“Father Forgets” by W. Livingston Larned

So I was chatting to my friend Kate a few weeks ago and she mentioned a poem which I though I would share.

It’s a classic poem, written in 1927 by W. Livingston Larned but even though it’s a golden oldie, I think it is still very relevant today. 

It talks about how as a father, Livingston Larned forgot that his son was still only a little boy and how he realised that he was putting too much pressure on his son to behave more as an adult.

An illustration by Anita Jeram (author of “Guess How Much I Love You”) which I felt was perfect for this post.

                                                              Father Forgets

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 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

I think that as adults,  we often do forget that children are children and can ask far too much of them at times. We forget that they might not understand certain things, that they are still learning how to be a person, who they are, what they think of the world and their place in it. 

We forget how confusing and scary things may seem to a child, even if they make perfect sense to us as adults. We forget that the little things which have become second nature to us – like eating with cutlery or using a toilet properly (mind you, from some toilets I’ve seen in my time, the previous users could do with a refresher lesson!) – things we had to learn as children as well. 

This poem really made me think. Even though I would consider myself to be a very patient person, I do forget sometimes that Jack doesn’t understand certain things – like why trying to turn over whilst I’m wiping his bum is not good, or why he mustn’t grab at people’s glasses or pull hair or why he can’t play with the tv remote – and I need to remember not to get cross or frustrated about it. He’s just learning how to be a person, exactly as we all have done, and everything he sees, hears, touches, tastes, smells and feels emotionally is all new and exciting but possibly also frightening and confusing.

I think we should all try and remember, particularly when our patience is wearing thin with our children, to pause for a moment and see the world through their eyes. We need to remember to think about how a child might be feeling and try and make certain situations easier for them to understand. They are learning all the time – absorbing everything around them like little sponges – and as adults, we need to make sure we set a good example for them.

Image copyright Anita Jeram


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