Swiss Family Robinson Review: 20 Lessons for Fathers

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 9.11.43 PMI’ve watched the Disney version of this book enough times to quote it by heart. It’s a good flick, but very different from the classic novel by Johann Wyss. Disney captures some of the family’s ingenuity and hard work, but ignores their fervent faith in God, strong family bond, and the father’s central role in every sphere of life. The movie is a sea, the book an ocean.

Fathers should read this book with their sons. Here are 20 lessons for dads:

  1. Give honest, insightful evaluations of your children. “Ernest, twelve years of age, well-informed and rational, but somewhat selfish and indolent” (8).
  2. Lead your family in worship. “Our first care, when we stepped in safety on land, was to kneel down and thank God, to whom we owed our lives” (9)
  3. Teach them to respect animals. “I was grieved at [Jack rashly killing a lobster], and recommended him never to act in a moment of anger, showing him that he was unjust in being so revengeful” (10).
  4. Rebuke them for uncontrolled anger. “Anger leads to every crime. Remember Cain, who killed his brother in a fit of passion” (13).
  5. Admonish them not to jest of sacred things. “I proposed before we departed, to have prayers, and my thoughtless Jack began to imitate the sound of church-bells—‘Ding, dong! To prayers! To prayers! Ding, dong!’ I was really angry, and reproved him severely for jesting about sacred things” (16).
  6. Bestow biblical wisdom. [After the boys resist looking for those who had abandoned them]: “We must not return evil for evil” (17).
  7. Expect more from the eldest. “I gave [Fritz] a hint of his duty in the position of elder son” (32).
  8. Reward character. “Fritz displayed a little jealousy, but soon surmounted it by an exertion of nobler feelings; and only the keen eye of a father could have discovered it. ‘I promise [you can accompany me next trip] as a reward for the conquest you have achieved over your jealousy of your brother” (66).
  9. Give them responsibility. [When everyone clamors for the turtle Fritz killed] “I said it belonged to Fritz, by right of conquest, and he must dispose of it as he thought best” (70).
  10. Disdain laziness. [After the family woke up late] “I gave my boys a short admonition for their sloth” (72).
  11. Challenge your sons to do hard things. “I gave my sons a charge to rise early next morning, as we had an important business on hand; and curiosity roused them all in very good time” (74).
  12. Protect them from danger. “I forbade them to taste any unknown fruit, and they promised to obey me” (75).
  13. Praise them for moral victories. “He was compelled to lower his pride a little… though I gave him much credit for his coolness and resolution” (98).
  14. Aim to please your wife. “My wife, all life and animation, explained to me all the machines I must make, to enable her to spin and weave… her eyes sparkled with delight as she spoke, and I promised her all she asked” (113).
  15. Organize the day. “I set out without breakfast, without giving my sons their tasks, or making any arrangements for the labors of the day” (139).
  16. Carry the emotional weight. “My wife soon was in a sweet slumber; the boys followed her example, and I was left alone with my anxieties; happy, however, to see them at rest after such an evening of agitation” (150).
  17. Listen to your kids. [After the kids beg to repair mothers garden first] “I embraced by dear boy, and promised him this should be our first work. A child of twelve years old gave me an example of resignation and courage” (164).
  18. Surprise mom a lot! “They requested me not to tell my wife, that they might give her an agreeable surprise” (161).
  19. Persuade your wife in private. “When we were alone, I seriously besought my wife not to oppose any occupations our children might plan” (193).
  20. Protect mother from undue worry. “I forbade my sons to mention this [dangerous] event, or our suspicions, to their mother, as I knew it would rob her of all peace of mind” (207).
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