Raising kids with a code- reflections after Veterans’ Day


By Daniel Gelman

“We use words like honor, buy code, prescription loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line.”  Those words were delivered authoritatively by an indignant U.S. Marine Colonel in the 1992 military courtroom drama A Few Good Men. They were directed at anyone who mocks, misunderstands, or ignores the value of a service-based lifestyle and self sacrifice. While the Colonel’s own behavior betrayed his values, his concept of a code-backed ethos left a mark on the culture…or at least for some.

Most Americans you meet can be classified in three categories related to the Colonel’s reflections. You either live by some kind of patriotic, religious, or moral honor code, you mock those who do, or you’re oblivious to the topic. Which one do you want your kids to be when they go off to college?

If it’s the first one, you will have to employ a strategy to make it happen, unless you want to rely on a combination of luck and example. Most goals require a roadmap. In A Few Good Men, a young Marine recites the core categories of his code to a cynical lawyer who has none: “Unit, Corps, God, Country.”

Many good parents assume that their kids will absorb the best of their values simply by association. They will know who they are, what to believe, and how to react in morally confusing situations, because they spent 18 years around a good mom and dad. But the value of structured family discussions on the most vital topics of a moral life should not be overlooked. Codes need to be instilled, not just absorbed.

How many of us sat down with our kids on the night before they started their first job to discuss what their parents, their employer, their town, their country, and God expect from them at a job? If you know nothing about the value of the Work Ethic, how will you know how to behave at a job beyond the obvious rules? What is an employee’s moral obligation toward their employer, their customers, and their coworkers?

Rotary International is big on codes. One of them is: “The recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society.” A parent could share some of these with their child before they start working. Rotarians see working at McDonalds as both honorable and patriotic, but it comes with moral responsibilities.

Many college preparatory schools instill an honor code in their students. The Tampa Preparatory School in Florida has one:

“I am responsible for upholding and promoting honesty, trust, respect, and fairness in all venues of school life. I pledge to maintain personal and academic integrity and to support it in others. I solemnly promise to uphold my commitment to honor this code.” Prep and parochial school graduates enter college with the advantage of having been introduced to a code. They still have the free will to honor or ignore it, but at least it’s in their consciousness.

Athletics may be one of the only vehicles for a moral code at public school. Even that depends on the coach’s commitment to building scholars and athletes with character. Some may incorporate one or more of legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi’s extensive character code. It includes the following precepts and many more:

Be Prepared to Sacrifice

Respect Legitimate Authority

Balance Humility and Pride

Lead with Integrity

Sharing American hero stories is a way to instill pride in a child who is used to being bombarded with stories of moral degradation in sports, politics, and popular culture. Has anyone told their kids the Pat Tillman story? He was the NFL football player who defended bullied kids in high school and quit the NFL to serve his country in Afghanistan. He was killed in action. Tillman had a code.

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach graduated from the Naval Academy. He then postponed his NFL career, volunteered in Vietnam, married his grade school sweetheart, had five kids, and played heroically for many years. Staubach’s code was a combination of the values he derived from football, the Naval Academy, the military and religious training.

Maybe your kids might want to hear The American’s Creed. The last line of it summarizes this code adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918. It was written by William Tyler Page, a descendant of the tenth U.S. President John Tyler.

“I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.” As he described it, “It is a summary of the fundamental principles of American political faith, as set forth in its greatest documents, it worthiest traditions and by its greatest leaders.” It’s what could be called “an aggregate code.”

The Brigham Young University (BYU) Honor Code requires abstinence from drugs, sex, profanity, pornography, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. Students are required to respect the law, be honest, respect others and attend church. Many have already been trained by this code in their home community.

You may want to cherry pick one or more of the 7 Promises of the Promise Keepers (Men of Integrity) depending on your religious orientation. Here are some:

Practice spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity.

Build strong marriages and families through biblical values.

Reach beyond racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate Biblical unity.

Influence your world by honoring commandments.

Imagine the difference between a youth who goes off to college with a clear and informed view of life’s vital issues, and one who goes clueless and carefree. Would you swim in a pool without a filter? That’s what our kids will do if we send them to college without a code.

Codes can motivate people to be bad, too, depending on your definition of good and bad.

But the codes that motivate ethical behavior, humility, self sacrifice, a work ethic, and patriotism, are the ones that honor the military, our forefathers, and our Creator.


Daniel Gelman has been a freelance Reporter/Writer for several years, specializing in News, Business, Feature, and Op-Ed.

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Stefan Djordjevic

Yeah. Whenever I walk into a room that has a bunch of young people, I can distinguish within 5 minutes, which ones were raised with a code. So true.