Your son, madam, while passing a vacant house, paused, poised his
arm and deliberately sent a small stone crashing through one of the
windows. Then, turning on his heel, he ran nimbly up the street and
disappeared around the corner.
You know it occurred, because some one living next to the house saw him
do it and told the owner, and the owner came to you for reparation and
you charged the boy with it and he admitted it to be true.
You are heartbroken because you find yourself confronted with what
appears to be irrefutable evidence that your son is a bad boy.
You ask him why he did it. He doesn’t know. You suggest that it might
have been an accident. Being a truthful boy, he replies tearfully that
it was not. You enquire if he had any grievance against the man who
owns the house. He answers that he hadn’t even heard of the owner and
didn’t know who he was. Then–you ask again–why did he do it? You get
the same answer:
“I don’t know.”
It certainly looks dubious for your boy, madam, doesn’t it? If at the
tender age of ten years a lad will deliberately “chuck” a stone through
a neighbouring window, with no reason or provocation for it whatsoever,
what may he not be capable of at twenty? The thought is appalling,
Happily, however, I think it can be demonstrated to your complete
satisfaction that your son is not bad–so far as this particular
offence is concerned, anyway–and that this stone-throwing business is
a perfectly natural thing for a perfectly normal boy to do.
To start with, let us suppose that I have placed on your back
fence, side by side, a brick and a bottle. I then hand you a little
target-rifle and invite you to try your skill at shooting. Now, which
will you aim at–the brick or the bottle?
The bottle, of course. You answer more quickly than I can write it.
And why the bottle?
Just think that over a moment, please. Why the bottle?
Meanwhile, let us go back to the boy and the window.
The desire to see a physical result from any personal effort is
deep-seated in every human being. Where is the author who does not take
secret and real pleasure in scanning the achievements of his pen in
the public print? Where is the architect who would forego the pleasure
of seeing the finished structure, the lines and masses of which he
has dreamed over and designed? The desire to see the result follow the
endeavour, the effect follow the cause, is strong within us all.
It may seem a far cry from art and letters to the boy and the broken
window, but the psychologic principle involved is one and the same.
The boy, sauntering along the street or the roadway, has been amusing
himself by throwing stones. He has sent one against the side of a barn
with no effect other than the sound of a hollow thud as it struck the
boards. He has heaved one at a telegraph pole, and the pole didn’t even
quiver. Then he spies the vacant house.
It is obviously deserted and abandoned. A pane already shattered in one
of the windows starts the idea. It is far enough back from the street
to make the throw a test of skill. If he misses there’s no harm done.
If he hits there’ll be a noise, a crash, a shower of flying glass
and–Enough! Up goes the arm, away goes the stone with fateful accuracy
and the deed is done. It was the act of a sudden impulse. Before the
conscience within him could assert itself the missile had struck; and
that innate human ambition to produce a visible result was gratified.
The deed is done, and the boy doesn’t know why he did it. But returning
to the hypothesis of the brick and the bottle, perhaps you, madam, can
explain why you would prefer to shoot at the bottle.
In these talks I want to tell mothers something of what I know about
boys; not all about them, but just a few of the more vital things
that every mother of a boy ought to know and every father ought to be
reminded of. I say “reminded” advisedly, for the fathers must have
known some time, though it would seem that most of them have forgotten
now. What I say I know about boys, I know. What I may suggest or advise
is another matter. It can stand only as a belief, an opinion, and my
sole excuse for presuming to offer it is that I love the boy; I live
close to him and I believe in him.
I do not believe that the intuitiveness generally accredited to
motherhood is in the least degree overestimated or exaggerated. But
mere intuitiveness, even in its highest form of development, can hardly
be expected to bridge the natural gap of temperamental sex difference
between mother and son.
Unfortunately, the father, not eager to invade what he believes to
be the mother’s sphere, usually is content to leave the management
of the boy in the mother’s hands, while the mother, not recognising
the deficiency of her position, labours on patiently, lovingly,
untiringly, but in many cases blindly, and often with poor success.
If mothers only understood this it would be better. If they could be
brought to realize the handicap under which they are striving they
could fortify themselves against it. They could deepen the interest
of the father or, failing that, they could at the least draw upon his
experience and knowledge of real boyhood with good effect. But there
are no sex distinctions to the average mother. The boys and the girls
are just “the children” and the difference of sex is lost in the great
catholicity of maternal love.
