The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Father's Influence

by Agatha M. Goodhart
Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 170-173

It is taken for granted, perhaps a little too much, that the care, training, and education of children is entirely in their mother's hands. While the children are young it certainly should be mainly in the hands of a woman; her tact, intuition, and discernment in little things is superior to a man's. All through life, perhaps, the mother's power over her sons, for good or ill, is greater than the father's. But, while fully recognising this, the man can do much to help or to hinder his wife in her great work. No one quite realizes how soon children begin to observe, nor how much they observe. A young father, in all the pride and delight over his first baby, perhaps, at times, may feel it is also a great responsibility, and if he is wise he will begin at once to train himself to be all that he would wish to appear. Bad habits of a lifetime are not easily broken, and "what we are thunders above what we wish to appear." A little child copies closely what his father is, and takes that as an example of all manly perfection. At first, children can do little but imitate--a harsh word, a tone of anger, how quickly they pick it up. It is generally possible to tell the kind of home a child has by his manner. I do not wish to dogmatize or say certainly that there can never be a fretful disagreeable child in a home where both parents are amiable and good-tempered, but frankly I have never known it. You often hear people say: "What a horrid little worrying child and such a sweet mother," -- but do you know that mother in her own home? Many a sweet society woman is worrying and peevish at home; and, even granting the possible sweetness of the mother,--how about the father? and, especially,--how about the parents' manners to each other and to the little ones?

As the child gets older, he watches his father even more closely; at first it was mere unconscious imitation, leading, however, to the formation of fixed habits, now it is conscious observation. A boy, even a tiny boy, has one great ambition, it is to be manly; his father is the only man he knows at all intimately, therefore, if his father is rough and inconsiderate, bad tempered, greedy (making the good or bad cooking of his dinner a matter of vital importance), selfish and lazy (sending his wife messages, never thinking of or caring for her comfort),--is it not only natural that the little fellow should copy these qualities and actions which are evidently the manly ones? This is certainly an extreme case, but I fear it sometimes exists; there are many gradations between this and the ideal father who certainly exists. He is his wife's true helper and adviser, always most careful and considerate in every way. What a happiness for the mother, when her husband and her little sons enter in to a friendly rivalry as to who shall do most for "mother". This condition is so easily brought about. "I say, boys, I got mother's bread first this morning," and next morning, what a rush there is, perhaps the loaf upset on the floor, possibly a finger cut, but all to "please mother". This seems trifling perhaps, but these little things have a good deal to do with formation of character. Thought for others is developed when all these attentions are lavished on the mother; what a simple matter it is for her, when a visitor is in the house, to say: "Now, boys, Miss --- is a visitor, you must help her first, and see that she has all she wants." Thus a constant thoughtful courtesy to women is taught; and taught quite unconsciously with scarcely a word of injunction.

Children's questions are endless and often beyond a woman's intellect, let her then refer to her husband: "We shall ask father when he comes home". Poor "father" arrives, rather tired, and a wise wife will teach a little lesson of patience to the children and contrive that they don't immediately assail the wearied man in their pursuit of knowledge; but, when he has rested and had his tea, they may come, and perhaps he can answer the question and establish a lasting reputation for wisdom. If, however, his information is not equal to the demand made on it, as is quite possible, even probable, let him at once confess his ignorance with an assurance that he will find out all about it as soon as possible, and let them know. When the knowledge is gained and imparted to the children they will still think him very wise. They will doubtless hold the opinion I once heard a little boy express: "Oh! ask my father, he knows everything, and if he doesn't he always finds it out."

Many fathers hold a theory that up to the age of thirteen or thereabouts, they have nothing to do with their sons, they are still mere nursery children, only fit for women to manage; after that age, and when they are old enough to go to a public school, the paternal authority appears and decides what school they shall go to. A man of this type will probably not consult his wife at all now, never realizing that she must necessarily know far more of the boy's character than he can. He will decide on a school quite arbitrarily, without any reference to the boy's tastes or inclinations, with no consideration as to his probable profession, and no thought as to whether his preparatory school is sending up other boys to the same public school, who would be friends or at least acquaintances in the great new world of boys. The little fellow is thrown amongst five or six hundred utter strangers to sink or swim; if he is miserable the mother weeps and laments--"his father would send him to B--; I knew he couldn't get on; if only he had let him go to C--where he had heaps of friends, all the boys at his preparatory school go to C--, he would have been quite happy there and would have got on well." The mother is probably perfectly correct, but the father, a fine unreasoning "John Bull" type of man, is quite cheerful. "The boy will be all right presently, and be the better for a little bullying at first." He may be all right after a time, but it won't be in consequence of the bullying, but in spite of it, and if ever he gets that esprit de corps about his school, which is such a splendid thing, it will not be till after a year or two of misery, which might have been averted if only the parents had first consulted together about the preparatory school, and at the same time decided about the public school.

