(Spoiler alert – I do reference scenes and points from the book and movie “Unbroken.” proceed with caution)
This past December I read UNBROKEN, the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, a US Olympic track star and Veteran who survived a as a WWII POW. The CEO had read the book before me, and loved it. We were both looking forward to seeing the movie, and made a date night out of it shortly after it was released. We sat through the entire movie with no snacks, popcorn or drinks. We wanted to be focused, undistracted. It was utterly captivating to watch and we both left the theater in awe of the sheer reality that men can be so strong, of body and spirit.
We walked quietly our of the theater, listening to the conversations around us. Both of us were a bit shocked by what we heard. In the ladies room a sassy young thaang in her late teens had complained to her friends, “Well that was a drag. I mean I get it, he was tortured and survived. Big Deal” And on the way out we heard another young group complain “I just don’t get the point. There was no plot.”
Needless to say the CEO and I were aghast. Our conversation on the way home quickly turned to our disappointment in the response from those young adults. Could they really be so numb that they don’t recognize true heroism when they see it? Were they expecting Louie to have super powers and fight his captors in direct conflict with choreographed fight scenes and a dramatic escape? Where there not enough explosions for them? Could it be they didn’t know enough about the Atomic Bombs to find that conclusion to the largest war in human history dramatic enough?? Really?
And I don’t think the fact that they didn’t read the book before seeing the movie is an excuse for their response. I had not finished the book yet myself, and so hadn’t read about the insanity he endured in the prison camps in Japan. I was still in tears during the scene where The Bird forces Louie to lift the huge pillar of wood above his head, and had to burry my head into the CEO’s arm because I simply couldn’t watch that intense, and long scene. I whispered to him, “Did that really happen?” just to hear him confirm what my mind couldn’t fathom. Yes. Yes it did REALLY happen. To a man who had already endured over a year and a half of hellish starvation and physical abuse. And yes, he really did stand there and hold it for an incredible, surprisingly long time, proving that while the body may be defeated the human spirit can endure.
So in the days and weeks since seeing the movie, finishing the book and thinking about those bratty kids from the theater, I have been obsessed with thinking about how I can raise our associates to be less like them and more like Louie Zamperini. Obviously those kids needed better understanding of world history, but since I can’t easily influence what is taught in schools these days, I compiled the top five parenting lessons I learned from UNBROKEN. I don’t think Laura Hillenbrand intended to write this as a parenting manual, so I apologize in advance if my mommy-brain is misinterpreting her masterpiece.
5) “Dirty Food” and “Nutritional Meals” Are Relative Descriptions
Our family policy has officially been changed from the “5 second rule” to the “Does it have maggots or fecal matter on it” rule. I’ve certainly already been more lax than most moms about food cleanliness and I never really flinch to let my kids pick something off the ground if in our home or at the park. A little dirt never hurt anyone, and Associate A still gets a majority of his fiber from mulch. But when cookies fell on airplane seats, restaurant floors or most recently the sidewalks of a major theme park, and one of my kids picked it up and popped it in their mouths before I could stop them, I worried. I even panicked a little, with a few stern words, grabbing his head and forcing open his mouth trying to dislodge the offending, contaminated animal cracker. NO MORE! Seriously people, I know there are risks with eating germs, and I will continue to teach them that is not a good idea to eat food off the ground, but no longer will I overreact and mommy-guilt myself to death over this. They will survive. I may have to amend this rule if they ever get a bout of dysentery, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.
And the same is true for worrying about their poor nutritional intake. Associate P is in full on toddler pickiness, and he refuses to try just about everything but his short list of pre-approved meals, assuming they are served in the correct bowl and with the appropriate construction themed utensil. I have spent countless hours worrying if he is eating enough or good variety. NO MORE! Reading what Louie and Phil survived on in the Ocean for 46 days is unbelievable. The military directions provided with the rations on the lifeboat were to eat a (as in 1) square of chocolate and a few sips of water a day. So from now on, if all Associate P wants to eat today is two squeeze yogurts so be it. As long as I can give him good clean water, I’m over trying to force him to eat or giving in and letting him eat crap. I will wait it out, and then when he is hungry enough he will just have to eat whatever healthy ration I offer him…. its not like the options I present him are raw seagull or fish.
4) You Do Not Need To Be a Cruise Director Mom To Be A Good Mom
Associate P has always been clingy to me (likely because his entire first year of life I spent every moment of his awake time entertaining him, talking to him and stimulating him) and Associate A is currently in a major mommy-obsession phase. It is hard to ignore there cries for attention, help and assistance in providing entertainment for them, but NO MORE! I hereby give myself permission to ignore their cries and begin insisting they occupy themselves. It’s not that Louie’s mom ignored him, but she certainly didn’t follow him around everywhere and schedule his every waking moment. Moms were not expected to be entertainment directors and chauffeurs. If kids wanted to participate in an activity they rode their bike, public transportation or walked there. And most importantly, kids then were allowed to roam, play and live in the world, not just in their own backyards.