At the very beginning parents must concede the existence of an inherent
temperamental difference between the boy and the girl. This, for the
mother, is not so easy of adjustment as it may appear. The boy is her
baby, just her baby, from swaddling-clothes to long trousers.
The fact is, of course, that the assertion of the sex temperament
starts almost with the beginning of life. For the first four or five
years it is, to be sure, almost a negligible quantity, but after that
the boy needs to be treated as a boy, and not as a sexless baby.
Put a pair of new red shoes on a little girl’s feet and send her out
among a group of misses shod in black. Then watch her plume herself and
pose at the front gate and mince up and down the avenue, as proud as a
Now, rig up the six-year-old boy in some new and untried kink of
fashion and turn him loose on the highway–and observe what follows.
Note how sheepishly he looks down the street to where his playfellows
are gathered, and see how he edges toward them, faltering and keeping
as close to the fence as he can. Observe how, just as he is trying to
slip into their midst unostentatiously, one of them cries in a shrill
“Look who’s here!” and another remarks:
“Oh, what a shine!” and still another exclaims:
“Pipe the kelly!” meaning, observe the hat.
Then perhaps there is the very rude boy who asks whether the “rags”
have been “rassled,” said enquiry being gently emphasised by a push
from behind. In which case the young glass of fashion, having a gloomy
premonition of what may happen to him at home if he returns bearing the
marks of combat, backs discreetly off the firing-line, and retreats
to his own dooryard with as small loss of dignity as the exigency
of the occasion will permit. And he is pretty sure to stick there
the remainder of the afternoon, while occasionally other boys, in
regulation woollens or corduroys, peep at him curiously through the
palings, making him feel like one of those unpronounceable animals that
they keep in cages and lecture about at the zoo.
Do you think this characteristic of the boy really signifies that he
is “notional”? Do you put it down merely as “finicality”? Then you do
him a great injustice. In the true analysis it is quite the opposite.
It is but one feature of a unique democracy, a splendid democracy that
you will find holding sway wherever boys gather. Oh, this democracy of
boyhood is a wonderful thing! To me it is the régime beautiful. There
is something so inspiring about it! For here, in this quaint domain of
dare-and-do, you see every sturdy little chap, regardless of clothes,
creed or family position, standing on his own merits and judged by his
Why some mothers persist in Little-Lord-Fauntleroy-ing their boys
within an inch of their lives is to me a profound mystery. Can any
mother enlighten me on the long-curls cruelty? Is it selfish vanity?
Could any mother, for the mere gratification of an egoistic desire,
be so unfeeling as to send her helpless boy out into the scene of
humiliation and actual physical torture of which the boy with the long
curls becomes the pitiable centre as soon as he turns the corner?
I do not like to think so. Rather would I believe, as in the case of
the broken window, that the mother’s error is chargeable to her never
having been a boy. She has a faulty conception of what it means to be
yanked about by those boy-hated ringlets of gold, to be harassed and
taunted by the inornate but happier hoi polloi.
I recall one afternoon when I took a youngster of three around to the
barber’s to have him shorn. I returned with the boy in one hand and the
curls in the other. He was magnificently cologned and wanted everybody
to “smell it.”
The mother was waiting with an empty shoe-box in her lap. She was
sitting by the window, in the soft half-light of the early evening, and
she caressed the golden bronze ringlets before putting them away. And
something glistened in her eye and it fell into the box and was packed
away with the curls. I shouldn’t wonder if it were there yet, for
somehow I can’t help thinking that a tear like that must crystallise
into a tiny pearl and glisten on forever.
But when this mother looked up at the boy, she was smiling, almost
proudly; and she patted the shiny, round head, and kissed it, cologne
and all, and quoted a verse about having “lost a baby and gained a
man,” declaring that he really looked much better than she had expected.
And the boy was put to bed and slept coolly and comfortably, and he’s
had a clean scalp and a clear conscience ever since, I guess.
But here I am, taking up the reader’s precious time talking about
clothes and curls–neither of which mere man is supposed to know
anything about–when all I meant to do was to emphasise the fact that
long before a half-dozen of his birthdays have been celebrated, the boy
must be taken up as an abstract proposition.
