Great Heart, the Dad of Theodore Roosevelt: Man of God & Country
Of what consequence is a life that is lived unto oneself? How often do we also settle into a comfortable neutrality in caring for ourselves, our loved ones, and securing for own future? We can be cordial, pleasant, and thoughtful, and yet, if we are fortunate, we may realize that we are yet not satisfied and that we are expecting more from life. If we are even more fortunate, we have the understanding that it is in giving and not receiving that we experience a deeper fullness in our life.
From where does one get instruction on how to live with great purpose—that at the end of each day, we have this profound peace of heart and mind?
You may have never heard of Theodore Roosevelt. He was the man who helped make the Theodore Roosevelt we know who became President of the United States of America. He was the Dad of Teddy Roosevelt. ‘Great Heart’ was one of four son’s of one of the most affluent families in Manhattan in the late-mid 1800’s. The Roosevelt’s were wealthy, prosperous, and engines of business in Manhattan. Great Heart’s mother, had put forth that such position of wealth and station required a responsible duty to use such position of prominence in a purposeful way, disdaining a self-enclosed life of pleasure in favor of one with value to self and others. This perspective of responsibility was ingrained in the heart of her son to such an extent that he lived his life in a very peculiar manner—one in which he was a man of family, a caretaker and dedicated ‘upbringer’ of his children… as much as he was also a man of and for the community; even a tireless, cheerful Christian who shook Manhattan to its core in a loving and selfless way, setting precedent for others on the respecting of human life through the active dedication to defending the dignity of those at the very bottom of society, the poor, the orphaned, and the outcast.
In many ways, he was larger than life, and though his son went on to be a champion in politics, his father, known as ‘Great Heart,’ along with his grandmother’s legacy, were the singular instrumental forces that helped shape the ascendancy of the son. With his family, ‘Great Heart’ kept close ranks with his children. He was there for them. He understood the relevancy of his presence and the example of his life as teacher to his four. A young man himself, he began his family in his mid-thirties. The values instilled in him were of a healthy "Great Heart"appreciation for God’s Word, a responsibility to family, and a duty to community and country. Every moment, every action was purposeful. His life was an endeavor of heart and mind; his attitude—one of dedicated service unto others; a continual practice of empathy and compassion, energy and enthusiasm.
His own children loved him dearly. His oldest daughter had a slight physical deformity, Elliot was prone to dramatic spells of anxiety, and Theodore was very asthmatic. Dad was the empathic parent…the Atlas of the family. Bringing them with him to work and including them in his daily life was part of the routine. They saw him being that great hearted individual. They experienced seeing and being with an active American and active Christian. A doting father to his own two daughters and two sons: Bammie, Elliot, Theodore, and Corrine, Sunday’s were a time for sharing God’s Word with his children and it was a time for performing the good works of visiting the orphans. Kids loved to be around him because of who he was. In entering the shelter, he would be rushed upon by the orphans. They intuitively understood that he was a down to earth fellow who valued being a respectful, loving source of thoughtful kindness. He fed them and was their mentor/ coach.Every week he would visit them, sit and speak with them and see to it that their accommodations were adequate. (His own children right next to him taking it all in.) He put together a program to reconnect them with their parents, and when that was not possible, many of these were found homes with families in the mid-Western states. Again, he would serve them, sit and speak with them; he would be a father-figure to them. One can imagine what a source of positive energy he represented to these kids who had no family, and no one to care for them. Was it not a hope that he instilled in caring for others, a love for people that he exemplified, and a joy of thankfulness unto God that Great Heart brought? Manhattan had hundreds of these kids out on the streets and many regarded them as vermin, and not to be given much thought. Theodore, the Dad, changed that perspective through his continuous action of truly caring. It was important for him to make it his business of being mindful for others as a way for him to be at peace with his life. It was important to his heart and mind. It was important to him to live God’s Word, and this quiet effect established his power unlike any other ‘public servant in his time.’
Great Heart put his heart and mind into caring not only for his own children and the orphaned ‘news boys’ only—he also walked the halls of mental institutions and called for improved quality of life treatment of those there. He brought the reporters and newspapers in to bring light on the plight of those kept in ward. He saw that his position of wealth afforded him an opportunity to help bring about giant projects that would connect an integrate the life of New York City too. These included the founding of the Natural History Museum and the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge, which would connect and increase the movement of people and economy. He outflanked himself and got on horse and train during the time of the U.S. Civil War and went to the Union Army battle camps directly speaking with multitudes of soldiers to gain their trust and acceptance with a program to bring their soldiers salary home to their families. Roosevelt got President Lincoln’s approval and it became a tremendously successful system. Millions of dollars were rerouted from being spent ‘out in the field’ with common merchants who followed the troops to supporting families that had until then experienced great financial loss when their husbands had been drafted into the Union Army.
A True Father
An avowed writer all his life, the Roosevelt clan became writers themselves, his son Theodore is known to have written over 150,000 letters in his lifetime. A legacy of a life lived in continual outreach, integrated into community; as his son would later say, a ‘strenuous life’ of action. So it is that the original Theodore Roosevelt was known of Presidents down to the lowest echelon’s of society with the orphans. He was a man present for and with his family, and an American citizen of action ready to support and strengthen the life of others. Though his son is the only Theodore remembered, the first Theodore, Great Heart, is the one whose shoulders the future President stood on.
It was the Dad’s devotion to his faith, no, it was God’s indwelling Spirit that caused such faith and love for others creating such faith at greatness of heart in him; such devotion unto others. So then, the great hearted one is really the Lord himself
sending blessings in our hearts and minds, making us gentle here and there, making us strong everywhere.