I am saying this to you as you lie asleep with one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the curls stickily wet on your plump forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a hot, stifling wave of remorse swept over me. I could not resist it. Guiltily, I came to your bedside.
These are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when I found you had thrown some of your things on the floor. At breakfast, I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a little hand and called, “Goodbye daddy,” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back.”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the hill road and I spied you down on your knees playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by making you march ahead of me back to the house. Stockings were expensive and if you had to buy them then you would be more careful. Imagine that, son, from a father. It was such stupid, silly logic.
Do you remember later when I was reading in the library how you came in, softly, timidly, with a sort of hurt, hunted look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across, in one tempestuous plunge; and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, again and again, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands, and a terrible sickening fear came over me. Suddenly saw I myself as I really was, in all my horrible selfishness, and I felt sick at heart. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of complaining, of finding fault, of reprimanding, all those were my rewards to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected so much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good, and fine, and true in your character. You did not deserve my treatment of you, son. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. All this was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me goodnight. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, choking with emotion, and so ashamed.