I am a Girl Dad. I have three daughters and zero sons. This is not by my design; if it were completely up to me I would have had three left-handed sons who could throw 95 MPH. Instead, I have three daughters who take ballet lessons. I did not expect this in life and nothing prepared me for it. I certainly never expected to be teaching my daughters about true love.
I have learned to relate to them in ways I never knew I was capable of. I have truly learned to love being a dad to three little girls. In fact, at this point, were I to have a son, I wouldn’t even know what to do with it. I love being a Girl Dad.
One of the side-effects of being a Girl Dad is that I have to watch a lot of princess movies. At this point, I could probably quote every line to Frozen. My oldest was two when that movie came out and in the last 10 years, I have seen that movie approximately 1,789,345.5 times. Should I ever meet Idina Menzel, I will have many words for her.
Love and The Little Mermaid
Now one movie I don’t totally mind is 1989’s The Little Mermaid. I mostly enjoy it for the music; every song in that movie is a total banger. The animation is stunning, and it has a decent story. However, I do NOT approve of the message it sent my daughters.
At the end of the movie, Mer-King Triton and his crab friend Sebastian are watching their little mermaid Ariel sit on a rock near the beach, pining for her human prince, Eric. Now, if you recall (SPOILERS FOR A 30-YEAR-OLD MOVIE), Ariel saved Eric’s life during a thunderstorm at sea, then the next day traded her voice to the sea witch Ursula in exchange for legs, and then had three days on land with Eric to try and get him to kiss her. Since she has no voice, and has apparently forgotten that she can write, she doesn’t get the job done and turns back into a mermaid and Ursula tricks Eric and then turns into a giant and Eric runs her through with the pointy end of a boat.
King Triton treads water, looking at his daughter, and says to Sebastian, “She really does love him, doesn’t she?” Now, I have watched this movie many times but for some reason, on this viewing with my daughters in the room, it hit different. I started screaming, “NO SHE DOESN’T SHE HAS ONLY KNOWN HIM FOR LIKE A WEEK THAT’S NOT LOVE IT’S BARELY A CRUSH!!!” Love?! Love him?! What are you talking about, Triton?
Since Triton is a terrible father, he turns his daughter into a human and she goes up on shore and marries Eric. I told my daughters, “King Triton is a terrible father” and they looked at me like I was insane. But I know I’m right. He is a terrible father.
What a Good Father Would Do
Any good father would have pulled his daughter aside and said, “Honey, I know you think you love this boy, but you have only known him for a week, for half of which you couldn’t even talk. Do you know anything about him? What’s his middle name? Is he kind to his mother? Does he have any bad habits? What country is he even the prince of?
“You think you love him but it’s just a crush. It’s not worth completely altering your life for a boy you’ve known for a week. You live in two different worlds; it’s just not going to work out. Besides, there’s no telling whether or not Eric will end up eating your friend Flounder someday. You are young, and you will get over it, and there are LITERALLY plenty of other fish in the sea.
“And love? This ain’t it, sweetheart. You can feel love, but most often you have to choose it. You have to choose every day to care about that person more than you care about yourself. Love is going to IKEA together and buying a LACK coffee table and putting it together without killing each other. It’s staying up all night with a sick baby. It’s dropping everything to listen to a friend going through some stuff. Love is giving up eating fish because your girlfriend is half of a fish.
“But mostly, love is Jesus dying on a cross to overcome the power of death and for your forgiveness from sin. Love is Jesus rising from the grave three days later to make eternal life in the presence of God possible. Love is Jesus choosing you over himself and your needs ahead of his stature. Love means putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own. Can you love someone like that?”
Love Isn’t Matching Glass Slippers
Admittedly, this would make the movie far worse. Way too much monologue at the climax of the movie. Way better than the end of the book though. Hans Christian Andersen had some issues, man. Yet good parenting rarely makes for good entertainment. And good parenting here would probably have saved Ariel a fortune in divorce lawyers after she finds Eric sneaking fish sticks in the middle of the night. And good parenting, which is what *I* did in this moment, uses this as a teaching time to talk to your daughters about what love really is.
The Little Mermaid is far from the only Disney movie sending this message. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the prince falls in love with a dead woman. In both Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, the prince decides he’s madly in love with a girl after exactly half of a dance. Beauty and the Beast is just Stockholm Syndrome. Now, I’m not going to tell my daughters not to watch these movies, but I will use them to have real, honest discussion about what love is and what it truly means to love someone. These movies send the message that true love is having the matching glass slipper; my daughters should know that true love is Jesus dying on the cross to save humanity. True love is sacrifice.
A Better Love
I mentioned that I have seen Frozen far too many times, but this is one film that subverts expectations and actually does show what true love actually is. At the end, (SPOILER WARNING FOR A 10-YEAR OLD MOVIE) when Anna is desperate for an act of true love to save her from freezing forever because magic, she starts by seeking out her fiancé for true love’s kiss.
When Hans decides to turn evil and leaves her to turn into an ice statue, she looks for the other man she knows, the one that has risked his life for her several dozen times in the last 45 minutes. But on her way to kiss him, she sees the evil Prince Hans about to kill her sister Elsa, who was the one responsible for freezing Anna because, again, magic, and instead of kissing Kristoff, she throws herself in front of Elsa and blocks the sword just as she turns into a block of ice. Instead of saving herself, Anna saved Elsa, and that was the act of true love that saved her.
Love Means Sacrifice
Now, that’s a message I can work with. I didn’t need “Let it Go” stuck in my head for 3 solid years to get that message, but it’s still a good one. I can show that to my daughters and say “that’s what love looks like. Sacrificing your time, your energy, your material goods, your very self for the sake of another.” For as 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
Laying down one’s life is probably a bit much for a 9-year old to grasp and apply, but there are other, age-appropriate ways a child can learn to love like Jesus. I will never forget one winter day when my two oldest girls were with me ringing the bell for Salvation Army outside an Ace Hardware. It was freezing that day, and the manager of the Ace brought out two lollipops for my girls to have. The younger of the two, the Middle Girl, started in on hers right away but it slipped out of her mouth and cracked on the frozen concrete. She started crying, and without missing a beat, her older sister, the First Girl, offered her sister her lollipop. THAT’S love. That’s love that looks like Jesus. And that’s the kind of love we can teach our children. It’s better, richer, and greater by far than the “love” Ariel has for Eric in The Little Mermaid. And if King Triton were a good dad, she would know better.