What were your favorite stories from growing up? Have you ever thought about how your favorites changed over time? More importantly, do you ever consider on how they changed and shaped you?
I don’t remember much about the picture books from my childhood though I know I loved them – Peter Rabbit, Mother Goose, and just about anything from Dr. Seuss. As I got older, my brother and I got into Greek myths before moving on to comics. (I was, and still am, a Marvel guy….)
While I loved those stories, the ones I remember most were those told about my grandparents and parents.
Learning about the exploits of “Wildcat” Kelly, the fortitude, grit and patience of grandparents growing up through the Depression, the wunder-dog Mike, my mother returning to college to finish her degree at 28 years old – and rubbing shoulders with the greatest Dawg of them all along the way.
These stories provided me with grounding, an understanding of my family values. And, more than three decades later, they still guide me.
It was not just the stories they told me but also those they chose to watch or read when I was around and paying attention. Movies such as Ben-Hur, Spartacus (the original), Shane, The Quiet Man, and The Searchers were big ones. So were books like Trinity, Lonesome Dove, and Shogun.
Would I have rather been watching cartoons or WWF wrestling? Sure. But, we had one (good) tv for a long time and getting the clicker out of Dad’s hand was a tall order. And just watching my parents read a book while crying over Gus or laughing out loud or exclaiming 'Toranaga - you are a bad mama-jamma!' left an impact.
Stories = Values Education
After a long career as a professor and college administrator, Frank Furedi laments the failure of adults to tell the important stories of their lives and values to children. As a society, we have…
...given up passing along the values and morals of the past to the great detriment of our youth…. The stories that children hear from their parents, relatives, neighbors help them to understand who they are, how they are expected to behave, and how to respond to the challenges of everyday life.
Stories used to be long and complex with two, three, sometimes four sides to each argument. They reflected real life in that everyone was doing what they thought best for themselves and their own.
One could empathize with Hector as he defended Troy. And, while you admired the prowess of Achilles and the cunning of Ulysses, both men showed obvious flaws. More recently, the story about Scout and brother Jem’s adventures showed both what a great childhood could look like while also demonstrating many prejudices and social constructs that must be completely eradicated from modern society.
The stories of old were not ‘inherently evil vs. all good.’ Now we have Darth Vader & Luke Skywalker, Maximus & Commodus, Roadrunner & Coyote, Tom Brady and everyone else…. (Ok, that one might not work as well….)
(Catherine Nichols has written an excellent article about this topic: The Good Guy/Bad Guy Myth.)
Rather than searching for understanding and listening, today we seem to place ourselves and others on very specific sides. Instead of finding common ground based on first principles, we do all we can to shut the opposing view point down.
Want to know where a lot of this comes from? You guessed – the stories we are told and tell ourselves.
A New Look at Old Stories
Our sons need stories that teach contemplation, thoughtfulness, consequence, logic and choice. They need stories that reflect the messy real world and inspire them to be a courageous, engaged part of it. Adults must once again pass along the important values and morals of the past so that our young men are prepared to be competent adults.
If we fail to influence the stories from which they learn, the culture writ-large will fill the vacuum for us. Do you really want that for your son?
I realize that passing along the morals and values of the culture in which we grew up can be challenging. When you question the values of the culture in which you were raised, you are less likely to pass them along. You can't let that stop you from teaching altogether.
Yes, there are things in our past we have to change or simply eradicate in our future. And, working together with open hearts and minds, we will. But, there remains a lot more that is good and worthy that we should pass along.
The best stories in my opinion? Those of Jesus.
A Lenten Challenge
Take pick two of the four gospels and read them with your son each day for Lent. It just about works out to read a chapter a day from Luke and then John or Matthew and then Mark. After each chapter, talk about what is happening, what the background is, and clear up any questions.
If you want to read ahead and get some ideas yourself, there are several good resources online.
In particular, pay attention to the parables – stories with overt meaning – that Jesus uses to teach those around Him be they disciples or those who plot against Him. There are many wonderful ones that are easy to understand and others you may have to look up to learn more about. (I certainly did…)
Want some extra-credit work? Share your story with your son – the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can even use your life as an example in one or two (or more) of the parables. He’ll learn from it and remember the time with you.
But, if you don’t want to share your own, then at least share His. If our Lord used stories to teach and we want our boys to be more like Jesus, well… it’s story time.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash