Letter from a father to his son (Written 100 years ago!)

articles Apr 20, 2023

(Photo 184933974 / Father Child Hugging © Christinlola | Dreamstime.com)

Parenting can be challenging and rewarding, and balancing discipline with love and nurturing is a constant struggle for parents. As an early intervention specialist and mother, I have been reflecting on this topic a lot lately, especially after teaching a Masterclass on Behaviour just before Easter.

Last week, while reading a new book, I came across a letter that a father wrote to his son back in 1923, one hundred years ago! The letter touches on the same struggles that parents face today, making it a timeless piece that every parent should read.

The letter, written by journalist Livingston Larned, has been published numerous times over the past century, although I only came across it last week for the first time. It beautifully describes the importance of understanding our children, even when they misbehave. It reminds us that it's not about being a perfect parent but about being a loving and understanding one.

As a parent, reading this letter was a beautiful reminder of the beauty of childhood and the importance of cherishing it. I strongly recommend that every parent read this letter, as it's a must-read that will touch your heart and make you appreciate every moment with your children.

"Father Forgets" by W. Livingston Larned (1923)

(This is the original text as it was written a hundred years ago)

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 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 late this 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 friends 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.


Let's spread this message of appreciation for every moment we spend with your children.

This letter reminded me to be more patient with my children and cherish every moment. I'd love to hear how you felt reading it! Leave your comments below.

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