'Is Caitlyn Jenner a hero?'
I imagine my 7-year-old asking that question. Now, Will has no need to know the details of Ms. Jenner's personal life, nor does he have much reason to know anything about the former Bruce Jenner. But he does love sports. And with ESPN's decision to give Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year's ESPY awards show (July 15 on ABC), there is the chance that he sees a woman walk on stage, receive an award, and receive adulation as a hero.
So on the off-chance that my boy asks me whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, here is how I would respond:
1. What do you think it means to be a hero?
Never a bad idea to answer your kid's question with a question. One, it gives you time to come up with an answer. Two, it makes you sound like some kind of wise sensei (which comes in handy when said 7-year-old is obsessed with Ninjago and Sensei Wu). Three, you find out what constitutes a hero to your son or daughter.
2. Tell a story
Crazy that I remember this but when I was in 7th grade, I took a class in Greek and Roman mythology. All I remember about that class is that my teacher was obsessed with Pop-Tarts, and he taught us that both the Greeks and Romans had a very definite concept of 'the hero.'
So in these myths, you had gods and heroes. Men like Hercules and Perseus. So I'd probably tell one of those stories because they're fun (flying horses, Medusa, etc.) and because they work out of this clearly defined framework of what it means to be a hero.
3. Explain the principle
Now that I've told the story, then I can explain and illustrate the three elements of heroism that show up in ancient mythology.
Heroes do the right thing even when nobody else is watching. Anyone can look brave when people are watching. When you clean your room, will you only clean what me and mom can see or will you do everything the right way even if you're the only one who knows?
Heroes do the right thing even when your heart wants to do something else. If there is nothing bigger than you that defines right and wrong, then you'll never be a hero. You'll choose a road that makes life easier for you and ignores the needs of others. Aren't there times when you don't want to obey mom and dad or help your brothers? Being a hero means doing what is right - being helpful and obedient - even when you want to do something else.
Heroes protect other people. Heroes stand up for other people. Heroes step in and take the place of others. Heroes provide cover so their friends can get away from danger. Do you remember the episode of Ninjago when one of the ninjas take on all of those skeletons so his friends can get away? That was heroic.
4. Ask him if he wants to be a hero
I'm not content to be a (tragically flawed) example for Will and my other boys. It's not enough for me to lecture him and pass along life lessons about heroism. I am deadset on capturing the imagination and heart of my son.
Here's what I know about my boy. He's asking whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero because he wants to be a hero. Everything about Will screams out to the universe that he knows he was not made to be mediocre. Anything he does, he thinks he's supposed to be awesome.
He gets scared, but he doesn't think he should be a coward. He laughs at funny things because he knows life is not boring. He can't put it into terms, and I can barely splice them together into something coherent. But my boy and I - just like you - know that we were meant to be great. We will spend our lives wrestling with the brokenness inside of us and the brokenness around us, but we want to be heroes. We're drawn to heroes and stories of bravery and courage because our hearts are hungry for it.
5. Remind him that he has a hero
I want Will to be a hero even though I know he will cut corners, live for himself and use other people instead of serving them. He's a lot like his old man that way. And I want Will to have heroes. But I don't want him to spend his whole life searching for a role model, only to be disappointed when he finds out that the best of men are men at best.
Will has a hero named Jesus. I want Will to wrestle with the mystery of Jesus as the God-Man.
I want him to know and marvel and trust in a man named Jesus who always did the right thing even when no one was looking.
I want him to brag on and emulate this man named Jesus who stayed the course and went to the cross when everything and everyone went against him and everything inside him exploded with the desire to cut and run.
I want my boy to understand that no one has sacrificed and risked more than this man Jesus who became weak and didn't win the battle so that Will and his brothers and his friends could know that all hope is not lost when they fail to be heroes.
6. Honor his question
I think it's important that we take on the burden of helping our kids answer their own questions. In this case, I don't want to give my boy a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. I am not embracing abdication or equivocation; this is education.
So I'd come back around after stories and explanations and pointing to Jesus as our real hero, and I'd ask Will if he thinks Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. What do the people closest to her say about her character? Is she making decisions based on what is true for her or are her choices being shaped by a greater truth, even if they disadvantage her? What is she doing to protect other people or pave the way for other people to have an easier life because of her choices?
Now, let's keep it real. It is likely that my energetic 7-year-old has forgotten the question. He might have forgotten all about Caitlyn Jenner as soon as I started telling the story of Pegasus, the flying horse. But if he hangs in there, then I'll be ready. And he might even walk away deciding that Caitlyn Jenner is a hero.
But here is what I know. It is more important to me as his dad to set him up to win the war than to win today's battle. He is a sponge, not a spicket. So if he gets 'character, commitment, cover' but applies it poorly right now, that's OK. Caitlyn Jenner's story will not be the last time I tell Will stories about heroes. And it won't be the last time I help him see Jesus as our real hero.