Thoughts on Moana and Fatherhood

Moana is a 2016 Disney movie that tells the story of the eponymous character and her journey of self-discovery. Being A Disney movie, and specifically a post-Frozen Disney movie, it is not surprising that the movie has a strong female protagonist. The other strength of this movie is of course, the fantastic soundtrack scored by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

However, I’m not here to review the entire movie. That has been done over and over and over again by scores of people, from amateurs to professionals. I’m here to talk about one particular line that really stayed with me in the very first song Where You Are.

The song covers the early years of Moana, from when she was a toddler to when she becomes a young woman. It extols the virtues of finding your peace and your happiness in the life that you have, and not in the life that you wish you had. However, about 1 minute and 38 seconds into the song, Moana’s father, Chief Tui, sings the following line:

“In time you’ll learn just as I did, you must find happiness right where you are.”

This is a throwaway line on its face with no apparent significance. However, as we find out later from Moana’s grandmother, the line is actually a reflection of the Chief’s own struggles with his daughter’s desire to explore the ocean. The Chief had once been as adventurous as Moana, going so far as to attempt a voyage himself, with his best friend. However, the voyage ended in disaster, and the Chief lost his friend. This loss, this traumatic experience, is the thing that Chief Tui is trying to keep his daughter from experiencing.

This instinct in parents, to protect their children from the pain, suffering and heartbreak that they themselves have experienced, is a natural one. However, it is also a deeply flawed one. It is flawed because it is impossible to live life without experiencing pain, suffering and heartbreak. Pain, suffering and heartbreak are an inescapable part of life and in fact, are just as important in shaping the person you are and will become, as joy and happiness are.

As a parent of two daughters, I constantly struggle myself with this. I do not want to see my daughters cry. I definitely do not want to be a CAUSE of pain to them. However, I do believe that when they inevitably experience pain, or defeat, or failure, it is my job to be there for them, to help them process it, to help them understand it, and to help them grow from it.

I think that is the lesson that Chief Tui learns in the movie. He learns that he cannot protect Moana from the ocean, and that he should not. He learns that he must let her go, and that he must trust that he has given her the tools to survive and thrive in the world. He learns that he must let her find her happiness where she is, and not where he wants her to be.

I hope that I am able to apply that lesson in my own life. I know I will not always be successful, but I hope I am able to be the father that my daughters need me to be, when it counts.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.