Disney and the Death of the Difficult

By Paul Koch

Sometimes it seems as if I’m living in some sort bizarre parallel universe, where the things I learned from my childhood, the things that have helped defined me up to this point no longer seem to matter. Or perhaps a better image would be that of a modern-day Rip Van Winkle. I often find myself wandering through my world, confused by what I see and unsure of how we got here. Perhaps I was asleep while everything was changing, or I didn’t keep up with times. Perhaps I didn’t really care. And now I’m at a loss to explain just what the hell is going on.

As I write this, I just finished reading an article explaining how the Boy Scouts of America have thrown in the towel. The organization that led my father and grandfather to venture out into the Sierra Nevada mountains with military surplus packs and pup tents to test their resolve against the wilderness is history. The same organizations that helped form my character as I learned from other men what it means to embrace the strenuous life, to be confident in the difficult situation is now only a memory from my past. Who would have thought that a program that taught young men to be men of honor, strength, and courage would collapse to societal pressures? But collapse it has.

The news of this comes as my wife and I have just returned from a long day down at Disneyland, the California Adventure theme park to be exact. It was the first time we took the whole family, and our kids had a great time. You could see the wonder and excitement on their faces. It took me back to my childhood memories of Disney. We would occasionally go with Grandma, and we would be captivated by the magic of the place. The attention to detail, the incredible scenes and props made you feel like you had left the world behind and stepped into the land of your dreams. Seeing my son walk down the street in Cars Land was awesome, as he walked right into his all time favorite movie.

But in the midst of the excitement and joy of being at the happiest place on earth, I began to notice something that I found profoundly disturbing. It was the preponderance of adults (sans kids) that filled the place. Decked out in Disney merchandise, there seemed to be little difference between the 20 to 30 somethings in line in front of us and my own children. For instance, I was in line with the kids to go on Goofy’s Sky School, a small, little rollercoaster, and in front of use were three guys with tattoos and vintage looking Disney garb, just hanging out waiting to go on a ridiculous ride, like this was a normal thing to do on a Monday night. I kept wondering why they would do this. Why would grown men choose to spend a day at Disneyland?

The theory that I’m currently working on is that they return to Disneyland to keep the fantasy alive. They are the manifestation of what Neil Postman in The Disappearance of Childhood called the Adult-Child. They are those who prefer the imaginations of virtual reality to reality; they choose the easy and the safe over the hard and dangerous. They are the same ones that won’t lament the death of the Boy Scouts if they can escape regularly to the land of make believe. As my buddy Tim would say, these people can only thrive in a land with a standing army that ensures they will never have to get their own hands dirty for the freedom to remain a child.

I was so frustrated by the strange world I found myself in that I went I got back to my usual grind I went through my routine with a great amount of unease and anxiety. I thought about the type of men my daughters would marry. I thought about those who would help me form my own son into a man of strength, honor, and courage. I was upset and fidgeting around the house, and then I did the one thing that I knew would help. I went to train Jiu Jitsu. There on the mats I was given the one gift that I really needed. It wasn’t just the sweat and the hard work; it was a gift in the form on a training partners knee that crashed into my own during a scramble and caused a great amount of swelling and pain.

That pain shook me out of my daze. As I hobbled around the mat for the remainder of the roll, I was reminded of this grand adventure of a life and the joy that comes from difficulty. I resolved to suck it up and get ready to go again. For I saw a connection between choosing the hard things and being the example that my daughters would need me to be. I see the link between doing the difficult and the formation of my son into a man. I want them to enjoy Disney for now, but I want them to one day eagerly put it behind them, so that they might truly live.

Life is supposed to be difficult; the obstacles, challenges, and hardships are the very things that give meaning and power to our lives. Don’t let Disney interpret your way. Don’t allow them or those like them to assign value to your time. Choose to do the difficult. Choose to head straight toward the obstacle. I truly believe that in the end it will be good for you and your children.