Last month, my second son’s 17th birthday inspired this poem and lots of people read it according to my analytics.
Today, my oldest son turns 19 and is nearing the end of his first year of college and taking baby steps toward being the man I see signs of him becoming. And it’s a good one.
Anyway, here’s my advice for him, courtesy of Mary Oliver. (Don’t read it too closely: We’re not the parents in the poem, at least I don’t think we are. He may say differently. It’s the message, not the details, that matters.)
To Be Human is to Sing Your Own Song
Everything I can think of that my parents
thought or did I don’t think and I don’t do.
I opened windows, they shut them. I pulled
open the curtains, they shut them. If you
get my drift. Of course there were some
similarities—they wanted to be happy and
they weren’t. I wanted to be Shelley and I
wasn’t. I don’t mean I didn’t have to avoid
imitation, the gloom was pretty heavy. But
then, for me, there was the forest, where
they didn’t exist. And the fields. Where I
learned about birds and other sweet tidbits
of existence. The song sparrow, for example.
In the song sparrow’s nest the nestlings,
those who would sing eventually, must listen
carefully to the father bird as he sings
and make their own song in imitation of his.
I don’t know if any other bird does this (in
nature’s way has to do this). But I know a
child doesn’t have to. Doesn’t have to.
Doesn’t have to. And I didn’t.