Why I’ll Always Love The O.C.

Everything I’ve learned about leadership I learned from The O.C.

Maybe that’s a stretch. But as the landmark soap marked it’s tenth anniversary this past week (and retrospective articles like this one from Grantland were all over the place) I started thinking about why I have such a soft spot for this bubblegum show.

I realized none of the articles I found on the internet really got to the heart of why I loved The O.C. – the heart of it all.

The O.C. was about more than sex and drugs and comic books and indie rock. The O.C. was about unconditional love.

The pilot episode told the story of Sandy Cohen, a wealthy Berkley educated lawyer, adopting Ryan Atwood, a troubled teen from the streets of Chino, into his extravagant home and family.

Sandy saw a glimmer of hope in Ryan and wanted to give him a second chance. He invited the reckless youth into his luxurious pool house and lavished him with a love rarely seen on television or reality.

No matter how many times Ryan threw a punch, burnt down a house, or ran away from home Sandy was always there for his adopted son. Sandy forgave Ryan after every heartbreak. Sandy always showed up whenever Ryan needed him to bail him out or help clean up his mess. It wasn’t always with a smile on his face, but he was always there because of love.

Sandy, portrayed with perfection by Peter Gallagher, never judged Ryan. He tried to teach Ryan, but allowed him to make mistakes. But Sandy never gave up hope. And through the show’s run, the unconditional love of the father began to break down the walls around the teenager’s heart.

I caught The O.C. a year or two after its run on DVD. I watched the series for the first time during my first few years as a Young Life leader.

As I began to take my own teenage students under my wing, Sandy Cohen became a role model for me. Sure, I watched The O.C. for the quirky humor, the trashy storylines, and Rachel Bilson in her Wonder Woman outfit. But what kept me coming back every week were the lessons about unconditional love.

I truly believe I became a better Young Life leader because of four seasons of The O.C. Sandy and Ryan’s relationship spoke to me at just the right moment in my life. The father’s unconditional love for the adopted son reminded me episode to episode of just how Christ loves and adopts us, and just how we should love and forgive the children we disciple as well.

I’ll always love The O.C. because without it I don’t think I would have loved teenage students the same way.

The O.C. is not for everyone. I don’t think I’ll ever convince my girlfriend to give it a fair shake. That’s ok. But if you do any work at all with teenagers, give the show a shot.

As for me, I’ll be eating a bagel or two in honor of the Cohen family today. Thanks for showing a young kid what unconditional love is all about.

Were you a fan of The O.C.? What’s your favorite memory from the show? What are some other shows or movies that have modeled unconditional love?


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