Sunday, September 26, 2010

days 252 and 253: harshness vs tenderness in raising children

One of the stories that we especially enjoyed in Joe Wheeler’s “Great Stories Remembered” is about a man who was so harsh with his three children—wouldn’t let them cry, made fun of them if they were frightened, punished them severely for slight infractions, wouldn’t let them be children, didn’t spend any time with them, etc. This story is called “The Boy on the Running Board.”* Today and tomorrow (though I don’t want to divide up the post, so it will all appear here) I would like to share with you some excerpts from that story—and some amazing parenting comparisons that I gleaned from it (during read-aloud with my kids!).

One day this rough father went to town to pay a bill (leaving a “punished” son who was scheduled to go with him that day at home). While driving, this man ran over a turkey that its owner-family had named Henry Ward Beecher.

The stern man picked up one of the children (who owned the turkey) and took him to town since the boy was heading there to meet his father’s train. The words this child spoke pierced the unkind father’s heart—as they should have. Even today as I re-read this story, I can hear the love and excitement in this little boy’s voice. Oh, that we could all create this in our homes:

“We drew lots to see which’d catch him an’ which’d cut off his {the turkey’s} head. Celia was catching him. We picked out Henry Ward Beecher because he was the biggest. Mother said nothing was too big for Father!”

“Father’s coming home! Today he’s coming! Mother keeps singing every minute.”

“Well, I guess any mother’d sing when she hadn’t seen a father for four whole months. Father’s a drummer, but he doesn’t hardly ever drum so long at a time. He hasn’t seen {the present we have for him….}.”

“We’re going to give {Father} a present of the baby! She’s almost a month old. Mother’s did her all up.”

“We’ve swept everything and dusted everything and cleared up everything –and—and….killed the rooster!”

“Father’s train isn’t till after dinner, but I thought I’d go real early so’s not to miss it.”

“I guess he’ll think that’s some muscle! Father will like that! And I can pitch ball better now; I’ll give him some good ones, all right! We take turns pitching. Father’s a southpaw. The Grant family’s team is some team! Only, now that the baby’s come, I don’t know about Mother’s being first base…She’s a good first-bagger! You ought to see her catch! Of course, it isn’t a real ‘nine,’ but we manage. Celia’s going to make a regular player. Are you on a team, Mister?”

The boy continued: “Yes. “{Do you have a} home team? You know, like us. If you haven’t got any boys….You can’t very well play ball without ANY boys! Father says it’s lucky there’s two men in our family. We’re pals, me and Father.”

(At this point, the man thought of his boys at home. He couldn’t imagine calling his family “team.” Even moreso, he couldn’t imagine his being on their team, if his family did have one. Then pals? He could not fathom it.)

“When father retires…we’re going to have the best time! Of course, we’ll have to work like fun on the farm. That’s it, like fun! When we hoe now, Father and me, we run races to the end of the row! Sometimes I beat him. And when Mother comes out and brings us something to drink, she kisses Father when I am not looking, and kisses me when Father isn’t looking, but we always kind of see!”

(The man asked the boy if he was afraid of his father…)

“Of Father, AFRAID? You couldn’t be afraid of Father. I lied once. ‘riginal sin, Mother said, was the matter with me. But I’ve never had it since. You don’t catch me being a mean skunk twice! We both cried, me and Father. Then Father held out his hand and said, ‘Put it there,’ and I put it there, and that was our contract. Like signing the pledge, Father said.”

(The boy met the father at the train station—and you can only guess the impact that this little boy had on the thoughtless man when he returned home later that day. You will have to get this book to discover the ending!)

I could read these parts of the story over and over…and hear and feel the excitement of a little boy whose dad knew how to raise little boys—how to love them, include them, play with them, work with them, forgive them, direct them, laugh with them, talk to them, and teach them. And then pray that Ray and I are all of that for our “little boys.”

*This story may be found in Joe Wheeler’s “Great Stories Remembered”:

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