The night before I departed for college back in June 1965 Dad handed me the following poem which Rudyard Kipling wrote as a gift to his son to commemorate his birthday 101 years ago. He told me that he had strived all his life to live up to the principles it contains and suggested in his quiet manner that I would be well advised to do the same.
I offer this then not only for your consideration but as a long overdue acknowledgement that my father clearly understood a great deal more about living than I really ever gave him credit for. While falling short of these ideals on far too many occasions myself, I have often found solace referring back to them when life fails to live up to my — more often than not — unrealistic expectations.
Attempting to embrace these ideals throughout my life, it dawned on me several years ago that while its tenets focus on the importance of emotional stability and endurance, no mention is made of love which I think explains to some extent the origins of my general sense of detachment.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting to
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
– – Rudyard Kipling, 1910
That night Dad also explained how important it would be for me to learn how to control my emotions. “Life is like a roller coaster. If you allow yourself to focus on the highs you will find yourself experiencing equal or greater lows so in part the key to happiness lies in making sure you control your excitement,” he said.
To emphasize his point Dad opened a folder he had brought into the living room and set on the coffee table. He then proceeded to open a large worn map of the U.S. where he had highlighted a score or more locations and an extensive, handwritten list of names each accompanied by a sizable dollar amount. “This is a complete list of all of the people in this country who do what I do. Next to each name is the salary they are being paid,” he said.
Closing the folder it was apparent he had no interest in discussing details. “I just wanted you to know that I am proud of the fact that I am the second highest paid man in the United States in my given profession. The only individual earning more than I am is my boss and I was offered his job but turned it down because I didn’t want to assume his responsibilities,” he said.
It’s important to note that the disclosure was delivered as dispassionately as one might report the accomplishments of some individual you might have just been introduced to in the fruit section of the corner grocery store. He never again spoke to me about his achievements.
I wonder what happened to that folder. I also wonder if he ever shared that information with my older brother, Richard.