Daddy’s Girl

Those repeated squeals of “Daddy!” featured on video from yesterday’s post evoked some long-forgotten memories from my own childhood. My daddy died more than twenty years ago. As his eldest daughter (born when he was a youngster of 26), I’ve come to understand my good fortune to have known him for more years than his younger children.

NAS_RLO_1952[Based on his or her place in the family, I believe each child enjoys a one-of-a-kind intimacy from his or her parents. For elder children, they perceive youthful parents while later children are privy to the more adult-like and mature parents. I think this difference can be profound.]

Taken about 1952, the picture at left has seen better days. Somewhere along the line, Daddy’s right hand got lost; not his actual hand but just the picture. (Don’t ask why I cut the background from the photo … that was far too long ago … but I’m sure I must have had a reason!)

As a child, I grew up enjoying many of the same things my dad enjoyed. This gentle man, who had no formal education beyond the eighth grade, loved to learn. He set the stage for his children, modeling for us his hunger for knowledge and understanding. To earn a living, he drove a truck. At night, he attended Bible school classes and broadened his horizons by reading books on almost every subject.

I remember my daddy rising quite early in the morning and taking his Bible in hand to have a personal quiet time with God. His example of devotion wasn’t showy or pretentious; it was just his simple walk with the Savior that gave meaning to his life and this daily practice gave him spiritual food for his day.

Daddy and I shared our love for music. From my earliest memories, I recall singing together. Other members of the family entered in, but most often, Daddy and I engaged in music together. When I was twelve, he purchased a Hammond spinet model organ. (I still have it in my home today.) He began taking music lessons and I did as well. Our love for music was a strong bond between us.M-3

When I was a senior in high school, Daddy and I sang our first duet in church. (I’d been singing solo since the tender age of three or four, and Daddy often sang solos or lead the singing in our church.) I’ll never forget how he trembled as we stood beside each other in duet. This was a revelation for me:  I’d always considered him absolutely fearless, but his trembling told me he suffered stage fright just like everyone else!

In a long-ago post, I note my dear daddy was a diarist, writing letters and poetry, mostly as a retrospective examination of his life and a worshipful gift to his Savior. He collected his poetry but rarely shared it with others outside the family. Our  shared love of poetry also grew to be a strong bond between us. He memorized certain pieces and recited them for me. Needless to say, I fondly remember those recitations … and miss hearing them!

Last month, I included a poem entitled If by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling’s If was a favorite. However, in celebration of Father’s Day, I salute my daddy by posting his original composition, a shorter poem also entitled If.


Hold On!

While we were visiting with our daughter and her family this past weekend, our adult conversation wandered circuitously around to the content of a Rudyard Kipling poem, If. The conversation wasn’t focused on poetry, but more on how our current events sometimes make it difficult to “keep one’s head” in situations where one is “being lied about” or “being hated.”pinocchio

Even an ordinary person might be tempted to lash out. The impulse to fight back isn’t unusual under normal circumstances, but in this political season (our state primary election is tomorrow), lies and half-truths are being carelessly hurled without regard to the dirt that gets splattered on all of us, candidates or not.

Because I couldn’t accurately recite Kipling’s poem, naturally I looked it up. We quickly noticed that the poem, written more than a hundred years ago, has a surprising currency in 2014. Certainly, Kipling’s (and the world’s) political situation was different than ours, but the similarities to our day are striking. Standards of good conduct and upstanding character weren’t so different then, and writing this poem for his son, John, was a way for the father to communicate qualities of manhood the older Kipling considered worthy for his son’s attention and acquisition.

Sadly, that story doesn’t end well, as his young son (barely 18) John enlisted to fight in World War I and never returned. (The elder Kipling had previously lost one of his daughters to illness.)


Though the poem has been voted a “favourite poem” among Brits, If isn’t universally esteemed. T. S. Eliot and George Orwell never cared for it. Those two writers notwithstanding, If is a memorable poem with strong values. According to a Mail Online article from five years ago, there’s even a Paul Harvey-esque rest-of-the-story speculating how Kipling found inspiration for the poem.