Louie had a daring childhood, filled with frequent confrontation with the law, bullies, and adversities that he overcame on his own, or suffered the consequence of his actions. I’m not saying I hope my kids are stealing, drinking and smoking while in elementary school like Louie was, but it is very clear from this story that Louie had an independent spirit, confidence and survival skills at a very young age. He took responsibility for his choices because he was allowed to make them… something I don’t think we let kids do enough of these days.
3) Love Your Children, No Matter What
Number three comes directly from number 4. Louie’s parents led a good life and were good role models, they loved their children and cared for them, but they didn’t try to manipulate their kids to be something they weren’t. Louie was a handful, and wild and refused to follow the straight and narrow path as a young kid, and they accepted it. He was disciplined when needed and they let him know they expected more from him. But his mother still loved him dearly. And in time, thanks to their unconditional love and the encouragement of his big brother Pete, Louie began to believe that he could be more than just the town thief.
I think all to often parents set a vision of what they hope their kids will be and try to manipulate them to fit into that dream. Some are more dramatic than others. I have only seen one or two Toddlers in Tiara’s episodes, but I got the gist of the show. It was pretty clear those moms should spend a little 1:1 time with a therapist to work through their own body image issues rather than playing dress up with their own living daughters.
But I myself am guilty of this manipulation already… I’m scared to death of my associates wanting to play contact sports, and already hear myself telling them “You see how mommy and daddy like to kayak and row? Did you know it is a sport and you can do it with a team. That will be fun, right?!?!?!”
So NO MORE! I pledge here and now to love my kids no matter what and to accept them for who they are, and trust that my unconditional love and support will help them realize they can do anything they put their mind to. And if that means they turn into a soccer star, fine. I’ll get over my fears. If they want to play dungeons and dragons all day and DOOM! all night, cool with me. For them, I will be willing to learn and play too. (No, that does not mean I am willing to learn and play with you CEO. Sorry. You have to take me to dinner and on romantic dates)
2) Don’t Let Your Kids Be Numb To Real Bravery
Superheroes and legends of bravery have been favorite stories for all of mankind. From Odysseus to Ironman, everyone likes a good hero story. But I think more and more, in this society of abundant TV, movies and video games, kids are loosing sight of what real heroism is. The more I thought about the reaction of those young adults in the theater, the more I began to think about the true subtlety of the violence, bombing, and struggle portrayed in the movie. I thought the beauty of the movie was the realistic portrayal, and that they didn’t overdue it with fancy graphics, sound effects or gratuitous blood and guts. Maybe without all that jazz, those kids were genuinely bored. But could they still not recognize that this was a “based on real life story” and that someone actually survived all that?
Maybe the media doesn’t report the stories of everyday heroes enough. Maybe society doesn’t celebrate them enough. But I can’t change any of that. What I can do is raise children who will know and respect real heroes – veterans, policemen, fireman and the brave citizens who step up in unexpected ways to prevent an accident, solve a problem or challenge status quo. I want to raise my children to admire astronauts, and understand those REAL men strapped themselves to REAL rockets, filled with REAL rocket fuel, and most of them lived to tell about it and we honor those brave souls who didn’t.
1) The most important thing I learned from UNBROKEN is that the gift of faith in God is by far the best gift I can give my children.
“Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perceptions of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their physical and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling.”
― Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Phil’s father was a methodist Pastor, and how proud he must have been to know that his son was strong enough in faith, not just to save himself, but to share the hope that he found in Jesus with his friend in their hour of need. The book goes into much more detail of Louie’s faith journey than the movie portrays. It was more than just the conversation with Phil on the life raft that brought Louie to Christ, but it is that scene, if you will, that stuck with me. When I think about the kind of men I want to raise, hands down I want my sons to be the one sharing eternal hope, not cowering in fear of human suffering.
It is so easy to feel alone and helpless in this world. I imagine floating on a raft in the middle of the pacific is about as alone as anyone might feel. But when three men looked up at the stars. Two saw the wonder of the Lord’s creation and renewed their faith that all things are possible through him. One felt small and insignificant, alone and hopeless.
“What God asks of men, said [Billy] Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith.”
― Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
If you haven’t read the book, I highly encourage you to do so. But if you are an exhausted mom or dad and picking up a book isn’t in your immediate future, then I hope these five ideas can inspire you to raise the next Louie Zamperini or Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips.