'Free Willy' Fan Explains How His Parents Taking His Seemingly Silly Childhood Dream Seriously Changed His Life

Who knew simply saying "yes" to your kid's obsession with whales could alter the path of their life?

little girl dreaming of her future Master1305 / Shutterstock

"Whale expert" isn't a career path you hear about very often, but one man online, The Orca Man, has turned himself into just that.

He credits his success to one very simple thing: his parents turning his "Free Willy" inspired whale obsession into an actionable plan.

Fred The Orca Man explained how his parents taking his childhood dream seriously, changed his life.

"Sure kid," we often tend to think when a little one tells us their big dreams of one day being an astronaut or President or an underwater basket weaver.


Kids have big dreams about what they want to be when they grow up because they have big imaginations, but most of us temper those dreams a bit as we get older, often at our parents' urging.

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But the TikTok personality and whale expert known as Fred, AKA The Orca Man, took a very different route. He said it all started with his parents doing the opposite of what many parents do: They listened to his wild childhood dream, took it seriously, and steered him toward it, despite how unlikely it seemed.

Fred told his parents he wanted to train killer whales after seeing 'Free Willy.'

Of course he did. Who didn't, right? The 1993 classic is a cultural touchstone for many millennials and young Gen Xers that spawned a million aspirations. Everyone had at least one classmate who vowed to become a marine biologist before going on to be an accountant or whatever. (Though I actually went to school with the rare "Free Willy" enthusiast who actually did become a marine biologist. They exist!)

But as The Orca Man shared in a video, his "Free Willy"-inspired dreams took a very different path. He filmed his video as he was coming out of a swimming session at a local pool, saying that he's been an avid swimmer since he was just 5. 

"And the reason that I started swimming was because I told my parents that I wanted to be a killer whale trainer."




He went on to explain that he told his parents of his whale-training dream when was just three or four after seeing the film. "I was like, this is what I want to do," he said. "And they took me seriously."

His parents then gave him concrete goals to work toward that related to his unlikely whale-training dreams.

Not only did his parents take his childhood dream seriously, but they leapt into action. "They were like, the only thing that you can do as a 5-year-old in order to be a killer whale trainer when you grow up is to become the best swimmer you possibly can," he said.

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Hence, his lifelong swimming practice began. They didn't stop there, though. They stressed that in order to be a whale trainer, he'd need to go to college. "And to get to college, you need to do good in school. So I swam and I studied, and I enjoyed both enough in different ways."

Man Says Parents Taking His Childhood Dream Seriously Changed His LifePhoto: slowmotiongli / Shutterstock

But the enjoyment was secondary. It wasn't just the fun of learning or swimming that kept him engaged. It was the future focus his parents were actively affirming for him even if it seemed out of reach at the time. 


"The one thing that kept me going in any instance was the fact that I was actively working towards a dream that I had," he said, "and the way to make it happen was to put effort into places that were real and available to me at the time."

He offered parents a piece of advice: Treat your kids' dreams as if they're real — and experts agree.

"If your kid tells you a dream, however far away it feels, treat it as if it's real," Fred said, "even in the smallest sense of what they could do to try and make it happen because you never know what they'll learn, what they'll experience, how that will change over time."

Parenting and mental health experts say this is in fact a vital part of kids' development whether or not their childhood fancies turn into realities.

In an article for Washington Parent, Clinical Marriage & Family Therapist, Emory Luce Baldwin, explained that childhood dreams are how kids "build a mental scaffold" between their kid-present and adult-future. 


Man Says Parents Taking His Childhood Dream Seriously Changed His LifePhoto: Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB / Shutterstock

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Luce Baldwin said parents who encourage these dreams with questions like "I wonder how someone goes about learning how to do that?” and “What do you suppose people need to learn to be able to do that job?," much like The Orca Man's parents did, are critical to that development.


She also said that it's crucial to take a growth mindset toward kids' goals, no matter how pie-in-the-sky, by focusing on the process rather than the outcome, encouraging experimentation, and avoiding fact-checking and trying to bring them down to "reality."

It's instinctual to bring kids down to earth when they share their wild dreams. It's a tough world out there, and we want them to be prepared for it just as much as we don't want them to be disappointed. But Luce Baldwin explained, "Kids are usually keenly aware of how small they really are, how much they do not know and how limited their real abilities are," so parents needn't worry about them not seeing the bigger picture.

Getting on board with their dreams, no matter how silly, is not about the outcome, but rather about the growth kids experience by pursuing them.

The Orca Man is a perfect example. "I'm not a killer whale trainer," he said. But he does have a thriving business teaching others about whales, leading whale-watching expeditions, and connecting "with millions of people online about the world's orcas" via social media.


Kids' dreams might sound silly, but as he put it, "It is worth indulging because you never know what might come."

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.