fully develop their own sense of purpose if we don't help them find the masters and mentors of late adolescence who will encourage their newfound and honed power and guide their "magic," their "gifts," their "temperaments" toward service and work in society."
For many years, George Banks was lost, and his family paid the price. Only at the end of the show, after George rediscovers his lost interest does he finally progress to Stage Seven: Devotion to Family and Community.
I don't know about you, but I never thought much about helping my sons become strong men. I'm so caught up on the minutiae of the day ("Sit down!" "Stop harrassing your brother!" "No, you CAN'T stand on the piano!") that I sometimes forget the bigger picture.
But Gurian -- and George Banks -- have showed me that helping your son to manhood is no small task. It might be, in fact, the most important thing you'll ever do.