The River of Doubt, a non-fiction account of Theodore Roosevelt's horrible and spectacular journey down the Amazon River, written by Candice Millard, is, for me, a departure from the books I normally read.
I was originally interested in this book at the recommendation of a friend for its historical significance. It was a challenging read, but finishing the book left me deeply satisfied as well as educated about life in the rainforest, Teddy Roosevelt's generous & adventurous personality, and his respectful style of parenting.
Perhaps because I find myself constantly immersed in the challenge of raising my own children, I am always looking for ways I can improve as a parent. Millard occasionally leaves the story of the river expedition to give some insight into the character's lives before the journey, particularly Roosevelt, as she describes his childhood, some of his experiences as the President of the United States, and a few family stories about the raising of his six children.
Roosevelt's son, Kermit, joined him on this challenging journey down the Amazon, and I enjoyed reading the author's portrayal of the relationship between father and son.
"According to Kermit, Roosevelt had always held his children 'responsible to the law of the jungle.' He never tolerated greed or sloth, especially during camping trips, when, even only a few miles from home, the children's courage, patience, and magnanimity could be tested to their limits. 'Not even the smallest child was allowed to show a disposition to grab, or select his pieces of chicken,' Kermit recalled. 'We were taught that that was an unpardonable offense out camping, and might cause the culprit to be left behind next time.'Roosevelt had witnesed this low threshold for discomfort in some of his closest friends, and he believed that it showed a shallowness of character that he was determined never to see in his own children.
Roosevelt was proud of his son on this expedition. . .not only did Kermit never fight for the best piece of meat, but the few times that the expedition had meat, he was often the man who had brought it into camp" (pp. 252-253)
The "Law of the Jungle" to which Kermit refers, is a poem written by Rudyard Kipling. Here is the opening stanza of the poem:
Now this is the law of the Jungle--as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdle the tree-trunk, the Law runneth forward and back--
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the pack.
I do not claim to be immune from displays of selfishness and greed, but, in my own challenge to overcome these character flaws, I hope to teach my children to work hard and think of others before themselves.
If it makes them better people, I believe I will also hold my children "responsible to the law of the jungle."