At the age of five, then, let us say, the boy reaches the stage of
recognisable and indisputable masculinity. This is the logical time for
the properly constituted father to take the helm of the son’s destiny.
If he does not do so, through lack of interest, lack of time or lack
of the faculty for it, the mother must needs go on with the struggle.
Her five years of training the baby will not come amiss in training the
boy. But she must now reckon with boyhood as a distinct classification
of childhood. She must remember that from now on, every year, every
month, every day, widens the gap of sex divergence. She will do well
to look at the bearded men who pass her door and consider that every
attribute of masculinity exists, embryonically, in her round-faced baby
From now on, if she hopes to appeal to the best that is in him, she
must not only study the boy, but she must study the world from the
boy’s viewpoint. The nearer the mother can get to the boy’s inner
emotions, the more effectively can she direct the trend of his mental,
moral and physical development. Herein lies the secret of getting and
keeping a grip on the boy.
We are living in an epoch of extremists. This morning the suffering
dyspeptic is told that he will find a complete cure in a two weeks’
fast; this afternoon he is advised that by eating every two hours he
will be forever free from his ills. On the one hand is a sect preaching
that prayer will bring us peace, power and plenty, and on the other
is a schism pleading that supplication, in itself, availeth nothing.
Here we have a group of modern disciplinists teaching that corporal
punishment is a fading relic of barbaric brutality; there we find a
sturdy school of old-timers telling us that if we spare the rod we
shall spoil the child.
With these extremists who specialise in the stomach or in the soul I
have no quarrel; but coming down to the subject of disciplining the boy
I do want to point out to fathers and mothers seriously and earnestly
that there is a happy medium, a middle course–a neutral and natural
The moral suasion idea is a fine thing in theory and it would be a
moderately fine thing actually if parents were all moral suasionists,
and if parents and children had nothing else in the world to do but
practise it. By this I mean that if all or most parents were naturally
equipped to rule by moral suasion, and, secondly, if twenty-four hours
of the day could be devoted exclusively to discipline, it would be
undoubtedly a commendable method of child-government. Unfortunately,
such is not the case, and in dealing with the question collectively we
have to take conditions, parents and children as we find them.
Nearly every parent possesses the faculty of governing to some
extent–greater or less; and all children are capable of responding
to it–but in varying degrees. There is, therefore, no hard and fast
rule that can be laid down for the guidance of all parents, to be
applied successfully to all children. However, by reducing the subject
of this article first to boys, and second to the average boy, I think
we can get the discussion down to a practicable basis. The little
girl is here absolutely eliminated from consideration. I have studied
her assiduously and at close range for a number of years and have
succeeded in establishing this much only; first, that she is almost too
sweetly complex for paternal comprehension, and second, that she is not
amenable to the rules by which we discipline the boy.
My boy, then, is the average boy, old enough to walk and talk and
understand what is said to him, moderately sensitive, moderately
affectionate, moderately impulsive, moderately perverse, of ordinarily
good health, and possessed of the usual amount of animal spirits.
Obedience is the foundation stone of the entire structure of
discipline. There is a good deal in discipline besides obedience, but
without obedience there is no discipline. It is not the alpha and
omega, but is a good deal more than the alpha. Discipline is harmony.
Harmony cannot be maintained without perfect obedience, because
obedience is a joint affair, a partnership arrangement between you and
the boy. All other essentials of discipline are _ex parte_. In all
other essentials you are subjective and the boy is objective. You think
and he acts, you direct and he executes, you furnish the plan of living
and he lives it. But it is the _partnership_ in obedience that makes
this possible. Given perfect obedience, the rest is easy, because the
boy’s daily routine is simply a vivification of the principles shaped
by your own matured mind.
Let me repeat, then, that discipline is simply harmony and harmony
cannot be attained without perfect obedience. Note the adjective,
_perfect_, for this is the obstacle over which we are so prone to
stumble. Obedience must be absolute, complete and infallible.
How can we attain it? How can we take the child-boy and so mould him
that he will respond to a command instantly and unfailingly? Within
him there is a natural, healthy instinct opposed to it. Within him is
the natural human tendency to think and act independently, to learn by
experiment, to venture unassisted and unrestrained into the unknown.
