The Story Behind “Secretariat” Could Save Your Marriage
Girls, I have just enjoyed the best year of my marriage (21 and counting, if you want to know). I can hardly stand myself because I am so much like that young woman with perm-fried hair who first fell in love with Bob Gresh. It wasn’t like that one year ago. And maybe that’s why I was so sensitive to the story behind the much-applauded movie, “Secretariat.”
It was a powerful passion for the sound of hooves that urged this horse lover to beg her husband to take her to see “Secretariat.” I never expected the sound of those hooves to be accompanied by a beautiful opening reading from the biblical book of Job. Turns out the movie is directed by one of Hollywood’s few prominent Christians, Randall Wallace, whose life mission is to create family-friendly films. In “Secretariat,” he succeeded in fulfilling his call. John Malcovich proved himself to be a skillful actor as he stepped away from his oft vulgar, evil character portrayal to reveal a likeable, sweet horse trainer. Even the feminine fashion of Diane Lane (who played horse owner Penny Tweedy) is somehow refreshingly innocent and, dare I even say, restful to the eye.
I urge you to go see this movie. Two reasons: the first is that I love being a part of sending Hollywood a message that says we like family-friendly films. And this is among the best in many ways. On top of that, the director is getting some flack for including the passage from the book of Job (it opens and closes the film) and an old gospel song, despite the fact that they are used merely as art. The free speech of Christianity is always under fire, and we have to talk back. This time, I think we do it best with our wallets by just supporting the film.
But there is another reason that I think you should go: to save your marriage. You’ll find the tool you need in the portrayal of Penny Tweedy, who may have been thrust forward in her passion for success by the heightened feminist movement of the day. My concern has nothing to do with the film itself. In fact, if anything, I believe that the director masterfully portrayed what occurred in gentle truth, being careful to protect small viewers. If you’ve already seen the movie, maybe you noticed, too? It was there in the subtle distancing portrayed between Tweedy and her husband; it was there when she asserted her dream of training Secretariat because she’d given up her career so long ago for her husband and kids, and it was there when her husband showed up near the end of the film to proclaim that in being the independent, strong, career woman, he had begun to see what he called a “real woman.”
It broke my heart that Tweedy missed critical moments in her children’s lives and shunned the advice of her husband and brother to sell the horse. They appeared to be the cruel ones for suggesting that accepting a price of $6 million and going home to be a wife and mother was a good idea. My spirit wasn’t settled with it as the film unfolded, and so I did a little research when I got home. It was a lot uglier than what we saw, according to the oldest son of the Tweedys. Here’s part of what he recently posted for the public to consider:
“The movie does, indeed, glamorize and improve on my family’s situation in the early 1970s, as it sanitizes the cultural context of that era. In real life, we Tweedys were more riven and frayed by the large and small conflicts of the time, and by the pressures of celebrity into which we were suddenly thrust. The wars between our parents were more bitter, the marriage more broken, and we kids were more alienated and countercultural than the movie depicts. During the pre-race CBS broadcast at the Belmont, Woody Broun interviewed my dad, my siblings and me, asking Jack whether he was the “power behind the throne.” He gamely (and for me now, poignantly) replied that he was proud of his wife, his kids, “and the horse.” Mom had wanted us to be all together for that interview, but away from the cameras we were each living in a separate world. The movie navigates this terrain with a combination of erasure, gentleness, and tact, and from the point of view of my family’s privacy, I am grateful….My mother has always known that the “Secretariat story,” and her role in it, filled a deep cultural need. While the country was convulsed by feminism, Watergate and Vietnam, Penny took pains to present as a wife and mother, offering a wholesome, western, maternal female image that paired beautifully with the heroic, powerful male icon that Secretariat was becoming.“
The fighting didn’t go so great for the kids, did it? Or so it seems. Something else that I discovered is that she’d won the Kentucky Derby the year before and was involved in the breeding that resulted in Secretariat. She did not simply have to be involved after her parents’ deaths. This wasn’t thrust upon her. She chose it.
In the end, Secretariat did give our nation something to inspire us. Penny Tweedy, however, did not. In 1974, she explained her pending divorce to “Time” magazine by saying, “You can call it a conflict of careers.” She wanted to stay on the East coast with her horses while her husband moved West. I cannot say for certain, but I believe (based on what is written above) that the children were also impacted long-term by Penny’s pursuit of career. What was the long-term impact of her career? Secretariat was a great horse. His heart was 22 pounds — twice the size of most horses. And perhaps his emotional heart was, as well, because though he sired 600 horses in a consuming effort to make money and create another winner, none of his colts or fillies went on to the greatness he knew. However, Penny Tweedy squandered her time to invest in something that proved to be temporal while failing to be strong enough to invest in what could have had lasting value: a marriage and motherhood.
I loved the movie and the story of Secretariat, and I appreciate that they portray the truthful reality of choosing career over family. It gives us pause to reflect on our own priorities, which brings me back to my marriage.
It’s better because I said no to career this year. I said no to busyness at church. I said no to anything that was crowding out our love relationship. (And there was a lot to say no to.) Together, we pressed in to it (even when we didn’t really feel like it.) There was no sin, no rebellion, no intention of separating. We were just “off,” and when you’re “off,” you don’t naturally feel like taking time for a date night. But we did. And a vacation. And some marriage coaching. And now we can’t keep our hands off each other!
A strong woman isn’t the one who pursues her whims — those opportunities that will come and pass. A strong woman is one who sees the permanence in the opportunity to be a wife and a mom, and jealously guards it no matter the cost.
In this case, I think $6 million would have been a small price to pay.
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