Last month we had a “sick day” at our house, and I snuggled on the couch with my son (and his pile of more than a dozen pillows) to watch the Disney movie Encanto. We had already watched that movie about as many times as there were pillows on the couch, but the great thing about being repeat viewers is that we can occasionally see new insights and make connections we didn’t notice at first. This is just what happened as I cuddled with one boy and lots of pillows.
Earlier that week I had been reflecting on the impact, both past and present, of the men in my life. That exercise, I believe, primed my brain to be aware of the male characters in the movie and the irreplaceable contributions they make and the interdependent relationships they foster.
For those who haven’t seen it before, Encanto begins with Alma Madrigal (known simply as Abuela in the movie) telling her early life story with her husband Pedro. Soon after the birth of their triplets, the village is invaded, and their lives are threatened. Pedro, guiding both his family and several other families in their community, leads the refugees to a river crossing. He urges the others onward and stands boldly at the river to combat the pursuers. Pedro is killed protecting his family and the other villagers, but as a result of his sacrifice, they all make it to safety. In addition, Alma Madrigal receives the gift of a magical candle that doesn’t burn out. It creates a magical home to shelter the family, imbues each family member with a unique magical gift, and blesses the family throughout the years.
The selfless sacrifice of the father in this scene riveted in my mind like never before. How had I missed the significance of his character? The entire storyline from then on exists because that man chose to stand as a protector and defender of those he loved. The main theme of the movie deals with the multi-faceted contributions of real women who have a full range of human emotions. However, I realized that a sub-theme is also the quiet and often unappreciated contribution of husbands and fathers in the lives of those they love.
I shared my observation about Abuelo Pedro with my son and asked him to help me notice what we could notice about the contributions and character attributes of the male characters in the movie. These are some things we noticed and how those strengths tie into our tenet this month.
We value the irreplaceable role of fathers and build interdependent relationships with men.
Abuelo Pedro is known for putting the needs of others before his own. Near the end of the movie we get to see a flashback to the courtship, marriage, and tender farewell with his wife, as he kisses her and each of the three children before his protective sacrifice. While understanding more about the past endears this character to us, his influence is also seen in the present in the movie. Each morning Mirabel, the main character, says good morning to his prominent picture on the stairs. Abuela also talks to a picture of Pedro in her locket, asking for his help and protection again as she wrestles with what she should do. These examples show that though Pedro has been gone for many decades, the example, legacy, and relational influence men choose to leave can make a profound impact on their families.
Felix is the husband of Pepa (one of the original triplets). Pepa’s magical gift is being able to influence the weather with her emotions. Felix affectionately calls her “Mi Amor” (my love) and offers patience, support, and encouragement when she struggles with her emotions and personal cloudbursts. He even actively shoos away her clouds at times. In one scene, their son Camilo, who has the magical gift of shape shifting, impersonates his father and helps his mother with relaxation breathing. At the end of the movie, Felix and Pepa are shown dancing together in the rain and hail, embracing the experience of her emotions. Given that every woman and child struggles at times with the full range of human emotions, an emotionally intelligent and supportive husband and father is irreplaceable indeed.
Agustín (affectionately called Papito) is the husband of Julietta (one of the triplets) and father of Mirabel. He makes an insightful comment about marrying into the Madrigal family and not having a magical gift of his own. “Surrounded by the exceptional it’s easy to feel unexceptional,” he says. Even though this man may feel unexceptional, he is the first to step forward to help corral his nephew’s pet cheetah, play music to redirect a crowd of party guests at an awkward moment, and repeatedly expose himself to massive swelling from bee stings because he is searching for and helping various family members. Fortunately for Papito, his wife has the magical gift of being able to heal him again and again with the magical food she cooks. They are a perfect example of how his selfless service and her culinary gift create an interdependence that meets both of their needs and blesses their family in a synergistic way.
Then there’s Bruno (the third of the triplets). Perhaps what everyone knows is that, “We don’t talk about Bruno!” He and his gift of seeing the future are misunderstood, and it causes him to be separated from the family for a time. Eventually it is Bruno and his gift that lead to the resolution of the main conflict in the movie. He illustrates how important it is to see and value the intentions and not just the actions of people in our lives. Bruno also gives his sister Pepa some valuable counsel about emotions that I love with his musical line, “Let it in, let it out, let it rain, let it snow, let it go!” Bruno’s insightful gift and his impact on the family are irreplaceable, and the family is more complete when he is welcomed back and understood.
Though these movie characters are fictional, the character attributes they represent are not. This little exercise led to a discussion with my son about the irreplaceable role of men in families, and, to be honest, another viewing party of Encanto to further explore the theory. Later, while planting our garden outside, I initiated a conversation with him about what “interdependence” means, drawing examples from the movie, from our lives, and from nature.
While the repeated reference to the movie may seem childlike, making these connections in their world is one way we can effectively teach emotionally intelligent skills to children. Different approaches to thinking about the tenets of Big Ocean Women also help us nurture the beliefs and apply them in our daily lives, which is what our work here is all about.