would like you to be a defiant little point of light at the end of a
diamond, and if you have fools to be with, to make them a setting.”
Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Francis. August 8, 1933
the movies he once gave birth to a child. He lights up entire rooms when
he enters them. Toddlers cling like limpets, boys show-off with wild
antics, one eye peeled for his reaction; girls demand attention, approval
and presents. There is always the refrain: “What have you brought me?”
And he has always brought something.
could also be a tyrant or an alcoholic, unknown to you, long dead or
uncaring but he still leaves a gaping hole in your life. You may hate him
or love him but you are never indifferent. The fathers in Love Anyhow -
Famous Fathers Write To Their Children are writers, philosophers, poets
and playwrights (Tolstoy, Kipling, Goethe, Marx, Ruskin, Scott
Fitzgerald), an American President (Harry Truman), news anchor (Bob
Teague), psychoanalyst (Freud). But in these letters they are simply Dad,
Pops, the Old Man who worries about his children, dispenses advice, cash
and admonishment in equal measure. Fathers, like any other, who anxiously
pass on belief systems, all the time being aware that they risk having
their missives disregarded as lectures, but are unable to help themselves,
so compulsive is this need to protect their children.
television he fries and burns eggs for his small son in the morning, in
the afternoon he fights for custody. In real life he drips salty tears
into his champagne glass while toasting his newly married daughter,
remembering her toddler days, trying for her sake to be generous about
giving her away to his son-in-law who smirks through his speech.
Polyana, October 1887. Leo Tolstoy on marriage to his sons Lev and Lyova:
put marriage - union with the person you love - as your main aim,
replacing everything else, is a big mistake. Well, you get married, and
then what? If you have no other aim in life before marriage, then later on
it will be terribly difficult, almost impossible for the two of you, to
find one. I say all this because the idea many people have that life is a
vale of tears is just as false as the idea which the great majority have,
and to which youth, health, and wealth incline you, that life is a place
is a place of service, where one sometimes has occasion to put up with a
lot that is hard, but more often to experience a great many joys. Only,
there can only be real joys when people themselves understand their life
as service: have a definite aim in life outside themselves and their own
and the birth of children offer so many joyful things to look forward to
that it seems that these things actually constitute life itself, but this
is a dangerous delusion. If parents live and produce children without
having any aim in life, they only put off the question of the aim of life
but they can’t avoid it, because they will have to bring up and guide
children, and there will be nothing to guide them by. And then parents
lose their human qualities and the happiness linked with them and become
pedigree cattle. Les extremes se touchent.
most egotistical and nasty life is the life of two people united in order
to enjoy life, and the highest vocation is that of people who live in
order to bring good into the world. Don’t be confused - one is right and
the other is wrong.”
teaches you, even (if you are female) to stand up like a man. Sussex, June
16, 1909. Rudyard Kipling to his son John (six weeks before he was killed
in the battle of Loos) on sportsmanship:
my Son, do all that you can to win, honestly and fairly, the events for
which you have entered. If you win, shut your head. Exalt not yourself nor
your legs nor your wind nor anything else that is yours.
boast is the mark of the savage and the pig. If you lose remember that you
have lost. It doesn’t matter one little bit but it matters a great deal
if you go about jawing about your handicap being too heavy or your having
had a bad start or your being tripped or put off.”
is unimpressed by and dismissive of your flashiest friends. Sometimes he
even shouts them out of the house.
York, 1989. Bob Teague (the first African/American newsman hired by the
NBC television network) to his only child Adam on education:
Wounded Survivor from a Broken Home: When you were younger I focused too
narrowly on the link between education and employment and the need to
accumulate money as a shield against the worst improprieties of racism. I
should have been selling the poetry, beauty and magic that education
brings to one’s life and the way it stirs the soul. I am talking about
the kind of magic that would lift disadvantaged children well beyond their
current popular desire to become rich and famous as members of yet another
jiving bastard-rhyming rap group. Somehow, I must sell the excitement of
gives you a start in life and a philosophy to help live it by.
November 1750. Lord Chesterfield to his son Phillip on cleanliness and
no account whatever you put your fingers, as too many people are apt to
do, in your nose or ears. It is the most shocking, nasty, vulgar rudeness
that can be offered to company, it disgusts one, it turns one stomach.
Wash your ears well every morning, and blow your nose in your handkerchief
whenever you have occasion, but, by the way, without looking at it
mortgage his house to send you to university and then becomes desperate
when you enjoy yourself instead. So he lectures from home.
11 ‘Jany’ 1822. Coleridge to his son Derwent on neglecting his studies
you not control your love of appearance and showing off for two or three
years? In my first term and from October till March, I read hard and
nights out of seven as soon as chapel was over I went to Pembroke, to
Middleton’s Rooms - went on with my Aeschylus or Thucydides, as he with
his mathematics, in silence till half past nine. With what delight did I
not resume my reading in my own rooms at Jesus College each following
you a ball or a concert or a lady party, or a literary club would have
left me in the same state? I am not angry, Derwent, but it is calamitous
that you do not know how anxiously and affectionately I am your Father.”
says: “Take off that thing and wear something decent” to daughters,
enforces curfews, pushes them to achieve as he would his sons, indulges
them shamelessly, and even if over 40, bails them out of bad marriages.
NC Nov 1936. F Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Francis on education:
is no question of your dropping mathematics and taking the easiest way to
go into Vassar and being one of the girls fitted for nothing except to
reflect other people without having any particular character of your own.
I want you to take physics and I want you to take chemistry. I don’t
care a damn about your English courses or your French courses. If you
don’t know two languages and the ways that great men chose to express
their thoughts in those languages by this time, then you are not my
a sigh of amused resignation he gives yet another “loan” knowing fully
that it will never be returned, and yes, he will take the collect call.
Virginia, April 1927. Sherwood Anderson on career to his son John (a
to remain humble. Smartness kills everything. The object of art is not to
make saleable pictures. It is to save yourself. Any cleanness I have in my
own life is due to my feeling for words. The fools who write articles
about me think that one morning I suddenly decided to write and began to
produce masterpieces. There is no special trick about writing or painting
wrote constantly for 15 years before I produced anything with any solidity
to it. For days, weeks and months now I can’t do it. You saw me in Paris
this winter. I was in a dead, blank time. Most people remain all of their
lives in a stupor. The point of being an artist is that you may live. You
have to live through such times all your life. It isn’t your success I
want. There is a possibility of your having a decent attitude toward
people and work. That alone may make a man of you. The thing, of course,
is to make yourself alive. You won’t arrive. Its an endless search.”
always has at least three rules - even on love.
April 5, 1896. Tolstoy to his son Lyova:
first, in order to be able to love people and be loved by them it is
necessary to train oneself to require as little as possible from them
because if I require a lot and am deprived of many things, I’m inclined
not to love but to reproach - this involves a lot of work.
second - in order to love people not by word but by deed, it is necessary
to teach oneself to do something useful for them.
third - in order to love people and be loved by them it is necessary to
learn gentleness, humility and the art of enduring unpleasant people and
unpleasant things and if its impossible not to offend somebody to be able
to choose the least offense.”
end but advice - never. Leo Tolstoy to his sons:
I’m tired of writing, though there’s more I wanted to say. I kiss
letters said more about these fathers than they said about their children.
Unwittingly they wrote collectively, an ode in praise of themselves.
That’s the kind of thing they do.