Remember those good old TV shows from the Fifties? Andy Griffith, Leave It to Beaver, The Lone Ranger, and a host of others. Today’s viewers say, “Boring. No conflict. Not enough action.”
Excuse me? While superheroes didn’t bounce out of the sky and smash a city to individual cinder blocks, the characters in those programs faced real problems and taught children how to solve them. In many family comedies, Dads led their wives and children through a jungle of moral decisions. The parents, as a team, guided their children toward wisdom, unlike many of the buffoons in today’s sitcoms.
Take Eddie Haskell, a problem that never stopped. Wally and the Beaver didn’t like him, but they treated him with grace. Their parents told them to, they obeyed, and further conflict was averted. At least, until Eddie tried something else, and the cycle repeated.
Or Opie Taylor, Andy Griffith’s son. I remember an episode where he had to choose: prepare to fight the bully for what was right or join the crowd to do wrong. Thanks to his father’s consistent example, Opie chose to stand for righteousness.
Dennis the Menace entertained us with his inept efforts to be helpful, and his generous heart taught children like me to love our neighbors. His parents were often at a loss as to how to handle what Dennis might get into next, but they always explained to their son how he might have done things differently with less disastrous results.
Even westerns taught Judeo Christian morality. In The Rifleman, a father taught his son right and wrong and to use violence as a last resort to save other lives. The Lone Ranger never looked for credit for his good deeds. The rescued asked, “Who was that masked man?” as he rode into the sunset. Lessons in humility.
I want the same lessons of goodness in the books I read where characters solve problems in an honorable manner. It’s why I prefer the classics, books that contain intact families who love each other and face conflicts together. I get so tired of the dysfunctional families and missing parents in today’s literature. As an experiment, I went through the archives of The Scriblerians and checked the family situations in each of the books I’ve reviewed. I was dismayed by the results:
Dysfunctional Family/Missing Parent Intact, Loving Family
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Even if I discount the handful of books written past 1990, I found that authors use the lack of a good parent as an integral part of the conflict for the child protagonist. As much as I love each one of these stories, I’m saddened by that reality.
Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a case in point. Thirteen-year-old Sara lives with her snarky teenage sister, her little brother Charlie, and their aunt. Their mother died; their dad split. Charlie has unnamed developmental disabilities. Today we might say he’s on the autism spectrum. Sara loves Charlie; she hates his neediness. She hates herself as many young adolescents do. The novel is beautiful and character-driven with a flawed protagonist who finally realizes she loves her family as it is.
Most of the events in the plot could have been accomplished with a mom and dad still around. Two parents could have struggled together in dealing with Charlie’s eccentricities, and teens in their struggle for independence get in grand funks even when they grow up in wonderful, loving homes.
Strong families are not exempt from ongoing crises. I’m currently writing a fictionalized memoir covering the first five years of my little sister’s life. Our parents enjoyed a solid marriage, and they had to cope with the uncertainties of raising a profoundly deaf child. Heartbreaking events occurred, and comical episodes still made life fun. We were strong. We were together.
This is what I feel called to do in my writing, to glorify God with stories of family who strive together to overcome the obstacles in their path as they journey through life, pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land.