Teach Them That They Decide the End of Every Story

As dads, one of the hardest things to think about is our kids experiencing hardship. So maybe we teach them to turn away from the things that are hard, to take the easy way, to forgo difficulty whenever possible. Maybe we teach them to look at hardship as failure, as unfairness, as the end of the story. It just wasn’t meant to be, we might say, there’s nothing you can do about it.

What if we taught them—trained them—to see hardship another way, a better way? As fuel. As a chance to learn about endurance, patience, resilience, struggle. As an opportunity to buck up and prove their mettle. What if we taught them that they don’t have to resign themselves to hardship, but that they can agree to work with it? That they can decide to make the most of it. That they can decide to see an opportunity, not an obstacle. That it’s only the end of the story if they decide it is. 

When Vice Admiral James Stockdale was shot down in Vietnam, he was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese. He spent nearly eight years being tortured and subjected to unimaginable loneliness and terror. He had little choice over the fact that he was shot down, or that he was taken prisoner. When asked how he made it out alive, he said:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” 

What Stockdale told himself—and what helped him endure this terrible ordeal and others—was that he had an incredible power in this. He could decide how he was going to use this experience. It’s a sense of power and agency that he learned from reading Epictetus, the slave turned Stoic philosophy teacher. “What is in my power,” Epictetus said, “No one controls that except myself. As for what is not in my power, in that I take no interest.”

Teach them that. Teach them about Stockdale. Teach them about real bravery in the face of hardship. Teach them that despite everything outside of their control, they retain an incredible power: The power to choose what they do with what happens to them. The power to decide what role an event will play in their life. The power to write the end of their own story.

P.S. This was originally sent on August 26, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Dad’s email and get our popular 11 page eBook, “20 Things Great Dads Do Everyday.”

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