How I Keep Calm: Mandy Patinkin’s Family Videos

Mandy Patinkin and his wife, Kathryn Grody, make me believe in love.

Quarantine hasn’t been great for celebrity culture. From tacky compilations of celebs singing “Imagine,” to videos of white celebs “accepting responsibility” after George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protest movement, COVID-19 seems to have brought to the fore how gauche and self-serving celebrities can be. This moment has also shown us just how disconnected celebrities are from us and the rest of the world — holed up in gigantic homes, with their gigantic walk-in fridges, and taking human stew baths (okay, the human stew bath is kind of delightful).

However, there’s one celebrity who has not disappointed me: Mandy Patinkin.

My current disdain for celebrities does not apply to Patinkin, the king of Jewish dad energy, his wife, Kathryn Grody, and their son Gideon, who are sheltering in place in upstate New York. Their quarantine videos, produced by Gideon, have made me feel seen and soothed. Mandy and Kathryn, who have been together for over four decades and have two sons, Isaac, 37, and Gideon, 33, have taught me more about quarantine relationships than a hundred self-help books ever could. They’ve made me smile so wide that my cheeks hurt. They’ve made me cry real tears. And they’ve shown me, and us, who they are, and why they deserve to be adored.

Before we get to the substance of these videos, I’d like to first talk about the backgrounds and props, which particularly thrill me. You see, these videos are wonderfully unrehearsed and in the moment. Gideon, our kind benefactor who films and uploads these videos, does not seem concerned with taking the perfect shot — instead, he captures life with his parents in all its chaos. First of all, there’s the Patinkin-Grody home, which is rustic and magical. Different shades of wood adorn the walls, along with pictures and paintings and tapestries. Books, CDs, records, family photos, and dolls (including a full set of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) line the many shelves. Marie Kondo does not appear to have paid the house any recent visits. No one bare surface can found — loose papers are strewn everywhere. It is messy, but familiar and welcoming.

Then there’s the dinner table, which never seems to not have food on it; there are plates full of crumbs, half-empty coffee mugs, containers of cheese, a big salt shaker always at the ready, and two Shabbat candleholders. Maybe because, like every Jewish family, their gravitational center is the dinner table, the place where heated philosophical and political conversations occur, where you are goaded, laughed at, laughed with, the place where you share secrets and truths, and ultimately, the place where you are embraced. The Jewish dinner table is home.

Okay, I promise I’m about to talk about the videos, but first I need to break down the cast. The two stars of the hour are, of course, Patinkin and Grody. But I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the two other important guest stars of the videos.

First of all, there is Becky, the family’s labrador (or at least, she appears to be some part labrador) — she is joyful and exuberant and her loving energy seems to animate Patinkin in a truly incredible way. Just watch this video of him imitating Becky’s every move, until the two become a joint ball of happy and faithful dog energy, “pawing” at each other, then both freezing in alert at something the pup has heard (or smelled?).

Becky is part of almost every video, either getting a walk, hovering around the dinner table hoping for crumbs or a piece of matzah, or, you know, turning into a dog-human Megazord with Patinkin.

Then there’s Gideon, the faceless voice behind the camera. It is increasingly apparent that we would not have these videos without Gideon (as it does not seem that either Grody nor Patinkin are very technologically savvy — in one video Mandy attempts to learn how to tweet, asking Grody what a GIF is; she answers, “God is Friday!”). It’s also clear that Gideon was absolutely made for this job (I mean, literally — he is their son). He knows how to cajole them into just the right funny response, without it seeming anything but natural. He sings and laughs along with them, and yes, sometimes sighs exasperatedly because this is still his parents we’re talking about.

As the day of writing this, there are 24 quarantine videos of Patinkin and Grody together, all posted to Patinkin’s social media. Five of them are about refugees for World Refugee Day, in which they read out stories of refugees, in their own words. Grody is a relentless political activist, who has converted her entire family into activism. For years, the Patinkin-Grodys have done extensive work for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) through advocacy and visiting different refugee camps around the world.

The rest of the videos can be separated into two kinds. The first is some variation of a pop culture quiz. These videos make me laugh and laugh and laugh: “Let me alone, oaf!” is what Patinkin guesses LMAO stands for (honestly, that’s just so much better than laughing my ass off, and just as useful!).

“Pizza rat is a guy in a pizza restaurant that says bad things about Hilary Clinton,” Patinkin posits during another video, as he spreads butter on matzah and Grody shifts from using her own matzah as a way to hide her lack of lipstick to heartily shaking salt on it. The two get almost every pop culture reference delightfully wrong: “If you like it then you should’ve put a hat on it,” Patinkin completes the iconic Beyoncé lyric, while Grody thinks “Becky with the good hair” is something on TV.

Grody gets “Wakanda forever” totally right though — “That is the imaginary real place they had to hide from all the fucked-up white people” in Black Panther, she explains. In another video, Grody, a writer, admits that she doesn’t know how to cut and paste on the computer — only cut. She also admits to being into “videos of trees talking.” Seriously, Kathryn Grody is a gift.

Then there’s what I call the relationship videos, which are truly my favorite. I hate to say that anyone is #RelationshipGoals, but Kathryn Grody and Mandy Patinkin are #RelationshipGoals — it just cannot be refuted. The love between these two is palpable through the screen. They’re always reaching for each other’s hands, leaning on each other. They smile at each other in a way that cannot be faked, seeming as fresh and full of love as they ever were.

In one video, Patinkin flails Grody around while she attempts to sing a song. He switches between looking lovingly into her eyes and laughing so hard his face reddens. I hope that when I have been married for four decades, my partner looks and laughs at me like this.

In another, for the 42nd anniversary of their first date, Grody mentions that they had a “shitshow fight.” “Who won?” Gideon asks. “We both lost,” they admit — and they both cried about it. “We’ve always connected through weeping,” Grody says. “We love to cry,” Patinkin concurs. My heart melts. It is just so beautiful and so real.

In another video, in which the couple open up about Patinkin’s health scare (he ended up in the hospital for two days because of a tick bite), Grody does not stop crying. “I was just sort of numb. I kept cleaning the house, sending positive thoughts,” she says tearfully as Patinkin reaches out for her hand. She makes me weep, too.

Love is truly a beautiful thing. I know that’s such a cheesy-ass thing to say. But I don’t care. Love is the only thing keeping me together right now. And Kathryn Grody and Mandy Patinkin make me believe in it — video after video. You can see their admiration for each other, you can see the joy they find in each other, the laughter and the candor that they passed on to their kids and that they bestow on anyone who watches them.

I watch them over and over. And they fill me with hope.

how I keep calm

How I Keep Calm is our series featuring different ways people manage anxiety. If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail submissions@heyalma.com with “How I Keep Calm” in the subject line.

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