This is the fifth of my Be Good Not Great blog series. The idea for the series came to me in a dream of my Grandpop in the original blog: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/03/16/be-good-not-great/ and a related poem: https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/08/01/be-good-not-great-poem/. In this series, I tell stories of people that fulfilled God’s purpose of being good while foregoing worldly greatness.
To date, the series has included only real people with whom I have directly interacted. In this blog I focus on a person that I have interacted with since the seventies, but only through TV– John, the father on “The Waltons”.
For those not familiar with the series, “The Waltons” ran for 9 years in the 70’s and early 80’s with specials continuing into the 2000’s. It covers the trials and tribulations of an extended of family of 11 (John, his family, and John’s parents) living through the depression and World War II in the backwoods of Virginia. The Waltons make it through those hard years of poverty and personal tragedy with their souls intact largely due to the sacrifices of John and his wife Olivia (who is equally deserving of being the subject of this blog).
One of my favorite episodes of the series clearly demonstrates John’s focus on being good while foregoing opportunities for wealth and fame. In the episode, John is uncharacteristically anxious and short with others. His high school reunion is approaching and one of his fellow classmates want him to organize the reunion. The classmate came to John because back in high school he and his classmate Grover where always vying for the lead position in the class. Grover went on to Washington to lead an agency in the Roosevelt administration, while John stayed on Walton’s Mountain eking out a living for his family. John becomes even more anxious when the person who was supposed to host the reunion cannot and John’s wife Olivia agrees to host the reunion at the Walton home.
When the seemingly successful guests arrive, they all have problems. Grover, for instance is having marital problems and his wife does not attend the reunion. Another one of his classmates, a rich car salesman, has kids who act spoiled and misbehave throughout the reunion. In contrast, the Walton children are the epitome of hospitality and work together to make the reunion a success.
The show ends with what I considered the greatest quote from the show and one that highlights the difference between being good not great. Grover, John’s former high school rival says the following:
“Six years in grade school, five years in high school-everything I ever ran for, I was always running against the same Johnny Walton… The greatest day of my life was when I beat John Walton out for senior class president. I don’t think he ever lost any sleep over it. Now I’m an ambitious man – some would say successful; probably it’s all John’s fault. I was always running; he was always going past me at a walk. And here it is, 25 years later-here I am, and there’s John. Then look at me… and some of you… still running, still wearing ourselves to a frazzle for all sorts of things that John Walton has accumulated while he was out walking – a happy home, a fine wife and children. We’re sitting here well fed at John’s table, and I’m still boy enough to be graveled at the sight of him. ‘John – the boy most likely to succeed.’ Well, he’s the boy who did.”
This ending always gets me because it shows the choices a parent makes for his family. There are so many episodes where John demonstrates his love for family over that of money of fame. Here are three examples:
In one of the later episodes, John demonstrates his ability to organize competing, local sawmills in Virginia to deliver a large order for a rich government contractor. Noting his ability, the contractor offers John the role of Vice President of lumber operations. This job holds the promise of wealth, travel and a fine home. The only issue is John would have to uproot his family. He declines the role for the lesser opportunity of running a co-op in his hometown for a lot less money and prestige.
One of the key attributes of a good father is being humble enough to accept the sacrifice of your children. In another one of my favorite episodes, John and Olivia use all their emergency money to buy their son John-Boy, a new suit for college. The whole family participates in the joyful event. John is proud that he can provide clothes for his son to fit in with the wealthier students not on scholarship. Then the family’s milking cow Chance dies and John is humbled since he does not have the money to replace it. John Boy takes it upon himself to sell back his suit to pay for a new cow. This action shows the goodness of his father John in two ways. First, John-boy is following the example of sacrifice he has seen modeled by his father. Second, John is humble enough after initial reluctance to accept the money. John does what needs to be done even though it eats him up inside to provide his son this simple gift.
In the last example, a developer comes to Walton’s Mountain and notes the beauty of the nature and a hot spring on the mountain. FDR with his affinity for Hot Springs has raised the demand for these resorts and the developer offers John a lot of money for the mountain and his home. He at first contemplates selling the land and moving the family but decides against moving the family, especially his parents from the home. This episode clearly illustrates the sacrifices many sons and daughters make to care for their parents in their older years. A good father indeed must first be a good son.
I could list at least another 20 episodes of the basic goodness of John Walton and his love for family. Caring for your family and your spouse is what a marriage is all about! A good parent thinks of their family first and career second. Money and fame disappear, but a love of a good parent lives on! So, when facing a decision, let’s be like John and focus on what’s good for the family, rather than what is great for you!