This is something I wrote for my sons, as I watch them growing up. I try to be a good father; I don’t know that I succeed. They’re getting older, and I worry that somehow I’ve not armed them properly for being men – real men, not people pretending to live their lives.
I don’t know if it’s “high art” or anything – it’s literally something I wrote down in about ten minutes, like it was burning a hole in my hand – but it’s there.
When you are willing to give The freedom that you yourself desire When you allow yourself the lighting Of someone else's fire When you can serve as light and love In situations dire You'll be a man to men, my son. When you can speak the truth to lies, No matter how it hurts When you can reach the wounded, Despite your lack of words When you can hold your honor, When the one you're with defers You'll be a man to men, my son. When you can call upon the Name With no shame within your heart When you can live unrecognized Even when you've done your part When you can give yourself in love With everything you are You'll be a man to men, my son. When you can hear the words you say With someone else's ears When you can see with clarity Despite a wall of tears When you can brave a challenge No matter what your fears You'll be a man to men, my son.
There’s an obvious (and publicly admitted) tie to Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” which my mother made me memorize as a boy during my own struggles with maturity. I reread If after transcribing it (thus making this a self-referential posting); Kipling’s better than I. But my words aren’t his, nor his mine.
In the end, I wrote it because it’s my offering to my sons, my investment – I care enough not just to quote Kipling (although there’s nothing wrong with that; Kipling’s a fine author, and If is worthy reading) but to have my own words and meaning to give to them.
It’s like a handmade card, I guess, or a child’s ashtray made at school; I don’t smoke, but an ashtray made by my sons for me would be displayed among my most prized possessions, because it was their hands and their intent that created it and gave it merit.
This is my ashtray to you, my beloved children.