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In the restaurant of life, the main dish of parenthood comes with a huge side order of worry. You are also served anxiety sauce and nervous seasoning. Every time your child makes a decision, you wonder about the consequences. And when your child doesn’t listen to your wise counsel, you realize that you’ve raised someone who is headstrong and foolish.
Certainly Chief Tui felt that way about Moana. She was his daughter, the light of his life, and the next chief of Motunui. She was his hope for the future of his people. All she had to do was follow the path he’d laid out for her—follow the rules, learn from him, and take over when her time came.
What he didn’t realize was that his plan depended on an unchanging world. As long as everything stayed more-or-less as it always had, Moana and the people of Motunui would be fine.
Things don’t stay the same, though. Centuries before Moana’s time, the demi-god Maui had stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. He intended to give it to humanity as a gift to earn their love. He lost it in the sea and the world began a slow collapse. Islands died, their vegetation turning black and lifeless, and the fish became scarce.
Motunui was a long way from the destruction, so the people of Chief Tui’s tribe didn’t notice that the world was changing. The destruction was spreading, though. They couldn’t escape it forever.
The ocean chose Moana as its champion to return the heart. Soon after, the darkness began to touch Motunui. Vegetation died and the fish vanished. Moana suggested sailing beyond the reef, but her father forbade it. The island supplied all their needs, he insisted, and going beyond the reef was forbidden. It was dangerous out there and he wanted to protect his little girl.
As a father myself, I sympathize with Chief Tui. I understand the world I grew up in pretty well. I know the risks and rewards and have a good sense of the right thing to do most of the time. My life supplies all my needs. What more could anyone ask for?
Both of my sons have chosen different paths from mine. My eldest is working toward an academic career as a folklorist. My younger is in seminary preparing for a life of teaching. Neither of these is a road I’d choose to travel and both seem risky. Wouldn’t accounting or business be more stable choices?
It turns out that I’m not the first parent in history to worry about my children’s choices. Thomas Aquinas, the theologian and philosopher whose work has influenced Western thought for nearly a millennium, faced serious opposition from his family. At nineteen, he declared his intention to join the Dominican Order. His family kidnapped him and kept him locked in the family castle for nearly a year trying to get him to change his mind. It would have been easy for Thomas to give in.
If Moana had given in to her father, she’d have stayed with the tribe and watched as death and destruction crept across Motunui. Fortunately, there was another, more adventurous, voice in Moana’s life. Her grandmother Tala.
Tala understood the power of the ocean’s call and knew that Moana had a special mission to help her people. In quiet opposition to her son, Tala encouraged Moana and showed her a way to fulfill the ocean’s quest for her.
Encouraged and equipped by Tala, Moana set off on a mission to restore the Te Fiti’s heart. Chief Tui was furious and terrified. His only daughter was sailing into dangerous waters with a mentally deficient chicken as her only companion. What chance did she have?
And Chief Tui was right to worry. Beyond the reef was dangerous. More than once she faced death and disaster. Her story could easily have been a tragic tale about a child who ignores her father and sails off to her doom.
Except the ocean chose well in making her its champion. What she lacked in skill and knowledge she made up for in courage and raw determination. Knowing the importance of her mission—and the effect it would have on her people in the future—she stuck with it. At her lowest point, convinced that the ocean was wrong to choose her, she is inspired by her grandmother to press forward.
After overcoming many dangers, Moana restored Te Fiti’s heart and healed the damaged land. Through her efforts, her people gained a better future.
Similarly, Thomas Aquinas held fast to his calling and became one of the leading philosophers of all time along with Aristotle, Plato, and Descartes. His writing literally changed the world. His parent’s fears nearly deprived Western Civilization of one of its greatest minds.
All of which means that I probably advise my children out of fear.
As a father, my prayer for my sons is that they have the strength to carry on in their individual missions. They have chosen paths that will help build the future by learning from the wisdom of the past. For that I am proud of them both. When I’m not in full-on Dad worry mode, I catch a glimpse of the good they’ll both do for world and I feel a little bit less afraid. The best way to support them is to be there to help when I can and to know that danger is part of the journey.
He has been married to an extraordinarily patient woman for more than three decades and they have two adult sons. Kevin also has entirely too many DVD boxes with the words "Complete Series" on the cover. He enjoys exploring themes of faith through his fandoms.
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