W. Livingston Larned
condensed as in “Readers Digest”
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 tightended 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
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 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.