They had to have been crazy. That was the only logical reason why those nice nurses told me I was ready to go home with my newborn baby. Sure, I had been preparing for him during the nine months he had grown inside my womb. I had taken classes and read all the books. But when the nurses turned their backs on me with a final goodbye, I was sure they were crazy.
I wasn’t ready. But if I’m honest, I’ve never been ready. I was not ready when my parents hugged me goodbye after moving me into my dorm room. I was not ready when the principal handed me the keys to my first classroom. I was not ready for marriage, parenting multiple children, or when we moved across the world to serve as missionaries. I’m still not ready for the challenges I’m facing right now.
And yet, there I was: a new student, teacher, wife, mom, missionary. I had to put one foot in front of the other, get the next task done on the list (even though I often didn’t know what to do), and try to work with excellence.
I’m old enough now to realize that I’m not alone. Much of adulthood is learning on the fly. I wish I would have known that when I was a little younger. But when a new challenge arises—like my current one of parenting teenagers—it’s easy for me to forget we’re never really ready for what we face in life.
C.S. Forester’s Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is a book about not being ready. Actually, it’s a book about battles and fear and responsibility—all of which we’re never quite ready for. It’s a reminder that not being ready doesn’t mean absolute failure because we often rise to challenges presented to us. It’s a chance to walk in the shoes of someone inexperienced and unprepared when the stakes are high.
Horatio Hornblower wasn’t ready when he first stepped onto the Indefatigable. Most boys were schooled in seafaring around twelve, but Horatio’s naval career started when he was seventeen. And so when he’s ordered to take command of a French merchant ship right at the start of the Napoleonic Wars, Horatio is not ready. He’s armed with little knowledge and even less experience, but he brings honor, nerve, and a willing spirit.
And yet, “Horatio was afraid.” He’s an unlikely hero, but a hero nonetheless. He’s the sort of young man I want my son to grow to be—a man of his word, a man who is neither a bully nor bullied, a man who knows his weaknesses as he tries to grow and learn.
Written as episodic chapters, Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is one adventure after another. Horatio faces a duel with the odds against him. When he’s given his first command, he quickly realizes that he made a grave mistake that puts everyone’s lives at risk. He fights battles, endures imprisonment, and trusts a strange woman with important military dispatches. He makes good and bad decisions for the men he’s responsible for leading.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is the first Hornblower book chronologically (though not the first Hornblower book Forester wrote) and a great place to start reading about his adventures. The development of Hornblower’s character as he first sets out on the sea, complete with a terrible case of seasickness and lacking even the knowledge of how to properly address his senior officers, is a reminder that we grow through adversity.
I need Hornblower’s stories, and so do my kids. As my children inch towards adulthood, we’re pushing them into things that they need to be doing, even though they don’t feel ready. Perpetual childhood sometimes sounds good in theory, but growing up—however painful—is good in reality. If we always hold our children back—or let them choose to wait—we won’t see everything that they’re are capable of. Stories that remind us of how we can rise to the challenge are good for kids and parents alike.
You’ll cheer, laugh, and bite your nails as you follow Horatio’s exploits on the sea. And you’ll be reminded that you’re not ready, but that’s ok.