Friday, April 24, 2009

Becoming a Man

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.

Gurian writes:

"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.


  1. Great post Jen! Glad NYC and Broadway is treating you well!

    I have this great book ( Don't ask me why I bought it) called " Preparing him for the other woman" about raising sons tobe good husbands and it goes along with what you were talking about in Stage 7...Such a great book!

    Anyways love the posts as usual :)

  2. Wow - I'm going to have to re-watch Mary Poppins now! I agree that we need to help nurture our sons, and do it without putting *our* vision of their future in their way. I swear that one of the biggest benefits of having a totally overbearing mother was the empathy it gave me in listening to and encouraging my own son to find his own voice and way.

  3. Firefly Mom -- We must be sisters! :)

    If you go back and re-watch the Disney movie, you might not see what I see. The Broadway show was based on the Disney movie and the original works of PL Traver, and as I learned, the versions of Mary Poppins presented in each were a little different. Did you know there were at least 3 Mary Poppins books published?

  4. Hi Jenny: Wow, I agree with the others. Mary Poppins merits a second look. Do you think The Purpose of Boys is useful for men who do not have sons? Wondering if the author might help me understand the social dynamics surrounding my own childhood and thus, indirectly, help me in my quest to be a better parent to Rachel.

  5. Interesting question, Eric. I do think it would be helpful, because as I was reading the book, I found myself seeing a lot of my husband and his past. I think anything that helps us understand the past can help us in the future. I'd be interested to hear what you think, though, after reading it.

  6. Thanks for this link over at

    I love the stage production of Mary Poppins. What an interesting connection -- I agree. I guess MP is one of the "family of three" as well, and we might as well through Bert in there too!

  7. Jennifer,
    Where/when did you see Mary Poppins? And I agree -- Bert definitely counts as part of the "family of three."