Apparently this is one of the most famous essays of all time. In fact it was also quoted in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’m sad to say that I had not read it until today. It was especially special to me because lately, I’ve been pondering my attitude, and comments, and all-around-general behavior towards my children. Am I too concerned with their behavior rather than their character? I realize as a father I am there to instruct, but I should also offer guidance. I like what one gentleman suggested:
“Do we criticize them for making mistakes or do we walk alongside them, encouraging them through those mistakes? Do we enjoy their youth or do we try to push them through it? Today, follow Carnegie’s number one principle: “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain” when it comes to your children.”
Lord, help me be the kind of Father you are to me.
The Bible has some things to say about Fathers and Children:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers”…Malachi 4:6
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” Proverbs 22:6
“God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old:” Psalm 44:1
“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” Proverbs 17:6
“The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.” Proverbs 23:24
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, ‘Goodbye, Daddy!’ and I frowned, and said in reply, ‘Hold your shoulders back!’
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive – and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. ‘What is it you want?’ I snapped.You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding – this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: ‘He is nothing but a boy – a little boy!’
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
– W. Livingston Larned