The Influence of My Father on My Son

Horse racing brings out a father's folly

I quit the track, I gave up the turf as a career, I ate my fill. My father noticed it, ‘asked me why, but I could not tell him right away. Too painful. And besides, he must know what racing was. He invited me to go with him to several races, but I refused till some big business friends came to town and joined in asking me to ‘Come on, boy, and see the sport.’ It was too humiliating to enter with them at the main gate. I went in ‘free’ through the stable door the jockeys used, joined them on the grandstand where the despised public sat, the suckers. They were betting on the favorite in the next race and talking wisely about his condition and past performances. It seemed to me they were pretending to know some things that they did not know. I got up, ran down to the stables and my friends, Smoke and the rest. They were laughing about this race. It was fixed; the favorite was to lose, and I heard the name of the horse that was to win. Darting back to my father's party of superior grownups, I said, not too loud, that the favorite they were betting on would not win and I named the winnerwho won. I knew; they did n't. Astonished, they asked me how I knew. I refused to tell them then. They were suckers. Of course most of them were; but my father? He asked me afterwards how I picked the winner and I told him then all about horse racing. He was all right; he listened, reflected, believed, and he tried to save some of my illusions.

But the tragedy of this little comedy, repeated in other departments of life as I was seeing it, was the discovery that my father did not know everything; he was not always right.

Now, I recovered from this, from all these experiences. I saw that he did not pretend to know all, that he felt and could admit that he was often wrong and in doubt. It was only my infant idol that suffered, my idealization of my father, and and myself. But that was enough.

When my son appeared on the scene, when he was a baby, I remembered the disappointment and distress of my young disillusionment and I determined to save him and his father from any such experience. The first time my father's grandson asked me a question, I said I did not know; and the next time, and the next. I have never known the answer. Sometimes I say, 'I don't know. Let's go and see.' So we find out things together. If that is not possible, if we can't see with our eyes what we want to know, I may say: 'I don't know, Pete, but I think it's so.' Or I say, 'Grownups say it's so, but we don't really know.' Indeed, we have a saying, the boy and I, which we repeat often in unison: 'I think so, but I don't know,' or 'I don't know, but I think so.'

The theory of this skepticism is that the child has everything to learn for himself and, for us, not only what we don't know, but also all over again what we think we do know. And to enforce his selfreliance I seek cases where he and I can differ. He thinks his ball went over there where I saw it go; I think it went over here. We look here first, and Daddy is wrong. We look over there, and there it is. Pete was right often.

I think that my father if he could observe us might wag his head over these exercises that have gone on for six yearsduring the unconscious, most sensitive period of his grandson's life. I don't know what my father would have thought when his grandson said the other day:

'My daddy is always wrong. My mama is always right. And Pete? I am half right and half wrong.'

I don't know, but I think that my father would have sat silent a long time, reflecting, remembering, and then seen that his influence upon his grandson through me was both directly and indirectly his very own, his immortal self. And he would have been convinced if he saw what I saw: that Pete thought that on the whole, humanly and socially speaking, it was rather better to be wrong than right, or, at any rate, more amusing.

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