A young man of my acquaintance, who had just finished his schooling,
came to his father one morning, flushed with pride, and holding an open
letter in his hand.
“Father,” he said, “I’ve got a situation, and the man says I may start
to work in the morning.”
The father took the letter and read it.
“Do you know all about this man?” he asked.
“Do I know him? Why, no; I don’t know him at all. But he knows all
about _me_. He looked up all my references.”
“Of course he did,” replied the father, putting the letter into his
pocket; “and before you go to work for him I’m going to look up _his_.”
It was a homely, up-state father who said that, but he was a wise and
a good man and I revere him. He was a father who knew the boy from the
skin in. He knew that the boy’s first employer is, in the boy’s eyes,
the greatest man in the world. He perceived that his son, who for
twenty years had looked upon him, the father, as the man of men, was
about to have set before him a new pattern, a new ideal. And out of his
heart came the question:
“What is this man like?”
It is a fine thing to know that you have brought your boy through that
plastic period between his cradle-hood and his majority, and to know
when he comes of age that he is clean and straight and true. It must
be gratifying indeed, when the last text-book is closed and laid away,
to see him start into the world, a man grown, with keen aspirations
and high ideals, ready and eager to grapple with the world on his own
account, and capable of taking care of himself with his own hands.
If you have brought him through safely to this momentous hour, you have
done much. But is your task quite ended? Does your responsibility stop
That up-state father whom I have just referred to thought that it did
not; and I agree with him. I believe that the father and mother yet
have that one last touch to give to the character they have helped to
form. I believe it is their duty to see, not that the boy has a good
situation, but that he starts under a good man.
Naturally, the employer, in most cases, is a man who has met with
some success in his business or his profession. He sits apart from
his subordinates. However much they may use their ingenuity, it is
he who shapes the policy of the business and dominates the concern.
Every one about him defers to him. Everything that is done is subject
to his approval. He is, in fine, the head and front of the entire
establishment. There are clerks and salesmen and accountants and
confidential advisers in the place, some with long experience and grey
hairs, but none are as great as he, and all look up to the place he
occupies as a position worthy of aspiring to.
The youth enters the employ of this man fresh from school or college.
Here he gets his first insight of the career he intends to follow. If
the employer is a good man, a man of high principles, all is well.
But if he is a man of sharp practices, the boy is in danger. Having
no other standard of comparison in business life, he may fall into
the error of accepting his employer as a true type of the successful
man. He has come to this place in a receptive frame of mind. Here the
foundation of his chosen career is to be laid. Is it not probable that
he will absorb something of the morals of his superior, even though
they may not agree with the higher ideals raised in the home? When the
boy first strikes out he is, after all, only a fledgling. The family
nest has been feathered with love and care and kindness and protecting
influences. You have told him of the outside world and you have tried
to give him a clear vision. But there are some things about flying
alone that only experience can teach. You cannot always extend the home
atmosphere beyond the home, but you can do something akin to it. You
can make it your business to see that his first glimpse into the new
life reveals nothing contrary to the morals of the home.
You can see to it that his first employer is the kind of man you would
be satisfied to have your son emulate.
* * * * *
In the selection of the boy’s calling it is admitted, of course, that
the boy himself is, in a large measure, the best judge. The vocation
that he inclines to most strongly is likely to be the one for which he
is best fitted. I think, however, that this rule is made too elastic at
A young man of my acquaintance thought that the stage was his calling.
The father, telling me of it in confidence, said that in his, the
father’s opinion, the boy was best suited to the law, but added that
he would say nothing, believing it to be a matter for the young man
to decide alone. The young man had an exceptionally good memory, a
fine speaking voice and the gift of oratory in a remarkable degree. He
was much of a student, prepossessing in appearance and magnetic in
That was ten years ago and the young man has never risen above
mediocrity–and he never will. He lacked one essential to the
drama–imagination. The truth is that he should have gone into the law.
He saw the mistake in course of time, and told me so, but it was too
late. Time had elapsed and he could not turn back.
The boy is not always a good self-analyst. He is too prone to measure
his talents perfunctorily. It does not follow that your son’s calling
is art because he can chalk a caricature on the wall; that he should be
a poet because he can dash off a sentiment in rhyme; that he is suited
to the clergy because he is of a pious turn of mind. It does not always
follow that the thing he does the most easily he can do the best. This
is the mistake that parents must guard against when the time comes for
choosing a profession for the boy.
They have studied the boy from infancy, while he has studied himself
but little, and that with an immatured mind. Is it unlikely, then,
that the parents often know his latent capabilities better than he
himself knows them? It goes without saying that the son shall not be
driven by parental authority into a profession that is distasteful to
him; but I think in most cases the parents can aid the boy in finding
the true thread of his bent. With no attempt at coercion they can help
him to accurately analyse those natural leanings which, in the embryo,
are many times conflicting and misleading. It appears to me that the
counsel of the parents is needed at this time no less than at any other
period in the boy’s life.
* * * * *
Having seen the boy well reared and started in the career for which he
is best equipped, and under the direction of a superior whose influence
will be uplifting, I think the parents may rest in that peace and
tranquillity of mind that comes with the consciousness of a duty well
done. They may now sit quietly by and watch while the boy works.
I would caution them against expecting too much of him. Of the
million-and-a-half of American boys born every year, all cannot be
famous–all cannot be rich. Only a few can be President of the United
States. But all can be good citizens, and that is the kind of material
that the country needs. We have plenty of great men, and too many
very rich men. A great man is merely a good man picked haphazard from
thousands of others just as good–picked by Opportunity whenever the
occasion demands. A rich man is one who has more money than he needs.
Either of these, beyond a certain stage of self-progress, is a child of
What you have a right to expect from your son, if you have trained him
conscientiously, is success. I do not mean the success that is measured
by the dollar sign, or by the size of the type in which the newspapers
print his name.
The successful man, in the true sense of the word, is the law-abiding
citizen who gives unto the world enough of his brain and brawn to pay
the way of himself and his family through it.
I believe there is the making of such a man in every healthy boy
that is born into the civilised world. I believe that every healthy
boy is brought into the world a good boy. If one of these develops
into a bad boy it is because he is made to; not affirmatively, but
negatively–through the want of proper training. All the boy needs is
to be treated as a boy. He is not a god, to be worshipped, or a girl,
to be coddled, or a dog, to be driven. The boy that I know is a sturdy
little human being, distinctly masculine in gender, with a desire to be
doing something and a want of direction; in fine, an embryotic man.
Give him the light, tell him the truth, show him the way. Do this
consistently, conscientiously, and he will measure up to the highest
standard of good citizenship.
More than this I do not ask of my boy.