Coming at It from Both Ways

black and white people bar men
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My first story in this series was Shade. Here we met a hero who was fighting a losing battle, trying to keep a community safe from an unstoppable horde. Further compounding things was his connection to a former friend, which friend was controlled by the leader of that same unstoppable horde. In the end that hero sacrificed himself to free his friend, which friend then inherited the burden of defending the community.

The idea for this story was directly tied to the duty of fatherhood, and how a man must be willing to do all things for his wayward children, even lay down his life to reclaim them. But then I decided to take that initial thought, and run with in an entirely different way.

In The Last Duty, we met a character that was more explicitly the father of a wayward son. The story found with him having a conversation with a former-ruler, who also thought of himself as the father of a wayward people. The two men commiserate over their shared frustrations, and wonder aloud what a father is to do with a child that becomes a monster. Instead of dying to save them, as in Shade, they instead decide to destroy those children, and thus smother the evil that they have inadvertently sired.

A darker tale to be sure, and one that contradicts the themes of the first. Each story is like a different side in a debate, disputing with one another the proper duty of fathers to wayward children. The fact that I wrote out both sides of these arguments does not mean that I advocate for each. More so I just wanted to build up the entire spectrum of opinion around me, so that I could lay within and consider their virtues and follies.

I didn’t set up this narrative debate just for kicks and giggles, though, I was using it for some very serious contemplation. I am a Christian, and have always been given pause by the dual representation of God in the Holy Bible. In the Old Testament he seems to be a very angry father, one who is quick to punish wayward children. But then in the New Testament Jesus teaches about a God of love, who wants to save the sinner.

Is it possible that the raging and the loving God can exist as the same person? Is there a proper time for one type of fatherly duty, and a proper time for another? The debate goes on in me, but it has been helped by these stories that I have written.

As I wrote these stories, I considered another concept that intersected with this debate. It was that of responsibility, of how power is so easily misused, that at times the greatest use of it is in not using it. It is an idea expressed very eloquently in Schindler’s List. In this film Oskar Schindler tells Amon Goeth the following:

Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t… That’s what the Emperor said. A man stole something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for mercy, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go… That’s power, Amon. That is power.

Going back to the Holy Bible, one is deeply moved by the account of Jesus hung on the cross, endowed with enough power to zap every Roman soldier to smithereens. But instead, he quietly restrains himself and says “Father forgive them.”

So now I wanted to examine this concept from various angles, too. I wanted to consider the appropriate use of one’s power, of how one chooses between condemnation and pardon.

As I mentioned a week ago, my original intent with The Toymaker was to write about a god that is trapped in a mortal frame. He was supposed to discover the tremendous power locked within him, and would then decide in which way to use it. Either he would condemn the evil he saw all about him, or he would find a way to benevolently forgive them.

That story changed in the course of writing it, though. He ended up only discovering a small sliver of his powers, and is never faced with the choice of destroying his people. He does, however, come to a different choice regarding his powers. He tracks down an old friend, and he wishes to heal her. He wants to make her whole, so that they can return to a dream that he has fervently held to.

But she asks him not to.

She cannot bear to have her scars so flippantly smoothed over, she feels that that would be disingenuous. In the end he respects her wishes, and instead embraces her brokenness. I thought this was a very interesting way to examine the nature of power. It wasn’t him turning down the power of vengeance and choosing to forgive, now it was him turning down the power of healing and choosing to accept someone broken. It was bittersweet, and it resonated very deeply with me. This, too, has very strong biblical themes. So much of the appeal of Jesus Christ is that he endured our pain, and therefore is able to sit with us in our broken places.

So thus far we have considered fathers that save, fathers that condemn, and fathers that empathize. We have looked at duty, responsibility, power, and ownership. Stories have this remarkable ability to let us plumb the depths of our hearts, and really consider a notion from every angle. We write in order to think out loud, to try the words and see if they taste right or not. If a concept confuses you, trying writing a story about it, and see if it starts to make more sense.

There still remains one more facet of these themes that I wish to explore, though. We often say that power corrupts, but with power comes responsibility, and responsibility has the ability to purify. Thus could not power be a vehicle for good, and not just evil? And going back to the idea of fatherhood, does one not become a father via the acceptance of power and responsibility?

Therefore I am going to write one more short story, one that opens with a selfish and petty man, who happens to be granted immense power. I will try to fashion the story into a process of purification for the man, and I will see if the idea is able to stick or not. This will conclude my multi-angled study of power, responsibility, duty, and fatherhood. Come back on Thursday to see the first chapter.

Phillip the Mouse: His Mask and Grandfather’s Kite

Phillip the Mouse and His Mask

One fine Summer day Phillip the Mouse was outside stacking some blocks on the ground. He was so busy trying to build it as high as possible that he didn’t notice when Baxter, the local bully, came over by his side. “Hey, watch out!” Baxter shouted, and then he punched the tower apart with a laugh. All the blocks went flying and one of them hit Phillip right on the nose. Phillip was both surprised and hurt, and before he knew it he was sitting back on the ground crying. Baxter looked a little uncomfortable about that, but he shook his head and said, “Why are you screwing your face up like that? It makes you look all ugly!” Then he stomped away.