Punishment other than corporal will not always do it, because at the
time when this condition must be established the boy’s baby mentality
is not capable of compassing the long distances between cause and
effect. At the early age at which it is necessary to establish perfect
obedience, the moral penalties are too slow in action, too complex
and too much dependent upon local condition to be effective. There
are exceptions, of course. For example: You have a box of sweets and
you tell the boy he may take one. He takes two. As a penalty for
his disobedience you make him return both pieces to the box and you
cast the package into the fire. There you have incorporal punishment
that is instant, direct and effective; but this incident is made to
order and of rare occurrence in fact. Suppose that the boy swallows
the two pieces instantly, or suppose the more usual occurrence that
you have forbidden him to partake of the sweets at all and he has
surreptitiously eaten one. What then? Casting the remainder into the
fire will not impress him at the time because his appetite has been
satisfied, the desire is dulled. You may deprive him of his allowance
on the day following, but the lapse of time dims the relation of the
penalty to the offence. This kind of treatment works well with some of
the minor errors but not with disobedience. The tendency to disobey is
too constant, too persistent and too frequent, and too early in the
boy’s process of development.
A mother said: “It is not necessary for me to strike my child. I compel
him to sit in a chair for one hour without speaking. He fears that
more than the rod.” Of course, he does, poor little chap! And that
mother did not realise that she was substituting a barbaric torture
for mild punishment. I reverse her reasoning: It is not necessary for
me to so torture my boy. Nor shall I deprive him of his play, of the
outside air, of his supper, of anything that makes for his health and
happiness, nor of any good thing that it is in my power to give him.
Disobedience calls for a punishment that is short, direct and
impressive. A sharp tap on the palm of a boy’s hand, or on the calf of
his leg–or two or five or ten–is the only kind of penance I know of
that fills the requirements. It is the one short and sure road to an
immediate result. Naturalists tell us that the sense of touch is the
first experienced by a newborn child. It is the first and quickest wire
from the outer world to the brain. Then come hearing and smelling and
seeing and long after these come the moral perceptions, the power of
deduction and the distinction of right and wrong. My experience has
been that this first sense continues to be the live wire until well on
toward the maturity of the child–if the child is a boy. There are many
men, who can undergo the severest mental torture with calm resolution
and fortitude, but who tremble at the sight of a dental chair. Not
long ago I was chatting with a friend, who is a dentist, when a burly
policeman rushed in, plumped himself into the operating-chair and asked
the dentist to ease his aching tooth. The dentist looked at the tooth
and reached for his forceps. “The only way to fix that is to extract
it,” he said. The officer of the law sprang from the chair like a
jack-in-the-box and made for the door, remarking apologetically as he
went out that he couldn’t spare the time. “That man,” said the dentist,
when he had gone, “has a medal for bravery, and three times has been
commended for saving lives at the risk of his own.”
It is not that the boy fears pain, but that he fears the certainty of
it, he dreads the deliberate, the inevitable punishment, accompanied by
no moral stimulus with which to combat it. I have known my boy to take
a severe beating from another boy in a struggle for the possession of
an apple–and all without shedding a tear. The spat on the hand that
I inflicted was a mere flea-bite to that beating, but because of it I
could leave an apple within reach of his hand indefinitely and, though
he might want it ever so much, he would not touch it if I had forbidden
So much for the psychology of corporal punishment. Now for the practice
While I may have been guilty of many literary offences, a list of
“Don’ts” has not, up to this time, been among them. But as the word
obedience necessarily captions an imposing array of “Don’ts” for the
boy, I think his parents may be better equipped to enforce them by
considering some very important ones applying to themselves. At any
rate, having spoken freely in favour of the use of the rod, it is
vitally important to qualify my advocacy of it in accordance with my
experience and belief. Every one of the qualifications or conditions
that I am about to enumerate is essential to this system of discipline,
so much so that if they were not to be considered as part of it, all
that I have written would go for naught and I would ask to withdraw it
Corporal punishment is resorted to for one kind of offence
only–disobedience. Absolutely for no other.
Corporal punishment consists of a few sharp taps on the palm or calf
with a thin wood ruler.
The boy is never punished in the presence of a third person, even a
brother or sister.
