Growing a boy into manhood: Lessons from the Lion King taught by my wife

My wife, Cheryl taught me and our kids an invaluable lesson about manhood and leadership as seen the Nala, the behind the scenes star of the movie.

This is a piece I wrote in 2011 for the Pittsburgh New Courier.   I was reminded of it the other day when my daughter Kennedy was reminiscing about going to see the 2019 version of The Lion King with her mother.

My wife, Cheryl and I recently watched the re-release of Disney’s The Lion King on Blu-ray. The film first came out in 1994 when our oldest child, Wynton was just a year old.  Over the past 17 years we have watched it countless times with our three children, but the last time I watched it I saw it again for the first time.  Cheryl uncovered an essential thematic element of the film that I had never realized before, but that she had known since 1988, six years before it was released.  That was the year we met and became engaged.

The plot is very simple, yet complex.  Simba was born as the heir to the throne of the kingdom of his father, Mufasa. Simba had learned everything that he needed to know to become the king from his father while still a cub.  These lessons were taught through both example and instruction.  Upon Mufasa’s untimely death, a young Simba unknowingly already had the seed of responsibility and royalty planted deep within him by his father.  After a series of twists and turns and a few catchy Disney tunes, Simba eventually assumed the mantle of leadership for which he was born.

The complex part was recently relayed to me by Cheryl. After Mufasa’s death, a young Simba didn’t want to become a “man”, nor a leader because he was afraid.  He ran away from home and found a couple of friends in Timon and Pumba who empowered him to wallow in his adolescence, abdicate his responsibility and forget about his people through the adoption of the Hakuna Matada, “No Worries” principle.  

It wasn’t until he was reintroduced to his childhood friend and eventual bride Nala that everything that Mufasa had taught him about being a “man” came to the surface.  Nala affirmed Simba as both a “man” and a leader by harvesting the seed that was planted years ago by Mufasa.

Awestruck, I asked Cheryl, how she had come by this nugget of insight.  She replied, “That’s exactly what I did with you 23 years ago.  You see dear, a man teaches a boy how to be a man, but a woman affirms and calls him into his manhood. A boy doesn’t truly know that he is a man without a woman.  Your mother and I just affirmed and actualized what your father had taught you as a boy.”

While it definitely does take a village to raise a child, it also takes both a man and a woman to plant, grow and harvest a boy into manhood.  We’ve got a lot of work to do. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Thanks Mom, Dad and Cheryl for staying in the field for me!