True parenting is all about making sure your child knows you’re there for them when they need you the most. This gets tricky as they get older, hitting milestones they should experience by themselves because as a parent you have to balance allowing your child to experience both triumph and failure with a sense of autonomy while still maintaining a constant presence of support throughout. Yes, you want your child to feel free, but never do you want them to feel forgotten.
This week’s Modern Family dealt with that idea beautifully. In an effort to make sure Manny doesn’t feel forgotten, Gloria organizes a surprise birthday party for him to be attended by the entire family. All that needs to happen is Jay and she need to go pick up a cake and run a few other birthday errands before the big party—a task that sounds easier than it ends up being. Gloria knows this will be the last birthday Manny will celebrate as the only child, and she wants to make sure it’s perfect. In the process of picking up the cake and caravanning to different shops in order to finalize the details of the day, Gloria and Jay find themselves unable to get anything done in a timely manner, or, you know, legally.
The two end up stealing a cake from a woman pushing a stroller, and busting through a parking garage belt when the snooty attendant tells them they need to drive back to the third floor to get a new ticket since they’ve lost their original one. While I understand stealing from the infant as a form of survival for the day they had planned, I personally identified with plowing through the flimsy strip of caution as I’ve always wanted to smash one into pieces myself. Perhaps one day when I too have my soul mate we’ll enjoy committing petty crimes?
Meanwhile Haley, upset Phil is no longer treating her like his little princess since she’s been kicked out of school, introduces the family to her coworker, Kenny, who takes Haley out for a fun time before she meets up with the family for Manny’s party. However, Kenny is easily in his thirties with a Willie Nelson ponytail and bushy black beard. Phil is able to look beyond this at first because, much like Dillon, Haley’s previous boyfriend, Phil befriends Kenny due to his coolness. That, and he doesn’t think of Kenny as a threat since Phil knows it would be wrong to date someone that much younger than you. Claire, on the other hand, having pulled off a similar experiment when she was younger, immediately understands the play here and forces Phil to be super-cool with whatever happens between Haley and Kenny.
Except once Phil understands (and sees) the severity of the situation, he becomes an unhinged father the likes of which everyone wants to be: protective, vengeful, and agitated at the mere thought of any man touching his daughter, let alone a grungy pervert. Phil’s controlled rage eventually culminates in probably the funniest line of the night when he confesses to Claire, “I’m gonna fight him. I’m gonna fight him up real nice.”
In the end, he doesn’t have to fight Kenny, he merely has to fight for Haley; when she finally hears her father protect her in a seething retort to Claire promising to defend his daughter always because of how much she means to him, Haley wraps her hands around a now confused Phil and embraces him for once again making her feel like the daughter that didn’t screw up.
And while Phil’s daughter yearns to be wanted, we learn Cam is beating himself up for having forgotten Lilly for the first time since he went back to work; and in an effort to make sure he never does that again, in typical Cam fashion, he goes completely overboard to prove his level of love and affection—all of which somehow end with Lilly in some sort of physical pain as a result.
It’s hard not to empathize with Cam since his story is mired in his own success: he’s finally doing well at school, the kids connect with him, the faculty gets along with him, and he is feeling proud of the work he is accomplishing. Yet that all means nothing when he realizes he has put himself above his own daughter without any malicious intent. Cam has always had an unbelievable capacity to care for others, so when that wavers, you can be sure so does his confidence in himself.
Luckily for him though, because of his recklessness he ends up pushing Lilly into the pool where, as she’s falling in, she calls for “Daddy.” This warms his heart because he Mitchell is Dad, but he is Daddy, and she actually hasn’t forgotten him at all.
The final sequence has the family waiting for Manny to show up for his surprise party. Though thinking everyone is gone and he has the house to himself, Manny actually shows up with a girl in atypical Manny fashion. While the family is waiting in the dark, unbeknownst to them, she plants a “birthday kiss” on him before the lights eventually come on and she runs away in horror. Obviously Manny is inconsolable at this and hides himself in his room.
And while Gloria is trying to talk him out, her worst fears are realized—the baby is coming. And on Manny’s birthday.
Of course it ends with everyone loving everyone, but the takeaway is that all of the children know they are loved and remembered. Even Manny, who instead of holding petty grudges, reverts back to the wise sage older than his years, welcomes the newest bundle of joy to the already complex Pritchett family tree. Which, at this point, is more like an orchard.
As every family should be.
Dustin O’Donnell – @halfzippdhoodie