Punishment is never administered with the slightest sign of anger or
under excitement. _Any parent incapable of so administering corporal
punishment should not employ it._
Punishment must partake of the nature of a simple ceremony rather
than of a torture; it must be regarded as a duty, not as a personal
Punishment is always prefaced with a simple, brief, but explicit
explanation, like this: “My boy, listen: I love you and I do not
like to hurt you. But, every boy _must_ be made to obey his father
and mother, and this seems to be the only way to make you do it. So
remember! Every time you disobey me you shall be punished. When I tell
you to do a thing, you must do it, instantly; without a moment’s delay.
If you hesitate, if you wait to be told a second time, you will be
punished. When I speak, you must act. Just as sure as you are standing
here before me, this punishment will follow every time you do not do
as you are told.”
Say no more than that. Drive home the inseparability of the cause and
the consequence; let the idea of instant, infallible obedience be
telegraphed to his brain simultaneously with the sting of the ruler.
Have no fear that this form of chastisement will break your boy’s
spirit or will weaken the bond of love between him and yourself. Both
will be strengthened by it. For one punishment inflicted, there are
hundreds of kind words and deeds to prove your affection.
No child should be punished corporally other than as I have described.
To strike him in the face, to strike him at all with the hand or fist
is brutal, and brutality is not only sinful but ineffective. Corporal
punishment inflicted impulsively is dangerous because it lacks the
earmarks of good intent.
Above all, remember this: That the kind of corporal punishment which I
employ is effective, first because it is the only kind the child knows,
and in no other way does he feel the weight of a corrective hand; and
second, because _it never fails to follow the deed_.
To waver is unfair to the child. Yesterday he was punished. To-day he
commits the same infraction and is not punished. Here is inconsistency
and the boy is confused. If it were not deserved to-day, he reasons, it
was undeserved yesterday; therefore, he is aggrieved. Every time you
miss the atonement you lose a link, and the chain of your discipline is
This is the chief error of parent disciplinarians. We fail to grasp
the all-important truth that the unfailing application of corporal
punishment is the very thing that can render punishment of any kind
unnecessary. Many a boy is punished a hundred times where but a few
would have sufficed had the penalty been exacted consistently and
unfailingly. The right kind of discipline neither spoils the child nor
spoils the rod. It spares both. It is like good dentistry. Every moment
of hurt saves years of suffering in later life. And good painless
discipline is as rare as good painless dentistry.
Further than this I have but little to say about discipline, for,
once you have achieved infallible obedience, you are bound to achieve
perfect discipline. The two words are synonyms in effect. No mother can
hope for the best results if she seeks to train her boy as she would
arrange her hair–to please her vanity–or as she would plan a shopping
tour–to suit her convenience. Self must be submerged and the child’s
future kept uppermost. For discipline is a mother’s duty to her boy.
If she falters in it the boy will suffer. And every penalty that the
unwatched boy escapes through a parent’s frailty, he will have to pay,
many fold, in the future years.
You hear the sound of sobbing in the distance, and as it draws nearer
and grows more distinct you recognise the voice. A moment later the
door flies open and there stands your boy, crying as though his
heart would break. Little rivulets of tears are trickling down his
dust-covered cheeks, and on the side of his face is the mark of a cruel
Between sobs he tells you that the boy across the street did it. Why?
He doesn’t know why; he wasn’t doing anything at all, “jes’ playin’
You wipe the tears away and kiss the hurt, and as you note the
quivering lip and the angry bruise, a wave of indignation swells within
you. Glancing out through the window you see the boy across the
street, cavorting triumphantly on the curb. How much bigger and coarser
and rougher than your boy he appears–isn’t it always so? Your little
chap has come to you partly for sympathy, but mainly for retaliation.
He shows you his wound and points to the boy who did it. He has been
hurt, he has been grievously wronged, and he has come to you whom he
has learned to look upon as his one never-failing protector and friend.
You spring to your feet, fired with an overwhelming desire to rush into
the street and avenge the wrong that has been done your child.
Madam, one moment! Don’t do it. The retaliation you contemplate may
be justice so far as the tormentor across the street is concerned,
but it is a rank injustice to your own boy. I want to tell you on the
authority of an ex-boy that if you would serve your son best, you will
None but a mother knows the trials and heartaches of the fighting
period in a boy’s life; and none but a father realises what an
important part that period plays in the shaping of the boy’s career.
