So often in life, we are taught that to make our mark on the world, we have to do something newsworthy, stupendous — something that makes us a star, makes us rich and famous. But that is so short-sighted. Do you know who invented penicillin? Alexander Fleming. Who invented the modern computer? Alan Turing, although that is up for debate in scientific circles. And the rest of us? We’re less than answers on game shows. The world soon forgets our names and even our faces.
I say we CAN leave a meaningful legacy behind, and whether or not we become famous or our names are remembered, our real legacy is our children. The legacy we leave behind is seen in the lives of our little ones and the time and effort we put into THAT endeavor will truly be an evaluation of what we leave behind.
That’s the lesson I learned from one of my favorite Disney movies of all time, Mary Poppins. “Mary Poppins?” you might ask, to which I would answer a resounding, “Yes! Mary Poppins!” “Mary Poppins” is far more a story about fatherhood and good parenting than it is a tale about a magical and whimsical nanny.
To be sure, Mary comes into the lives of the Banks family because of their desperate need for a nanny to help corral Mr. and Mrs. George Banks’ two rambunctious children, Jane and Michael. But as we discover, Jane and Michael are not in need of a nanny or someone to corral them or temper their high spirits: Jane and Michael need a father. They need to know that their father loves them; they need to know they are more than a nuisance, more than show ponies to be groomed to behavioral standards. They need to feel the love of their mostly-absent father who only sees them briefly when he gets home, long enough to shoo them off to bed — a fact which even the local constable recognizes, but Mr. Banks fails to see because he is so focused on making a name for himself that he doesn’t realize that his name is becoming more and more forgettable to the only ones who really matter.
As with any good Disney family movie, there is a bright spot of hope: Mary’s positive attitude, the way in which she injects fun and love into any situation, and the magical way she has of conducting herself infects the entire household. Mr. Banks finally comes around to realize how detached he is from his own life in the climactic scene where he looks down at the tuppence his children gave him and he realizes there’s hope for him as a father, and as a man. He still has a chance to be that man with his children. In a dramatic turnaround, as he is fired from his prestigious position and humiliated in front of his peers, he shouts out “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” to which his boss, Mr. Dawes (played by the multi-talented Dick Van Dyke) says, “There is no such word.” Mr. Banks responds by saying, “With due respect, when all is said and done, there is no such thing as you!”
Banks leaps home, his heart filled with joy greater than he has ever felt before. He goes downstairs and fixes the kite that broke at the beginning of the movie and surprises his children by inviting them to go kite-flying with him (“Let’s Go Fly A Kite”). All ends well for the whole family as Mr. and Mrs. Banks stop being absent parents and start BEING parents.
Mary Poppins reminds us why it is so important for us dads to be active in the lives of our children. Remind yourself that you do make a difference each and every day. Maybe today you won’t make a million dollars or find a cure for some disease, but you will make a big difference in the lives of your children. Better yet, see Mary Poppins with your kids and maybe even go fly a kite.
The Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition DVD and Blu-ray are available December 10.