Sometimes a character in a book is so wise, strong and amazing that I can’t help but to be mentored by them as I’m reading. In particular, often I find myself inspired by mothers and fathers in stories that are able to navigate parenthood with grace and wisdom, despite difficult circumstances.
These are the types of characters that are steadfast and determined, yet loving and kind. Their presence in the story is critical – guiding their families through the ups-and-downs of life with grace and wisdom. Their example makes me want to be a better parent.
Since this weekend is Father’s Day, I wanted to shine the spotlight on a couple of literary father figures that have taught me a few life lessons.
Learning the value of honesty and hard work from Father.
In my opinion, no one can top Father from “Little Britches.” The family moves to a Colorado ranch in 1906 when Ralph Moody, the son (and author), is only 8 years old. He has to grow up quickly and smartly because Father needs his help tending the land. Life isn’t easy but Father never complains. He’s a quiet type that allows his actions to do the “talking.” He was honest and trustworthy. He lived a life of integrity. Ralph describes his father as like this: “Father was real good about making people believe what he said.” He was always tender with his wife and wise with his children. Despite the difficulties of the ranch life, Father is determined to raise his son to be hardworking, disciplined and honest. He’s constantly guiding his son and offering tidbits of truth and wisdom. One of my favorite moments in the story is when Ralph has been caught being dishonest and Father gives him this advice:
“A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin.”
He never yells or loses his cool, despite some very hard times, but still his words and actions demand a lot of respect and admiration from Ralph, his wife, and others in the community….including me!
Keeping a positive attitude despite the hard times.
I could not write this tribute and not mention Pa from the “Little House on the Prairie” series. Oh, how I love Pa! First of all, he’s the definition of strong. The man BUILT his house and all the furniture in it. Most of the book tells how Pa found the wood for the house, dragged it to the home site, cut it, and made it into a house. Wow! Although his strength is to be admired, the thing I love most about Pa is his ability to stay positive despite the hard times. He’s always upbeat – playing his fiddle and singing, or making jokes. He never seems to let his circumstances weigh him down.
At the end of the Little House on the Prairie book, after all their hard work to settle in – building a house, surviving wolves and Indian raids, planting a garden – they are told that they must move off this land. It’s a heartbreaking blow. At dinnertime, Pa goes out to their garden and digs up all the potatoes (they had been saving them for seeds for the future crops). He brings them inside and tells Caroline (Ma) to cook up the whole batch, to nourish their bodies and souls, stating one of my all-time favorite quotes: “There’s no great loss without some small gain.” Somehow he manages to always see the silver lining in the situation.
In one of the saddest books in the series, “The Long Winter,” they are in the throws of a severe Dakota winter. They are barely staying warm, barely getting enough food, and it seems winter will never end. Hope is truly almost lost. As another blizzard is raging outside, Pa is determined to beat it.
“It can’t beat us!” Pa said.
“Can’t it, Pa?” Laura asked stupidly.
“No,” said Pa. “It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up.”
Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.
Oh, how I wish I could travel back in time and jump into this story to listen to Pa play his fiddle and sing his cheerful songs. Instead, I will try to model his positive attitude in my own life.
Seeing the best in the people around you.
Where would Anne (of Green Gables) be without Matthew? When there’s a mix-up and Anne is sent to “help” on the land instead of a boy, Matthew – who could have been the most frustrated and disappointed – feels compassion and sympathy for Anne. But not only compassion, he sees immediately that “she’s a real interesting little thing.” Somehow he’s able to convince Marilla, his sister, to adopt Anne using very little words. And so begins the wonderful story of “Anne of Green Gables.” Matthew continues to be the silent, strong figure throughout the entire story. He offers endless support and love to Anne.
When it’s time to pass her examinations, Anne wants to pass so badly for “Matthew and Marilla – especially Matthew. Matthew had declared to her his conviction that she ‘would beat the whole Island.’ That, Anne felt, was something it would be foolish to hope for even in the wildest dreams. But she did hope fervently that she would be among the first ten at least, so that she might see Matthew’s kindly brown eyes gleam with pride in her achievement.”
To Matthew, Anne would always be the “little, eager girl he had brought home…”
Matthew’s acceptance, love and praise of Anne, despite her missteps, gave her wings to soar and thrive. It’s a great reminder to see the best in those around us.
Of course, I realize these are not exactly real people, even though they might be based on real-life people. I’m sure they’ve been edited and story lines have been altered. Still, I love having an ideal to aspire to. I’m sure their bits of wisdom, loving attitudes, hard work and fierce determination will continue to inspire many future generations.
Your Turn: Who are your favorite literary fathers (and mothers)?