There is no question that John Boyd was a hero. He was a brave fighter pilot, a brilliant strategist and a tireless reformer. He mentored a generation of talented young men into the upper echelons of leadership. The same goes for Victor Krulak, one of the most famous and respected Marines in American history.
Yet both men struggled to be so heroic at home, according to Robert Coram (who wrote a wonderful biography of Boyd as well as one of Kulak). When we interviewed Coram for the Daily Stoic podcast, he talked about how Boyd and Kulak were often gone, and how, when they were home, they were impossibly strict and inhumanly exacting on their families. In Boyd’s case, his refusal to accept even expenses for the consulting he did, meant that his family was left with little after he died. In both cases–as for so many families–what was left behind in abundance was deep wounds and generational trauma.
It is said that no man is a hero to his valet. It could also be said that many an accomplished and heroic parent is resented (or feared) at home. Because like the valet, family sees the real person behind closed doors. Even more, it is they as family members who suffer most (sometimes literally) for the noteworthy sacrifices, often without recognition by society or remorse from the parent. Even when the children adore and worship their heroic parent, their admiration tends to be bittersweet and tinged with longing for a childhood that was not so hard.
From the outside, we can still admire people like Boyd and Krulak, just as we can imagine the personal sacrifices made by Eleanore Roosevelt in support of her husband and in the advancement of her own work…and still celebrate her at the same time as we note how much her own children struggled with their own marriages. We can acknowledge and be inspired by their heroism, while still striving to learn from their failure to be great and be more than a good parent at the same time.