The period runs approximately from the ages of five to ten. Prior to
that the child is too young to indulge in it, and subsequently he is
too old to tell about it. In the interim these affairs of the street
are of daily occurrence and are to the mother a source of annoyance as
mysterious as they are harrowing.
The right way to deal with this problem may not be the easiest way
but it is the simplest, and it is the best for the boy. It is to let
him alone. It is to teach him from the very beginning that outside of
his own dooryard he must protect himself with his own hands. Have a
distinct understanding that if he gets himself into a fight, he must
get himself out of it. Tell him that by helping him you would only make
more trouble for him because he would get to be known as a coward, and
all the boys would annoy him more than before.
I went further than this with my boy. I told him that I did not approve
of fighting, but that if he were forced into it, I would expect him to
hit out hard and fast and defend himself blow for blow. I provided him
with a punching-bag and a set of boxing-gloves and I showed him how to
use them. He was just five when I established this rule and in one year
it proved itself.
At six we started him off to school, and a few days later he came home
one afternoon with a discoloured eye.
But there was no tear in it. He threw his books in a corner and ran,
whistling, out to play. At dinner that evening my curiosity got the
better of me, but I assumed indifference.
“Where did you get the eye, old chap?” I asked casually.
He looked up sheepishly, smiled and pushed his cup toward me.
“Some more milk, if you please, father,” he said. The fighting problem
had been solved forever.
The mother who coddles her boy shows him a double unkindness. She
not only increases his boyhood miseries, through making him the
particular target of other boys, but she retards the development of his
self-reliance and his manliness.
I give the _affaire d’honneur_ an important place in this chapter
because it is one of the things about boys that mothers often
misunderstand and quite generally undervalue.
Of course, the cardinal precept which should form the foundation of
the character structure is–Truth. Combine in him manliness and
truthfulness, and the other essential traits of good character will
spring from these two like shoots from the trunk of a healthy tree.
Truth-telling should be made a matter of habit with the boy. Have you
not among your acquaintances men, women and children who are habitual
prevaricators, people who make misstatements continuously, absolutely
without purpose and without malice? Lying has become a habit with them.
By the same token truth-telling can be and should be so instilled in
the boy as to become automatic. He should never be punished for a
falsehood as you might punish him for disobedience. The problem of
disobedience, which I discussed in a foregoing chapter, is a matter of
psychology from beginning to end. Truth-telling becomes so in the end
but is a matter of morals at the beginning. It can be formed into a
fixed habit by treating it morally and by keeping everlastingly at it
until the result is achieved. You cannot beat a boy into hating a lie,
but you can shame him into it.
It is natural for a very young boy to seek to evade responsibility for
an offence by disclaiming it. The first time he does this he must be
made to know that, however serious the offence may be, it is as nothing
compared to the lie that he seeks to cover. I did not go so far as to
promise my boy immunity for infractions that he frankly confessed;
but I did make it a rule unto myself that he should never suffer
through confession, and I did invariably commend him, in the highest
terms, when he told the truth under conditions that made it peculiarly
praiseworthy. An example: I find my inkstand tipped over and a great
black stain upon the carpet. I summon the boy and ask him sternly:
“Who did that?” My manner is threatening. The offence is grave. He is
thoroughly frightened, but after a moment he answers, falteringly, “I
did.” Instantly my attitude changes from admonitive to commendatory.
I say to him: “This is an awful thing that you have done. The carpet
is spoiled. The stain will always be there. Nothing can remove it. But
you have told the truth and that is the finest thing that a boy can do.
As bad as this is, I would rather you would do it a hundred times than
tell one lie.”
If, on the other hand, he falsifies, I grieve before him. I tell him
that nothing that a boy can do is as bad as a falsehood: that a lie
is the very meanest and lowest thing in the world. I tell him that I
fully forgive him for spilling the ink, but it is almost impossible to
forgive him for that lie. I leave him to meditate upon it.
I never allow an untruth to pass without bringing a blush of shame to
the boy’s cheek. I never let a lie show itself without holding it up as
a thing to be despised. The boy first gets to fear a falsehood, then to
despise it–and finally to forget it. And by forgetting I mean that it
passes beyond the pale of things considerable. Truth has become a fixed
Having accomplished this, you have given your boy a solid foundation
upon which to rear the structure of good character.
