Unlocking the Entrepreneurial Mindset: Lessons from The Great Santini
“Good morning, Ben,” Ed Mills said.
“Good morning, Mr. Mills,” Ben said.
“You become a man this morning, Ben. They found your papa.”
“He’s dead, son.”
I teared up when I read this.
I was sitting in my bedroom chair after waking up at one am unable to sleep, and I read this. At that moment, a flood of memories of my father’s life and death hit me. These memories washed over me. I felt for a moment like I was drowning in them.
If you are a grown man or woman and know or suspect you have father issues, this book might open your mind to investigate your issues more intentionally. It may help you understand, in part, why you are the way you are. To think through how you grew up. How you were treated. The part your father played in your development. The part your mother played.
This review started with a spoiler.
Yes, the father dies. But I knew this before picking up the book as I saw the movie in 1979. I remembered bits and pieces of the father and son interactions, none of the mother’s, and that the dad gets it in the end. But reading the book brought this story to life, my life.
I picked up this book while visiting close friends in Beaufort, SC. They live twenty minutes from Parris Island, one of two Marine training facilities in the United States. As we sat on our friends’ dock, his wife pointed out that the island across the water was the Marine airbase.
As I looked across the water at the airbase, it reminded me of the movie The Great Santini. It was the second time in a few hours I was reminded of this movie. The first time was when I was unpacking in our bedroom. On our night table was a Pat Conroy book, the author of The Great Santini.
That night, after discovering the Marine airbase across from their home, she and I decided to read it.
When I started reading the book, I texted her that I feared some of the memories from childhood that it might uncover, memories of my father.
She quickly responded, “Buck up, buttercup!😎😎”
With such an inspiring and loving challenge, how could I not read the book!
The story is focused on the Meechum family. The dad is a Marine fighter pilot, the mom a southern belle, and they have four kids, with the oldest a son. The son is cresting manhood at seventeen. His oldest sister is sixteen. The story focuses on these two children, who they are and who they are becoming as they approach adulthood.
The wonder of this book is the anecdotes used to develop the characters. After a couple of hundred pages, there is no doubt you know the dad and mom well. And through this story, I could not help thinking about interactions with my dad and mom.
I reflected on how I saw my parents in my formative years.
My love for my dad combined with portions of disrespect and hate I secretly harbored—the drive to want to leave the house as soon as I could. I wanted to be the man I wanted to be and not the man he expected me to be.
Looking back now, I realize how confusing family relationships were when I was eighteen. I was educated, provided for, and loved. I was also cutting my path, testing new values, becoming my father, and fighting it. It was a time in my life when I was fighting him. I left for college, and I’m sure there was a part of him that was happy I was leaving.
I didn’t understand how my childhood became the biggest contributor to my operating system, my person.
How I saw relationships.
How I reacted in certain situations.
How I made decisions.
How I judged people.
How I treated my wife.
How I raised my kids.
All this behavior is rooted in my childhood experiences. And these roots grew me into the man I became over the next fifty-two years. At seventy, I’m starting to unpack it.
The other day my sister, who is eighty-one, said, “I never felt truly loved or encouraged. All I remember is how alone I was. It was like no one cared.”
When she said this, I listened but didn’t believe her. It was like she was creating her narrative to justify how her life evolved. How could we have the same parents yet with a different upbringing?
Then I read this from the book:
“Though they had grown up in the same household and were shaped by the same two parents, Mary Anne had been damaged more severely in the passage. He had grown up to be afraid, but he had not grown up to suffer. He was not a member of that forsaken elect. But his sister was.”
And this partially captured my relationship with my dad, showing me her relationship, too. The quote helped me to believe my sister and her characterization of her relationship with my parents as a child.
I highly recommend this book if, as an adult, you find yourself thinking about your childhood. How you were raised and how it affected you.
As a man now married forty-six years with four children and six grandchildren, I have a clearer, less self-centered, and more balanced view of my upbringing. This story helped me, and forced me, to think deeply about my childhood, my father, my mother, and my sister. To gain perspective and clarity on why I am who I am. And with this new perspective, choose a healthier path.
Toward the end of the book, Ben, the eighteen-year-old son, drives the family to their next home. He is thinking about his sister, Mary Anne, his closest sibling, who accused him of being just like their father.
These are Ben’s thoughts:
“He had always thought that Mary Anne had been harmed by the coldness of her father and the beauty of her mother. It was only lately that he was having small moments of clarity, of illumination, and seeing himself for the first time as the closest of Mary Anne’s enemies, the kindest of her assassins. Then he said the words again. ‘I am not Santini [his father],’ but this time he said these words so only he could hear.”
Just like Ben, this summarized how I began to see myself at eighteen. I am not my father. But my father is in me. As I developed as a man, apart from my parents, I must remember they are an integral part of me. The Bible says, “The sins of the father are passed on to the next generation.“ But so are the blessings.
There is good and bad in every father. When I began dating and thinking about beginning a family, I would think, “I will not be like my father.” After starting a family, I saw a lot of him in me. And it was not all bad. My dad had some wonderful attributes. He loved with passion. He was a great provider. He loved people. He was the life of the party. He was generous to a fault. But he also drank too much. And when he drank, he was resentful and mean. He was absent too much. He was tortured by his upbringing. He didn’t compliment and encourage because he was never complimented or encouraged. But that was him.
But I must remember…
I am not my father. I am me, a new creation. I have an opportunity to become the man I want to be. This is my responsibility. But to become this man, I must realize where I came from and the impact it had on me. And also the impact it had on my sister.
I don’t know what happened to Ben. If he got married, how did he treat his wife? How did he live his career? How did he treat others? How did he raise his kids?
What I do know is what happened to me. I wasn’t able to be the man God created me to be until I returned to the God who created me. By giving my life back to Jesus Christ, I granted him permission to continue to mold me into who he intended me to be. This process continues to this day.
Clearly, The Great Santini is a thought-provoking story. I highly recommend it.