Phillip felt very self-conscious and ashamed. He tried to stop crying but it was very hard. He didn’t want to just sit there and look ugly, so he thought of what he could do. Suddenly he had what seemed to be a wonderful idea. Without a word he stood up and rushed into his house. He found some paper and string, markers and glue, and he set to work making a mask. He made a beautiful mouse-face and drew the biggest smile on it that he could. It looked perfect. He tied it on and decided to wear it forever.

Later that day Phillip’s mother came home and gave him a big hug. She smiled at his mask and asked him how his day was.

“It was great!” Phillip tried to say enthusiastically, but there was a little shake in his voice.

“Are you sure?” she asked compassionately. Phillip wasn’t sure why, but there was something about her soft voice that made him feel his sadness growing behind the mask.

“It was okay,” Phillip said, and wet tears were starting to show through the paper of the mask.

“Phillip, can you please take your mask off?” she asked.

Phillip shook his head and stepped back. “It’s a good mask,” he said. “It’s always happy and handsome, it never scrunches up or cries.”

“Phillip,” she said gently. “I like your real face more, I’d always rather see that.”

“Even if it’s ugly and crying?”

“Always,” she said firmly.

Phillip slowly took the mask away and his Mommy saw how sad he really was. She gave him a hug and just held him for a while. Then he told her about what had happened with the blocks and Baxter. That made him cry even more and she held him for all of that, too.

“I’m so sorry that happened to you today, Phillip,” she told him. “Thank you for telling me, that was a very brave thing to do. Phillip…I want you to always remember that you never need to be ashamed of your tears. Your face is the most beautiful thing I know and always will be.”

And with that, Phillip smiled. A real one this time.

Phillip the Mouse and His Grandfather’s Kite

One gray and windy day Phillip was feeling confused. His parents had told him that his grandfather was very sick, and that he might not get better. Phillip didn’t understand this. Every time Phillip got ill his parents just gave him rest and maybe some medicine and then he felt better soon enough. Why was it different with grandfather? Phillip’s parents said it had to do with being very old, and that grandfather might need to leave them, which was also confusing to Phillip. Phillip didn’t want his grandfather to leave them.

All of this had made Phillip think about a fine kite that he had made with his grandfather just last summer. They had decided to make it on a blustery day like today, but by the time the glue set the wind had died down and they hadn’t been able to fly it. Phillip’s grandfather had said he would come back another time to fly it with Phillip, but that day had never come. And so, Phillip now decided he had to fly it by himself. For some reason that seemed like a good thing to do with this concerning news from his parents.

Phillip went outside with his kite and soon he had it soaring through the air. It really was a very good kite. It caught the wind easily and held its position very straight and strong. Phillip never had problems with it swirling down or crashing into the ground. As Phillip continued to fly it the wind started to become even stronger. Soon he could feel the kite pulling hard against the reel in his hands. He gripped it tightly, and decided he better pull the line in before the wind picked up anymore. Phillips started turning the reel, pulling the line down as a sudden gust of wind came, pulling the line up.


The string broke in two and it tumbled lifelessly to the ground at Phillip’s feet. Phillip stared down at it for a moment, then back up to the kite. He expected the kite to fall as well, but it didn’t. It swayed around for a little bit, and then a wave of the wind carried it up higher and higher towards a cloud. Phillip felt very strange. Sad… but not like he needed to cry. As he watched, the kite slowly faded into the cloud until he couldn’t see it anymore. Phillip kept watching the same spot on the cloud for a while, just thinking and feeling.

As Phillip turned to walk home he still felt sad, but also alright. It wasn’t the happiest thing to lose grandfather’s kite, but at least he knew where it was. Any time a cloud would pass its shadow over him he couldn’t help but wonder if grandfather’s kite was there, watching him from afar. Somehow that made everything okay.


It’s been a wonderful privilege to share these Phillip the Mouse stories. These last two in particular were ones where I wanted to imbue the stories with something special, something that I’m proud of. Even though they were designed for my toddler son, I didn’t want take advantage of his more accepting nature, I wanted to work on them until I could get them right and make them of as high quality as I’m capable. Like I said in my post on Monday, our children, of all people, are the most deserving and needing of our very best.

Also I feel these stories are not just children’s stories. They are stories for everyone. They explore concepts we all deal with and all need to face one way or another. Perhaps my son won’t fully understand all these ideas now, but I hope the seed will be there so he recognizes them when they do come up in life.

This will conclude the Phillip the Mouse series, and next week we’ll be off to somewhere entirely new. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you then.

