If you have ever spent any time getting to know me at a personal level, you will quickly find that I have a deep appreciation and reverence for the animated television show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” No, not the one with the blue creatures frolicking along in a sci-fi forest. I am referring to that Nickelodeon animated series that likes to disguise itself as a kid’s show but is rich enough with wisdom and plot to satisfy many adults who have been willing to give it a try. I don’t know of anyone who has seen Avatar: The Last Airbender and didn’t fall in love with it. If you want to know how much I like the show- I saw it on sale at Meijer the other day and seriously thought about buying it a second time thinking, “You know, I like this show so much I would buy it again right now if only for the rich memories it stirs from looking at the cover,” (For the record, I did not buy a second copy). I have actually made a pact with myself to watch through the show at least once every year. I am very much a critic when it comes to shows, so when I say that it is “the perfect show” and without a doubt my favorite, that is indeed high praise.
Within the masterpiece called “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” there is one character in particular that I admire immensely, Uncle Iroh. Uncle Iroh is like Mr. Miagi, Gandalf, Santa Clause, and Gandhi wrapped up in a single harmonious package. He is the wise sage and grandfather figure every man wishes he had growing up. Uncle Iroh is such a strong and well-written character that I could spend hours talking about his wisdom, virtue, and philosophy. Don’t worry, I won’t do that here. But, I don’t think I could go to my grave content without writing this post.
Since I can’t assume that everyone has had the privilege of watching the “Avatar,” I will begin by giving a brief description of the part that Uncle Iroh plays in the show. Uncle Iroh was, at one time, the rightful heir to the Fire Nation’s throne. During his time as an accomplished general of the Fire Nation army, he had the ambition to lay siege to the walls of a nearly impenetrable city, Ba Sing Se. After having broken through the outer walls, Iroh was informed that his son had been killed on the front lines. In his grief, Iroh gave up the battle and relinquished his claim on the throne. Instead of returning home, Iroh went on a journey traveling the world, looking for peace. When Iroh returned to the Fire Nation, he was treated as a disgrace. As time passed, Uncle Iroh’s destiny became entwined with that of his nephew, Prince Zuko. The prince was exiled from the Fire Nation after speaking up against his father, Fire Lord Ozai. Prince Zuko’s only chance to be welcomed back to his people would be if he were to find and capture the Avatar, a powerful foe to the Fire Nation, who had been missing for nearly 100 hundred years. As Zuko progressed in his mission, Uncle Iroh stood beside him, sharing the wisdom and experience that he had collected from his time outside of the Fire Nation’s walls.
That is much as I am willing to give you, in case I have piqued your interest and you decide to watch the series yourself. So, prepare to take another geeky ride with me as I discuss 4 lessons that I have gathered from Uncle Iroh about being a man and a father.
Patience and Time
“Good times become good memories. But bad times become good lessons” – Iroh.
It’s one thing to be holding the cards, it’s another to know when to play them. Uncle Iroh demonstrated the art of timing as he would guide his nephew. He knew when to voice his thoughts and when to allow others the freedom to make decisions for themselves. There were many times when Zuko acted rashly, lost his focus, and betrayed his uncle’s teaching. However, Iroh could see past the decisions that his nephew was making and forward along the path that he was steering his nephew toward. He understood that his job was not to make decisions for his nephew but to share the truth with Zuko so that he could walk along his own path well-informed. As a father, we must have the insight to see past our children’s failures and draw out our children’s potential. It will take time and it will often mean that our children will experience hurt, and cause us to hurt, along the way. This is what it takes to walk alongside another. We can’t let present setbacks keep us off track.
Power and Humility
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”– Iroh
Uncle Iroh was arguably one of the most powerful characters in the Avatar universe, but you wouldn’t think so upon first inspection. Iroh had cast aside the need to always be the greatest, to get his way, to have the respect or recognition of others. Iroh, was just as content in poverty as he was in luxury. He wasn’t motivated by greed, envy, selfishness, or pride. No matter how much others tried to mock or taunt him, he stayed true to himself and what he believed. This world is full of people and situations that challenge us to act in pride. Sometimes being a man of inner strength means being willing to take the blows and not respond as a fool would. Have you ever felt the desire to respond in pride, knowing that it would cause you to act out of character? I know I have.
Give and Take
“While it is always best to believe in one’s self, a little help from others can be a great blessing.” – Iroh
Uncle Iroh was a very wise man, but he was still willing to learn from others. He understood that others around him had something worth learning from, and so he was willing to take advice and support from others. Even still, Iroh was just as willing to offer the wisdom that he had. It was just as common to see Iroh sitting down, drinking some Jasmine tea, and listening to the thoughts of others as it was for Iroh to put someone in their place when he knew that the situation called for it. Iroh did not use the knowledge and experience he had earned overtime to put others down or manipulate them for his own gain. He knew that wisdom is a gift to be shared, in love, to and from those around us. A man is at his best (as is true of a father) when he is willing to take the wisdom of others and to give openly when it is welcomed or needed.
Heart and Head
“Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly concerns, and they found peace and freedom. And they apparently had a great sense of humor.” – Iroh
One of the things that I most admire about Iroh was his ability to sense the need of the moment. Was it time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the world around him (even though others could not)? Or, was it time to be serious and take a stand? Iroh didn’t let the emotions of others sway him one way or the other. However, Iroh wasn’t a heartless stoic either. Some of the most heartfelt scenes in the series came from moments between Iroh and others (no spoilers here). Those that interacted with Iroh either looked to him for guidance during complex times or were humbled by his response when situations “got under their skin.” I imagine that it comes with time, but I believe that a worthy pursuit for Rock Solid fathers is for us to be skilled at staying calm and taking charge when the times call for it. It also means that we need to know when to “take in the moment” and have some fun, especially with our family. I imagine I have a lot to learn in this area. How about you?
“I know you’re not supposed to cry over spilled tea, but it’s just so sad!” – Iroh
This has been another one of those posts that came out of left-field. Hopefully, there was something you could take away from it. Now I am interested to hear from you- what is a show, book, or movie character that you believe demonstrates being a father or a man well? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
As always, stay Rock Solid, dads!
Brian Faust is the Fatherhood Program Coordinator of Rock Solid Fatherhood in Warsaw, IN. He is the husband of the world’s best wife and father of three beautiful girls. He has nearly a decade of mentorship and mental health experience. Brian has a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Grace College. It is his desire to come alongside men of all walks of life as they embrace their role as partner and father with rock solid strength.