Fa Zhou is by far my favorite parent in all of Disney movies. First off he was obviously a hunk and a hero in his prime. A total manther. But beyond his physical charms, we can see from his health that he was injured in a previous war. And yet we never once see him complain or even grimace when others are watching. He is one tough dude, but under this strong veneer is a kind, loving father and husband.
In his first interaction with Mulan we see how well he knows her. He catches the pot she almost drops; he smiles at her crazy antics. He clearly is fond of his wild free-hearted girl. And yet we see some worry as he prays for her that she will have a successful time with the matchmaker. We all know how that turns out: It is brutal. But even as Mulan is being publicly shamed by the matchmaker she is surrounded and held up by her mother and grandmother. Mulan is clearly loved.
When the women return home and her father begins to realize things have not gone as planned, Fa Zhou does not lose his temper. He does not demand answers. His first response is to give Mulan some time. And then when he does interact with her, he is kind and generous. He does not make excuses for her and tell her that the matchmaker was wrong. He simply comforts her by saying, “My, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one’s late. But I’ll bet that when it blooms, it will be the most beautiful of all.” I absolutely love the parenting lesson Fa Zhou teaches here. A show of support is sometimes the best love we can provide for our child in a time of struggle.
However, he is not perfect. Fa Zhou does lose his temper when he feels like Mulan is out of line. She has embarrassed him in front of the village by objecting to his draft into the army. And even when he has made a decision she continues to question him in a contentious matter. You bet, Fa Zhou loses his temper. What parent wouldn’t?
But here is the thing: even though she has been yelled at, Mulan is still not obedient. Is that a parenting fail? In this case I say no. Mulan knew where her father stood, she knew what he demanded, but she also knew in her heart that what she was doing was right for her family. She knew she was being disobedient but felt the benefit outweighed the consequences. And though we never see her parents teach her the process of decision-making and weighing her options, this skill surely came from them. Mulan’s disobedience in this moment is actually something her parents could be proud of. She chose to protect her family at great personal cost.
But the moment we all fall in love Fa Zhou’s parenting skills is at the end of the movie when Mulan returns home. She expects to be in trouble, she expects to have to re-earn her father’s love and trust. Mulan falls immediately to her knees and starts to explain, and in the midst of all of this, Fa Zhou rises to his feet, throws his arms around his daughter, and tell her, “The greatest gift and honor . . . is having you for a daughter.” Everything else can wait; in that moment all he wants to do is tell his daughter how much he loves her. Above all else, he makes sure Mulan knows how much she is loved. I think this is the greatest gift a parent can give a child: that throughout their life, no matter their choices, they are loved and always will be loved.