Do you know the story of the 300 Spartans? Maybe you do. It was first immortalized by Herodotus, and then has been passed down through the ages from Simonides to Plutarch. Most recently, it was the basis for the awesome Zack Snyder movie by the same name, and Steven Pressfield’s beautiful novel, Gates of Fire.
If you don’t know the story, here’s what happens: the ancient Greek King Leonidas led some 7,000 men, 300 of which were Spartans, in a battle against an invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers led by Xerxes the Great, king of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. The Spartans held the front line for two days, but on the third, they were outmaneuvered. Leonidas ordered the 300 Spartans to remain and fight, sacrificing himself and his men to allow Greece to live and fight another day.
There is a part left out in most retellings though, that is worth thinking about today. How did Leonidas choose the 300 warriors to lead out to the Hot Gates to battle an overwhelming enemy? Obviously he picked his best and bravest warriors. But there was something else they all had in common. They were all “fathers of living sons.” You might think this was exactly what leaders would have tried to avoid—that the ones with families were allowed to sit out this potential suicide mission—but that’s now how it worked in Sparta. Fathers were chosen because fathers would not want to let their sons down. These fathers would fight most bravely, most fiercely, not only to protect what they had back at home, but also because they would not dare abandon their comrades or behave cowardly for fear of letting down the family that so looked up to them.
How far we have gotten from this! You have parents bribing their kids into college. You have dads looting the companies they work for to pay for that ski house in Aspen. You have people willing to do anything to get famous—from sex tapes to reality television—even if it means humiliating their kids forever. C’mon.
Remember: A little fellow follows you. Your kids are always watching. They’re the ones you should want to impress. They’re the ones you should never want to let down. They’re the ones you’re not only fighting for, but whose standards—whose natural admiration and love—you should always be fighting to live up to.
They are the only ones whose opinions matter.