By Greg Clark, December 12, 1925
How many years make a man?
The climb from four years to twenty is long. To a very little boy, when he first thinks of it, it wears the incomprehensibility of infinity.
He goes to bed at night four years, two months and two days old. He wakes the next morning, twelve hours older. It’s tedious.
“When do I get to be a man, dad?” he asks me.
“Well, it is quite a process. First you are a little boy, then you are a little bigger boy, then you are a little bigger, and so on. Presently you go to school…”
“But if I wear my cowboy hat,” he interrupts, “am I a man.”
“No. It is a matter of time, of days, months and years.”
“If I take my medicine, am I a man?”
“Oh, I see? Yes, son, there is more to being a man than years. I see your point.”
“Well, if I have my cowboy hat on and take my medicine, then I’m a man.”
“You’re getting hotter.”
“Anyway,” he says, pressing in earnestly, “if I fall and don’t cry, and I have my cowboy hat on and took my medicine before that, then I am a man?”
“You want to be a man? Don’t you?”
“Yes. Then I can be with you.”
It is statements like this that so often cause daddies to pick up their papers, inexplicably, and retreat to their dens. It seems as if you can’t show daddies your love.
I retreated. Still stinging from that little barb of love. I pretended to myself to be reading. Suddenly the silence downstairs was burst by a crash and a thump. I stepped to the stair-head. The boy, somewhat bent, was staring up with a rueful expression, his cowboy hat cocked over one eye.
“I fell off my bicycle,” he said in a small voice, “and I didn’t cry.”
“Good man!” I said, and returned to my paper.
A moment later, there was another crash and thud downstairs, followed by silence, then the voice, more confident, floated up:
“Dad, I fell off again and I didn’t cry!”
“Be careful, young fellow.”
Hardly had I found my place when there came up another crash, more terrifying than the last. I went to the stairs. He was coming up to me, hurriedly, and holding one knee.
“I fell off again,” he said, climbing, “and I hurt myself and I didn’t cry.”
“But what’s the idea?” I demanded.
“Daddie, you didn’t say ‘good man’.”
“Good man! But you mustn’t tumble about like that.”
He took my hand and followed me to the den, where he climbed aboard me in my chair.
There was almost a swagger in his manner now, his cowboy hat awry.
“If I fall and don’t cry,” he said. “I am a good man, aren’t I?”
“Indeed you are.”
“If I fall all the time and don’t cry, then I will hurry up, won’t I?”
“Hurry up to get to be a man,” he said. “So I will fall a lot of times and soon I’ll be a man?”
We stared long at each other’s colored eyes, shiny eyes.
“Dad,” he whispered presently, “rub my poor knee.”