Douglas MacArthur was a complicated man. He was ambitious. He was vain. He made many mistakes. It’s very unlikely that he was a perfect father. In fact, it’d be incredible if he had been, given his demanding, seemingly perfect father (a Civil War hero) and controlling, overly involved mother (who was actively involved in her son’s career up until her death in 1935).
But it is surprising that, given all that, Douglas MacArthur seemed relatively accepting of his quiet, sensitive boy. It was undoubtedly MacArthur’s dream to see his son graduate from West Point and enter the service. That was never going to happen. So MacArthur had to adjust, like all fathers he had to accept “undeniable reality,”—something that could not have been easy for a man used to getting his way on a global scale.
This was a learning experience for MacArthur as it will be for all of us. It forced him to think about measuring life on different terms, certainly terms different than his own parents had thought about. We get a sense of this from a “prayer” he wrote for his only child, his son, Arthur, in the Philippines during the desperate early days of the Pacific war:
“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee — and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the weakness of true strength.
Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”
Not bad! And did you notice something about it? It doesn’t say anything about careers or success or reputation. It’s all about character—the only thing that really matters.
It’s also the only thing we should actually want for our kids, and something we should work our asses off to provide. The rest is up to them.