I believe in sending the boy to the church. Regardless of the parents’
attitude toward religion, I believe it is their duty to give the
boy the benefit of a church environment while he is still a boy.
Irrespective of sect or creed, he is sure to absorb some good in an
atmosphere of divine worship. In later years he may depart from the
precepts there learned, but the early teachings and associations of the
church or the Sunday school will leave their influence in some degree,
and whether it is much or little, it will never be for anything but
I give my boy the Bible to study and the Golden Rule to live by. I
teach him to speak or think deprecatingly of no religious faith, and
show him that all are working for the betterment of man.
From his infancy I guard him from superstition and discourage the fear
of fancied dangers. I do not believe it is necessary for a boy, at any
age, to fear the dark. Mine never did. Fear of the dark is born of
suggestion, and he has been successfully guarded from any word that
would couple darkness with danger. Throughout his entire childhood he
never sensed the usual terrors of the unlighted room and the darkened
passage. I would never confirm even the Santa Claus myth, though I did
not dissuade him from it, because I well remember the added joy it
brought to me when I was a boy. When the question was put to me I said:
“I shall not tell you because the mystery of Christmas adds much to
your enjoyment of it. Believe it or not, as you choose; I have nothing
to say.” With this pleasant exception he has never asked me a question
that I have not answered truthfully and as completely as I could.
I live close to my boy, and by so doing I find his level and see his
narrowed horizon as he sees it. When he was only six we lived together
in the woods, slept under the same blanket, fished and sailed and took
our daily swim together. Beginning at that early age we have sat by the
campfire at night and talked of the stars and the moon and the strange
noises of the wood. Nowhere can you get as close to your boy as you can
out under the sky with only Nature about you. It would be a splendid
thing if every father could devote a few weeks each year to “roughing
it” with his boy. Besides the opportunities it offers for community of
thought, it brings out a phase of the boy’s character that under other
conditions might never come to the surface. I recall one evening, as
the boy and I were lolling on the bank of a river, how he astonished
me by exclaiming: “See! What a beautiful sunset!” He had seen the sun
go down many times over the housetops of the town, but it needed the
solitude of that particular place and time to give him an appreciation
of its beauties. Unexpectedly there was disclosed to me an æsthetic
side of his nature that I had never known.
These are opportunities that open peculiarly to the father, and he
should take advantage of them.
I believe that every boy should be encouraged to acquire a college
education and that he should be made to pay for it. We hear a good
deal of talk nowadays about the lack of real advantage that the college
man has over the other fellow. Thousands of college men fail in their
struggles with the work-a-day world, and often you find a degree man
working in a subordinate capacity to a man of his own age who missed
a college education. It is a fact, too, that the honour men of our
colleges rarely distinguish themselves in their chosen professions.
But none of these things prove anything, because the personal equation
has to be reckoned in. I believe that the young man who takes his
college course and takes it seriously is better fitted for the work
of life than he would otherwise have been. The unschooled man who
succeeds would have succeeded with more ease and to a higher standard
had he been schooled. The college man who fails would have failed more
miserably had he been untrained. I believe that failure of an educated
man is in spite of his education, and not because of it.
If you want to make sure that your boy is going to use his college
education to the best advantage, let him pay his way. The failures that
our institutions of learning turn out are not the men who work their
way through; they are the sons of the affluent, the little brothers
of the rich. The boy who drives the hay-rake or works behind the
counter of his father’s store in vacation time is rarely found among
the derelicts. Let the boy share the cost with you, and you need have
no fear that either the time or money spent for education will go for
From the first time that he trots over to the candy store with his
penny, the boy should be trained to know the intrinsic value of money.
Encourage him in moderate frugality, not because the accumulation of
money is a desideratum, but because profligacy is bad for the morals.
Whether it is the mother or the father who takes especial charge of
the boy, or both, they should aim steadfastly to have his complete
confidence always. He should be made to feel that they are not only
dearer to him, but nearer to him than any one else in the world.
If a condition of implicit confidence can be established between you
and the boy, you can depend upon him to be receptive of the good which
you seek to charge him with.
Then, with truth as his anchor, no storm of the outer world can sweep
him beyond the influence of home. The bulwark of the good character
that you have builded will stand throughout his lifetime.