For the Children

adult black and white books boy
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I am both the father of a toddler and an animation enthusiast. Combined together, these mean that I read and watch a lot of children’s content and, as a result, have developed no small frustration for how many of them are of dreadful quality. When I see something that is immature, irresponsible, or poorly produced I imagine the rationale for such abysmal production values is something along the lines of “Well yeah, it’s bad…but this is just for kids.” Whether or not this statement is ever actually said between producers and creators, this “well it’s just for kids” mentality pervades our media and it is a deplorable notion. We give our children the worst we have to offer, when they of all people are the most deserving and needing of our very best.

I believe the root cause of this trend is based on an assumption that children won’t care about half-baked efforts because, well, children are stupid. Why else would they put up with such drivel? This idea, though prevalent, is based entirely on the fallacy that a person’s amount of knowledge and context is the same as their intelligence. Knowing more is assumed to equate to having a better mind. People frequently make this mistake when interacting with foreign visitors, too. Because a foreigner does not know the language or cultural customs they are talked down to and assumed to be simple-minded, although they may be geniuses in their own land.

When I look at my three-year-old son I get the distinct impression is that he is quite an intelligent person. Not that he is an intelligent toddler, not that he is intelligent for his age. Just that he is an intelligent person. In fact, I get the idea that he is more intelligent than I am, myself. True, his mind is still developing, and his ability to comprehend complex concepts is still maturing, but that does not make him dumb. When I tell him a story I want to respect his inherent intelligence. I may, for the time being, tell him stories that are simplified, but I know the difference between simplification and talking-down-to, and I never do the latter.

Another assumption people make about children’s tales is that they can’t tackle difficult topics. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is perfectly fine for children’s stories to deal with subjects such as death, divorce, or even abuse. Indeed, it’s important for youth that are dealing with these life events to have sources to guide them through these minefields. But the children’s story that takes on these matters should approach them gently and sensitively, with utmost care for youth’s tenderness. The intention should be to provide a place where these traumas can be contemplated in a way that feels safe.

There are, fortunately, a few examples of children’s stories that do a very excellent job of respecting their audience and also speaking from the heart. One that I’m personally very fond of is Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss. Dr Seuss speaks passionately and reverently of how wonderful the child being read his story is. He spends a great amount of time praising their greatness, but he’s also going to warn them that they have some weaknesses, too. He tells it to each child straight: they absolutely will fail at some point in their lives, but that that will not be the end of their story. Instead of condemning them, he assures that they can get back up on their feet, off to more wonderful things as soon as they are able.

Another great source of passionate, child-respectful stories is found in the decades-long work of Mister Rogers. With him every child’s emotions were validated. You weren’t a bad person for feeling sorrow or anger, loss or brokenness. He loved you just as you were, and as a friend he wanted to help you process through those feelings. It wasn’t all sober treks across the landscapes of the heart, though, there was also time for fun. His show’s daily trips to the land of make-believe gave a clear message to children that indulging in a little healthy pretend is not just acceptable, it’s vital!

A third example of an excellent children’s story, and one that is far more recent, would be the Pixar film Inside Out. Its portrayal of emotions and childhood development resonate deeply and also compassionately. Its depiction of complex adolescence is so on point that it came as no surprise when I learned of how the film-makers involved professional psychologists in the creation of its themes. Paul Ekman and Dachner Keltner’s expert consultations shine through in the finished work, resulting in a portrayal that is both honest, and also teaches healthy behavior and coping methods. This sort of dedication to accuracy and education elevate the film past the status of just interesting to truly important.

So, what is the consistent theme in all of these examples? What exactly is it that makes for a good children’s story? It’s really quite simple. Make a good story…for children. Be just as creative in your tale for children as you would with any other story, share a message that’s just as heartfelt, and be just as honest about it. Still do your research, still talk to experts, and still put in as much thought and hard work into getting it right. Do your outlines, your character sketches, your drafts, and do them thoroughly. Be passionate, be sincere, be dedicated. Let your great driving motivation be to help and delight your young audience, not just to make a quick buck off of them. In short, all the time and love and commitment you would put into any other story, your children’s stories deserve the same treatment.

When a tale is written with the honest labor and kind intentions outlined above, it is going to be a good story. Not good for its age group. Not good compared to other children’s books. Just a good story. It will be a story that can be enjoyed by everyone, including children. More than that, you’ll feel downright proud of yourself, knowing that you’ve helped a wonderful young mind along its way to health and happiness.

For the last three weeks I’ve shared some stories that were primarily intended for a child, my toddler son. Each one of these stories I outlined, drafted, and iterated on as much as I did any of my other tales. Each one I have tried to imbue with a special kernel of novelty. I’d like to finish this series of Phillip the Mouse adventures with two more entries. They are simple and gentle, but also still bear important lessons for every age of reader, given that they speak to perplexities we all face, youth and aged alike. Come back on Thursday to see how those turn out, and then next week we will move into entirely different territory.