The children are huddled together in one bed, trying to keep warm. The gas and electricity have been turned off; the last of the milk is gone. What stands between these children and complete disaster? Their father.
That their dad would do almost anything to save his family is the ultimate message of Cinderella Man, a wonderful new film starring Russell Crowe. Based on the life of legendary boxer James J. Braddock, the film is a celebration of a man who models sacrificial love for his family.
Braddock was born into a blue-collar, Irish Catholic family in 1906. Like most Irish boys of that day, Braddock liked to fight-and he was good at it. By age twenty, he had turned pro, winning fight after fight, and becoming one of the best young boxers in the world.
But by 1929, Braddock's injuries-especially a badly broken right hand-began mounting. And when the stock market crashed in October, Braddock found himself washed up-and wiped out.
Braddock then fought the worst opponent of his life: the Great Depression. To feed his family, he worked at the New Jersey docks. But the work was irregular. One desperate winter, Braddock and his wife were forced to send their children to live with relatives.
In moments of despair, Braddock turned to the priests of St. Joseph of the Palisades in West New York. As sportswriter Jim Hague notes, "The priests at St. Joseph all told Jim to keep his faith; that God would provide him the strength to carry on."
And God did, answering Braddock's prayers in an unexpected way. The months out of the ring allowed Braddock's battered body to heal. And his work on the docks had an unexpected benefit: It strengthened his left hand and arm.
Then in 1934, Braddock had a chance to substitute for an absent boxer. Incredibly, he beat powerful heavyweight opponent John Griffin. He then beat two more top heavyweight contenders: John Henry Lewis and Art Lasky.
Braddock then faced heavy-weight champion Max Baer-a womanizing show-off who had already killed two men in the ring. Braddock was listed as a ten-to-one underdog, and his wife feared he'd be killed by Baer.
By now, the story of the broken-down boxer who fought to feed his family had captured America's imagination. In Braddock, Depression-weary Americans saw a family man who, like them, struggled against common enemies of unemployment and poverty, and he did it with grace and courage.
When the day came in June 1935, Americans walked for miles to pool halls and pubs to hear the fight on the radio. I am not going to spoil the ending, in case you're planning to see Cinderella Man. But I will say this:
Today, our elites are fond of saying that fathers are unnecessary-even destructive in the lives of their children. Millions of fatherless kids are paying the price for this attitude-children starving for a father's love and protection. Cinderella Man gives us a tremendous example of what a father ought to be.
As we celebrate Father's Day this weekend, I pray that fathers and fathers-to-be will be inspired by this film to be the kind of man God intends: one who sacrificially puts his love for his family above all else.