The Influence of My Father on My Son

Horse racing brings out a father's folly

I loved my mother, but—but—my father respected me. He respected, as you see, my disobedience; he respected my bunk, my lies, my crimes. When I was a fireman, my mother made me clothes of red stuff that were suitable to a firefighter - sure; and she let me ride my pony to fires; but when one day there was an alarm during dinner and I leaped up so quick that I nearly upset the table, she remonstrated and forbade me to go to that fire. I wasn’t really a fireman to her. To my father I was. He sprang up too, put out a hand to stay my mother’s indignation, and he shouted: ‘Go it, boy! Get there first!’ I did. I got first to that fire, and when I came back I found that it had been settled in the family that I could go, fast, to any fire that occurred any time when I was on duty, any time of day except when I was in school or in bed.

This I have passed on intact to Pete, with a smile added. When the boy was in the so-called lying period (he was about five years old) he learned to tell his big stories to me rather than his mother. She was patient with them, but they were whoppers just the same. I joined in his fiction, as I did in his building or business operations. We ran a garage, I as owner, he as manager; we had a taxi and baggage service, which met all trains and responded, fast, to all private calls. It was real and pretty strenuous to us all, his mother, too,—but the test came when there was a train to meet at mealtimes. Then it appeared pretty plainly that Pete’s mother really regarded the garage business as bunk, or at any rate it was not as serious as his dinner!

Well, we business men held a directors’ meeting and decided and announced that, hereafter, our garage would close from one to two P.M. But we sang our little song: ‘Pete and Papa are wonderful, Mama and Anna are absurd.’

Mama, Anna, and many of our neighbors disapproved of this song. When we sang it together at a tea, women were shocked and some men wagged their funny old heads. ‘How can you teach your son such nonsense!’ they exclaimed-and if I explained that it does n’t matter what you teach a child, that all that matters is what he learns, they did not understand me. My father and my grandfather would have understood perfectly, as their grandson and great-grandson did. Maybe the following incident will clear it all up.

One day Pete came to my study door and said that he had just killed a bear.

‘Where?’ I asked.

Over there,’ he waved.

‘That’s wonderful,’ I said. ‘A coinci-dence. I just killed ten bears.’ He looked a bit dashed, but he inquired:—


‘Over there,’ I waved.

He looked so beaten that I rose and said: ‘Come on, Pete, let’s go and tell Mama.’

‘Oh, no,’ he protested, ‘not Mama.’

‘Oh, come on,’ I urged, offering to take his hand. ‘I’ll do the talking.’

Very reluctantly, he put his hand in mine and we went into the house, up to his mother, who was busy (writing fiction).

‘Mama,’ I said. ‘Pete killed a bear.’

Annoyed, she looked up at me and demanded why I encouraged the boy to lie like that.

‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ I said. ‘I just killed ten bears.’

‘Oh, go away!’ she exclaimed, in real irritation. ‘You are both liars and I don’t think it’s funny.’ And she actually pushed us.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In