WHITE CHRISTMAS’ Danny Kaye Recalls A Lesson of Selfless Love
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Actor and comedian Danny Kaye, best known for WHITE CHRISTMAS and THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, said that his busy schedule taught him how to best love his daughter, Dena.
While love is central to his parenting style, Kaye learned that it also mattered how you express that love.
“Have you ever, as a parent, felt guilty, about your children? Have you ever worried for fear you weren’t giving them enough time, enough love, enough of yourself? If you have (and you’re an unusual parent if you haven’t), I’d like to pass along something I learned some years ago when our daughter Dena was quite small,” Kaye wrote in 1963.
Due to Kaye’s work in the entertainment business, he was forced to travel.
“Dena is an only child, and like most very young children she could never understand why occasionally her parents had to leave her. My work required me to travel a lot, but this is hard to explain to a three-year-old. Dena just didn’t understand why I had to go away,” Kaye said.
“When she was about 6, I used to fumble around, trying to prepare her for my departure so she wouldn’t be quite so hurt when I did leave. I would be extra nice, or talk about plans for all kinds of new fun. Whenever I did such things, Dena would say, ‘You’re going away again, aren’t you?’” he explained. “And each time I returned home I rushed to her, and overwhelmed her with kisses and presents and promises of picnics and parties. All expressions of the guilt I felt at leaving her. I wanted her to overwhelm me too, and make up in one burst of love all that had accumulated during our separation.”
“I wanted very much to hear her say, ‘I missed you.’ But she never said it. Each time I left and each time I returned I sensed a greater withdrawal by Dena,” he added.
Kaye said that at that time, he had a long trip planned.
“The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund had told me that millions of children in Asia and Africa could be saved by modern medicine from the scourges of TB, leprosy, malaria, malnutrition, and the like, if the world could be made aware of their plight,” he recalled. “They asked me to help make the world aware of them by visiting the WHO’s centers to make a film called Assignment Children. I couldn’t refuse.”
While in a New Delhi hospital room, Kaye watched as a mother and father waited for their son to wake up after an operation.
“When the boy awoke I expected them to rush toward him. They continued to sit quietly in their corner. The boy looked around and saw them, but said nothing,” Kaye said. “After a while he called to them, and they came. They touched him gently, never losing the restraint they had on themselves, never showing any fear or concern, though they must have felt both deeply.
“The parents did not smother him with their love or their fears but they were pillars of strength and comfort and security,” he added. “The lesson was vividly in my mind and heart when I returned home, and Dena and her mother met me at the airport. This time I didn’t bring the usual ton of gifts, nor did I lavish on Dena kisses and promises.”
After his experience in New Delhi, Kaye found that he could selflessly love Dena best by listening to what his daughter wanted.
“For once I was trying to find out what she wanted, not satisfy what I wanted,” he said. “When we got home Dena squeezed my hand and said what I had wanted to hear her say for a long time, ‘I missed you, Daddy.’ I learned a lot that day—that day and the day I spent in a New Delhi hospital room watching a mother and father who knew how to give love, not smother it.”