Comic Parenting Guilt


The inaugural Hutchmoot in 2010 was something else. All the speakers were amazing. Walter Wangerin, Jr. was masterful. Months later, Wangerin visited San Diego to see the premier of the Lamb’s Players Theatre production of his The Book of the Dun Cow. Chauntecleer and Cockatrice battled it out above the stage suspended by theatrical wires. It was awesome.

There is a small café next to the theatre and during intermission Leanne and I sat chatting with Walter Wangerin. We mentioned Hutchmoot.

“You’re some of those young musicians then,” he said.

“No, just fans of the musicians, and of writers like you,” we replied.

I added, “Clearly, you have never heard me sing.”

We discussed writing and his writing process and publishing and some small talk I cannot remember anymore.

The mission of Lamb’s Players Theatre is to “tell good stories well.” It’s one of the most simply stated mission statements I have ever read. Over the years we’ve spent quite a bit of time at Lamb’s and so have experienced their mission statement in action. They fulfill their mission with abandon. When Les Misérables made the lineup for Lamb’s 2014 season, I knew we had to take the kids.

Our oldest daughter saw the movie. That’s one of my major parenting regrets, that I took her to see that royally stupid movie before taking her to the theatrical production. Just one more topic to discuss with her therapist some day. “So then Eponine sings, ‘…a stranger’s just a stranger…’ and like literally a stranger walks right by her. And I am wondering, what am I missing? Tom Hooper must think I’m like an imbecile.” “Hmm. So, your parents took you to see the movie before the Broadway production?” “Yes.” “We’re going to need at least three more sessions,” says her therapist jotting something down on a yellow legal notepad.

Well anyway, for now we’ve been listening the 1996 Royal Albert Hall recording of Les Misérables in preparation for seeing the show at Lamb’s. I’m feeling some guilty defensiveness, because we are taking our 9-year-old. She’s read The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Charlotte’s Web, all of which contain themes at least as mature as what she will see at Les Misérables . . . minus the innkeeper and his wife . . . and “Lovely Ladies,” which on our drive home the other night Leanne paused then looked at me with saucer eyes and said, “You better explain.” Bridget played it cool as I bumbled through the details Fantine’s fate.

I keep having conversations in my mind. “Look, I saw a 5-year-old at Batman: The Dark Night. That was wrong. But Les Mis is one of the most moving stories ever penned and then adapted for the stage. Plus, she’s at an 8th-grade reading level.” Saint Augustine just shakes his head. “It’s a comedy not a tragedy, Augustine. The pleasure is in the redemption not the suffering.” “Sure reminds me of Carthage,” he says.

Okay. Maybe at least two of our daughters will need therapy. I’ll have to report back in a few days after the show. But shows like Les Misérables are a kind of therapy in their own right. The kind that makes you worse then eventually better. This world is so harsh. So awful. Who needs to see tragedies in ancient Carthage when we have headlines in modern-day Mosul? Bring on the comedies that mess us up at a young age, giving us hope and teaching us to rejoice that, despite the odds and the injustice and the bloodshed, even so, through tears in our eyes we will see redemption win the day.

Come with me
Where chains will never bind you
All your grief
At last, at last behind you.
Lord in Heaven,
Look down on him in mercy…
To love another person
Is to see the face of God!

Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


  1. Loren Warnemuende

    Do keep us posted! Parenting is definitely a tricky road, particularly figuring out when is the best time to expose our kids to hard things. But Les Mis is amazing! And there are certainly things I read or saw at a young age where I missed the mature themes completely and grasped the essence of the beauty.

  2. Heidi Johnston

    When I was 10 our whole class went to see Les Mis on the West End in London. I vividly remember sitting at the end, tears rolling down my cheeks, feeling like something amazing had just happened but I wasn’t quite sure what. For weeks the songs and the images kept going round in my head. I think I probably learned more that night than I did the rest of the school year. Oddly enough I had no memory of the innkeeper and his wife until I saw it years later. Thankfully I saw the “royally stupid movie” before I had a chance to inflict it on my kids but I wouldn’t hesitate to take them to see the stage production. Hope they enjoy it!

  3. Dave Bruno

    So I have to say that no matter what Saint Augustine’s opinions were regarding theatre, our family had a lovely time. There were some tears when at the end Fantine and Epinone collected Jean ValJean to heaven.

    One interesting anecdote. Our youngest daughter and I were singing “Look Down” the other day in the kitchen. She got to the line, “Sweet Jesus hear my prayer” and caught herself before she sang “Sweet Jesus doesn’t care.” I said, “What’s the matter?” She looked all sheepish. We had a good conversation about how sometimes in theatre you have to say things you don’t believe. But also we recognized that theatre often helps us give voice to what other people do believe, even the beliefs that grieve us.

    So on this one, Augustine was wrong. I love him. But I’m all for 9-year-olds seeing Les Mis!

  4. Olivia

    Though there are things I may one day need therapy for, my parents taking me to Les Mis in London when I was 8 years old is not one of them. I loved it, though I didn’t understand it all. I memorized the entire soundtrack when we got back from our trip and I have grown into the story as I’ve grown up. That last line: “To love another person is to see the face of God” was quoted at my wedding to complement our chosen scripture: 1 John 4. I’d say that’s parenting done well:)

  5. Laura Peterson

    I’m adding this to my list of reasons why the Brunos are awesome. 🙂 So glad it was a good experience. I remember my parents introducing Kristen and I to some tough (but good) stuff at a young-ish age, and while some of it (see “West Side Story”) completely backfired, others stuck with me, and I’m glad for those stories.

  6. Pete Peterson


    Aaron, it’s okay if your reaction was something like this:

    “Oh, wow, this looks like it’s probably a great story, even though this movie is hideous and seems to have been shot and edited by a terrified 12-year old. And this music seems like it’s pretty darn good, but why didn’t they get some singers who actually knew what they were doing. Despite all this awfulness, I feel strangely moved. I suppose I’d better go read the book and see the original stage musical so I can better appreciate what has been ruined here.”

    Otherwise, no, not really 🙂

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