A Prayer for My Son

Leo's 14th Month


While writing a paper about Yeats’s A Prayer for My Daughter this week, I decided to write a prayer for my son. I thought I’d share it here, though it probably seems quite bizarre unless you read Yeats’s poem alongside it. While Yeats’s poem is pretty offensive in its suggestions about female beauty, I do think it’s a beautifully written testament to how trapped we are in our own experience. All we can do is distill that experience as wisely as possible for our children.
I was fascinated to find that as I thought about my hopes for my son, what emerged was the ability to pay attention, and to know how to filter out the world while letting others in. Please forgive this unusual post, and if you’d care to share I’d love to know:
What are your prayers for your child(ren)?
A Prayer for My Son
The country is fighting wars I can’t explain and the rain this summer has swelled a trickle to a creek at the end of the street. My son is old enough to run but too young to stop, and it’s tempting to pretend that I will raise him in the world where my parents raised me.
It’s tempting to pretend but in the time we’ve spent in this small-town summer rental, he has become a person and I have become dizzy. I see that he will be shaped by technology, that he will know ours is a country that can elect a black president, that supermarkets will not seem simple and pollution no less poisonous for being invisible.
May he learn early how to care widely, deeply, but not so deeply that he cannot reserve parts of himself for the calm that allows for true creativity, and the focus that is the one required gift we bring to those we love.
Narcissus, mistaking outward gaze for generosity, was fatally distracted from reality, and a whole generation is medicated for its inability to watch things that move slower than TV. Since boys must take on the ever-expanding world of facts and explain themselves if they don’t like competition, it’s no wonder they’re often unhappily bested in relationships.
In quiet I’d like to see him excel, and in the art of listening without forgetting to think; Learning to love people isn’t as easy as looking at them and liking what you see. Many smart women have talked themselves out of relationships, and many lonely men have tuned out everyone who cared for them.
May he grow to be like a warmly lit, well-kept house, so his mind may go and come comfortably. May he feel he can shut the door firmly, and may he want to open every window and curtain daily. May he love to be alone as much as he loves company.
My thoughts, because I have questioned myself and others and never accepted imperfection easily, interrupt too frequently, and fail to wait and see, though I know that it is only through the unknown that we are amazed. If a mind is welcoming and patient, it’s never shut inside on a stuffy August day or kept out in the February wind.
Feigned interest is the worst, so let him know his opinions and how to express them candidly. I’ve watched people lose themselves in who they should be, until fear of loneliness has isolated them completely. I’ve sat on their matching living room sets and wondered where they relax.
When passionate interest inspires, the self is unafraid to be remade, and learns that people make topics interesting, that conversation, writing, even thinking is impossible without strong relationships, and friendships grow most deeply in a comfortable home.
May he also find the kind of love that builds to constancy, where there are rooms to furnish together and enjoy apart; for loneliness and self-absorption are the dwelling places of the competitive, the distracted and the critical. How but in welcoming and entertaining does the self grow? Welcoming is a fine home, and entertaining is the best way to enjoy it.

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