There is a small matter, but rather an important one, that I might mention here, and that is with reference to the way in which parents discuss their boy's school before the boy. By all means let the school be praised, and the masters spoken of in the highest terms; to this no objection can be made. Sometimes, however, though a father has given his son into the care of the masters, and thus apparently shown the highest possible confidence in them, yet he will, on occasion, abuse them in no measured words. This is apt to occur more especially when the term's account appears. "It's a perfect swindle; why, here's so much charged for school books, I daresay he never got them,--did you Tommy?"--and, before the boy can answer-- "and here's gymnastics extra, and subscription to football; well, he does know how to pile it on, regular cheating I call it," and so on all through the account. The boy either thinks his father is a "stingy brute", or the master a "jolly thief". Can this be good for him in any way? Is it necessary to be done? If necessary, let it at least be done with closed doors. The mother, if wise, will keep the account out of the father's way until she gets the boy off the premises, but no woman ought to be obliged to resort to such scheming. When the school was chosen, the father knew what he would have to pay, and, if he could not afford it, should not have sent his son there, but now the child is established at the school, this sort of worry is worse than useless.

It probably devolves on the father to decide how much pocket-money his son takes to school. This should certainly not be given hap-hazard. Everyone, I suppose, realizes the danger of giving too much, but to give too little, though not perhaps so dangerous, is very cruel. There is no greater misery to a little sensitive child than to find himself hardly able to pay his subscriptions, and with no money at all to treat a friend--quite mildly and wholesomely, say, to a cup of coffee and a sponge cake. If possible, it is well to ascertain how much money the others bring, and to find out what expenses the boy will have to pay out of his own pocket. I think it is a good plan when you have decided what to give, to tell the boy how much it is and suggest that he only take half, and that he put the rest in store and to send for it if he wants it. It is an excellent plan for a boy to have a small store of money. If he has been a bit extravagant and is low in money, instead of a piteous begging letter, he simply writes: "Please send me so much out of my store." He is careful not to be exorbitant in his demands, as he very soon takes a pride in the little "store", and does not like it to run too low. I think the store should be begun when the children are quite babies. Some kind friends are sure to give them half-crowns before the child knows the difference between a half-crown and a penny; they are then rather glad to get rid of the valuable thing, which they are so afraid of losing; and, at about seven or eight years old, they find they have quite a nice little bank of their own to draw upon.

After school life is over comes the momentous choice of a profession, and here, I think, the ambition of parents often comes in the way of their son's true happiness. When we get past middle age, we are apt to think a great deal of money and position, in fact, to make a little god of one or other, or both. Young people have not this tendency as a rule, they like to be comfortable, but they are fairly careless about "appearances"; they can rough it, and are willing to put up with many things, if they must be met in pursuit of any object that they have put before themselves as desirable. If a boy shows a decided and strong wish for any special line of work, I am sure it is wiser for the father to give up his own perhaps equally strong wish, and do all he can to forward his son's aims, and to help him in every way, with money, advice, and influence, to get on in the work he has set his heart upon.

Some boys do not show any strong taste, they are more or less indifferent. In that case do not wait, do not for the world let them be idle when they first leave school, set them to work at once; if it should prove uncongenial work, possibly the little impetus of being obliged to do work they don't care for may suggest to them the idea of work they would like. Many indolent boys prefer idleness to work, and therefore show no preference; but if it becomes an imperative choice between different kinds of work the lad may wake up to select. Anything is better than idleness, and if a young fellow is idle he is bound to be dull, and that is fatal; ennui is almost the root of all evil, physical and moral deterioration follow closely in its track. Where a college education is possible, some critical years may be tided over. The father's influence is now more needed than ever, not perhaps so much the actual direct influence, rather the influence of all the past years, while the character has been slowly and steadily forming. The perception which has grown up by constant association with what is best, truest, and most manly in every way. What joy and pride for the father, if, in watching his son's career anxiously, he may be able to note how what he felt, and still humbly feels, are mere germs of goodness and nobility in his own character, have developed and brought out in the son the splendid fruit of a true and noble life. I will not dwell on the other possible and terribly sad side of the picture, but I feel sure it is absolutely true that our children bring the qualities they acquire from us, both by heredity and also by association and unconscious imitation, to a higher degree of perfection than they exist in ourselves. That great question of heredity! How many people distress themselves over it; it is a simple fact, and our duty is to leave the past alone, except for thankfulness for possible good inherited, and to try, all we know, to transmit to our children an inheritance worth having. Let their home be a hothouse where all that is good is carefully cultivated, watched, and encouraged, and any bad there may be is ignored, despised, neglected, there is no room for it, and by the great principle of survival of the fittest, it will dwindle and disappear, leaving our dear sons and daughters far better, nobler, higher men and women than we could ever hope to be.

Proofread by LNL, July 2020