Boys and Parents by James Connolly, 1914.
Boys are always a great problem to parents, and parents are a never failing source of disappointment to boys. Every boy passes through two stages of development. First, he is convinced his father is the most wonderful person in existence, and next he cannot comprehend how an extraordinarily clever a boy as himself could have so commonplace a person for a father. The last stage of his existence as a boy is marked by a firm belief that boys are wiser than their parents. The fathers pretension to wisdom he looks upon with scarcely veiled contempt, whilst any advice on public conduct emanating from the mother he receives with a pitying condescension which that good lady generally accepts as proof of deep filial respect.
These tendencies of the boyish mind in its attitude towards the passing generation are not wicked, nor should they be too severely frowned upon. Within certain limits, they make for progress. The young generation that does not believe in itself, or that is too much absorbed in drinking wisdom from the cup of its ancestors, will never make much of a contribution to the advancement of mankind. Of all the false religions followed by sections of the human race that known as ancestor worship has had the most numbing and arresting effect upon human faculties. Such ancestor worship is based upon the belief that our ancestors knew everything, that the most that this generation can do is model itself upon the ideals of the past. Hence that the gauge that this generation must be measured is to be found in the degree to which it conforms to the letter, details and spirit of some long departed generation.
A modification of that theory, or rather a modern presentation of that religion is to be found in the doctrine that what was good enough for the father ought to be good enough for the son. That we should turn our backs upon the present, and seek our inspiration in past ages. Excessive obedience or conformity to the beaten paths travelled intellectually, nationally or socially by our own parents is often but a variant of the spirit of ancestor worship, and may lead to results quire as disastrous to the human race.
It should, therefore, be the duty of parents to make allowance for the intellectual development of the boys, and to begin early and realise that the debt the child owes to the parent it never pays to the parent. That which each generation receives from its fathers and mothers it repays to its own children, and they in their turn will repay it to theirs – with improvements. That is the law of social progress. That which is good enough for the parent ought not to be good enough for the children – else humanity would standstill.
That which we receive from our immediate ancestors, our parents, we work up into the warp and weft of the loom of our own existence, and then hand it on to our children – the finished produce of our lives, the raw material of theirs.
We have been false to our trust if that heritage does not pass from our hands more beautiful, more nearer perfection than when we received it.
The boy then should understand that the wisest of his elders does not cavil at his tendency to regard with suspicion the assumption of perfect wisdom on the part of those whom he has honoured by choosing as his parents. That doubt of the omniscience of the past may be the beginnings of wisdom for the present. But equally necessary is it for him to realise that he must build his future upon the experiences of his forerunners. The generations of the past will have suffered vainly if each succeeding generation duplicates their mistakes, commits again their errors. It would be a sad waste of precious human material if my boy did not profit by my blunders, but insisted upon making similar blunders on his own part. He should not start where I started; but should start where I let off, if possible.
It is to be hoped then that the boys will forgive us for temporarily occupying the ground they will someday claim as their own. We are but here as trustees, patiently awaiting their coming, and meanwhile in our own blundering and imperfect way trying to do our best to perfect, shape and beautify the heritage we received from our fathers and mothers. We pass it on, not as we received it, but, we hope, a little worthier of the race.
May the boys of the Fianna realise that it is their destiny to receive, work upon and transmit to another generation that priceless heritage of noble human endeavor and progress, and so realizing and strive ever to so shape their lives that they, as custodians, may be worthy of the trust.
James Connolly 1914
Article originally published in the Fianna Christmas Annual ‘Nodlaig na bhFiann’ in December 1914. The article was reproduced in the 1959 ‘Golden Jubilee’ Fianna Eireann souvenir publication.
The article published here was transcribed by Eamon Murphy from the 1959 publication.