What I especially appreciate about Kipling’s poem is the challenge he offered his son − and by extension, a challenge offered to all young men and women − to seek character qualities that will best stand against present temptations as well as be proven worthy via the test of time. I remember being challenged by the poem while still in my teens … and despite knowing the poem was written for Kipling’s son.

I think Kipling’s challenge still holds up today. I love Kipling’s sense of holding on … when all one has left is the Will to hold on. He describes a quality that would (in my view) serve us well. With commencement ceremonies occurring all over the country, I’d love to hear one speaker recite Kipling’s poem and encourage the graduates to strive for the genuine excellence about which Kipling wrote. Hold on … to excellence, to integrity, to virtues the world no longer deems important. Hold on and be confident in doing what is right.

UPDATE:  a reader sent me a link to a super collection of attractive posters featuring Kipling’s poem, If. Take a look at these!


Through the Reading Glass I

Several months ago, I happened upon an online conversation about books one reads in childhood and the subsequent impact those books made on the adult. (Sorry, I’ve been unable to locate the web-link; I’ve tried!)

For me, that online discussion spurred my own reflection, trying to recall which books I’d read and weighing how each book played a role in my own writing/reading life today. Why I didn’t I have the forethought to keep a reading journal in those days, I just don’t know. (Ha!) It’s a challenge to create this kind of list from memory:  I have to keep asking myself, was this title one to which I introduced my children, or one I actually read for the first time in my own childhood?

Long before I was able to read on my own, my parents read to us. I remember A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. (In addition to his simple verses, I felt a special affinity to Stevenson because his initials (RLS) were the same as mine!)


I remember lovely recitations by my daddy of poems he knew by heart, among them Wee Willie Winkie and passages from Scripture like Psalm 1 and 23 (also repeated from memory).

The Tales of Mother Goose, Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales were bedtime favorites for me. Long before Disney, I knew the tales of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow White & Rose Red and Cinderella and The Goose Girl. In my mind’s eye, they were much more beautiful than the cartoon characters popularized for children today! While still quite young, I had internalized many of the one-line moral lessons from Aesop, and found intense empathy for the “drudge of the household,” a diminutive child named Little Thumb (from Mother Goose).

Once I’d learned to read on my own, I branched out while continuing to consume both fairy tales and verse. I delighted in the poetry of Eugene Field (Wynken, Blynken and Nod) and James Whitcomb Riley (Little Orphant Annie). I adored Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales as well as the stories of Ali Baba, Sinbad and Aladdin from Arabian Nights Stories.

I immediately identified with certain characters in the books I read; others, I appreciated because of their whimsy. I looked at The Bobbsey Twins as a family almost like mine. Though there were no twins in our family, I had two brothers and one sister (at the time), so I enjoyed the similarities − and on more than one occasion, wished I could be a twin!

J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan fed my desire for an almost modern fairy tale. The book’s whimsical flavor set it pretty high on my list:  a family named “Darling,” a boy who resolves never to grow up, and a fairy − small as your hand − whose every movement rings a lovely tinkle of bells, Tinkerbell. Who could read this book without loving it?!

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Elsie Dinsmore and Heidi were three books I read and re-read! Yes, there are extraordinary similarities between all three heroines; each is a girl displaced, sent to live in the company of strangers. Each girl suffers hardship and the pain of being misunderstood. Each endures crisis, but in the end (of course) everything works out for the good.

My list would be incomplete without the names of Frances Hodgson BurnettRudyard Kipling, George MacDonald and Beatrix Potter, though I had only dabbled in their works during my pre-teens, with limited exposure (respectively) to The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, The Light Princess and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

This is a sampling from my pre-teen years. (Certainly, you would be correct in observing one particular name is curiously absent.) Tomorrow, I’ll continue, but for now, I leave you with the words of Rudyard Kipling who noted the following:  “A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.”

Kipling wasn’t just a brilliant writer, but a man of exceptional wisdom.