A letter from a responsible Father to his son’s head master…

Here is a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to the head master of the school in which his son was studying,

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero: that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader…

Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend. It will take time, I know a long time, but teach, if you can, that a dollar earned is of more value then five of found.

Teach him, to learn to lose…And also to enjoy winning. Steer him away from envy, if you can, teach in the secret of quiet laughter.

Teach him, if you can the wonder of books…But also given quiet time wonder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on the green hillside.

In a school teach him, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat…

Teach him to have faith in his own idea, even if anyone else tell him they are wrong…

Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough.

Teach him to listen to all men…But teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good one that comes through.

Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tear.

Teach them to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidder but never to put a prize tag on his heart and soul.

Teach him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes the fine steel.

Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have some sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order, but see what can you do… He is such a fine little fellow, my son!


Now, this letter is very close to me as I had heard it while I was in my 9th class via one of my English teachers and had liked it very much. Its just today that incidentally, I got to read it after a long time. And I do feel the gravity of a responsible and affectionate father through Mr. Lincoln’s lines.

This letter is divided into many paragraphs, almost 12 of them in its body. Each expressing a different aspect of life. Each with a compelling power to think and to ponder upon. Each pregnant with meanings. Lines which reflect most of your own lives’. Ill try to explain what I conceived of them.

In the first two paragraphs, Mr.Lincoln speaks about his son to be taught to believe in truth and goodness. As he is a child, new to this world, innocent and truthful, he should be made aware of the fact that evil, atrocity, corruption and other unjust activities do exist in this world. People are there who carry out unjust activities on a selfish note. But he should have faith that even if evil exist in this world, there are angelic people too and this balance between the two kinds is the Law of this world. Indirectly somewhere, he tries to refer to the inner evil and the temptation towards bending down to it, which is prevenient in human blood (metaphorically speaking). But however overwhelming and attractive it may look, truth, goodness and honesty always prevails it. It may take a long time before he learns and experiences it himself. In this context, I must say, that I myself took a very long time to learn this, probably at the age of around 16 – 18 and I do believe that its better the earlier.

The 3rd paragraph refers to “take as it is and learn from it” characteristic. He says that one should cherish and rejoice his success, but keeping in mind not to hurt others morale or be selfish in actions. He also says not be disheartened in the case of failure, but to learn from it and to respect the fair success of the competitors. You may ask a question here that “ What if the other person won on grounds of unfair means, through unjust recommendations, through bribery ??? “. You can find a reference in the 5th paragraph, conveying that it is honourable to fail, than to win by cheating.

Mr. Lincoln also says that bookish knowledge does not complete our education. We also have to learn and appreciate Nature and its teachings and offerings to us. And its true, for example, modern aircrafts are being based on the principle on which birds are able to fly, underwater vessels are being closely related to aquatic animals’ movements. Nature has so much to offer to us and we should be greatful to It.

The next few paragraphs speak about the way he should behave in the society. The lines speak clearly for themselves and are very clear in their conveyance. The main part here is that one should be open to only the truth and should not believe in baseless rumours blindly however convincing they may seem to be. And even then, one should embrace the good part or the brighter side of it and disregard the rest. This is one of the key factors leading to sustained  happiness. It somewhere linked to the precautions taken following the first two paragraphs

The line “Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tear.” is my favourite lines. It’s so easy to read and admire it, but it is much more difficult to practice it in real life. Don’t believe me? try it for yourself. How deeply grave a person becomes when he is sad, and how desperately a person tries to hold back his tears when he feels like to shed them away. It is because of the prevalent norm in the society and the feeling of embarrassment that has led to such consequences. But have you ever wondered, how relaxed you feel when you let your emotions out, when you speak away what’s on your mind, when you get even a spark of happiness in your sad times??? I have felt the soothing effect. These attributes are build up within the individual and is very difficult to impart. Maybe that’s why, Even Mr. Lincoln wonders whether the school can teach that stuff to his son.

The next lines are self-explanatory and refer to the characteristics of a good human being. Only thing, that he has used heavy and complex predicates. 🙂

He also speaks about the importance of making people learn and understand in a balanced way, i.e. one should be “gentle in teaching but not liberal” in the approach. This is valid to all fields of teachings and learnings. It has been carried out since the ancient times. A student should be fairly rewarded for good work but should also be punished equally for a blunder or indiscipline according to me. Also, a liberal attitude towards a ward often results into a spoilt youth. And if you look around you, probably could find some examples. Also, austere and demanding behaviour towards them may lead to a lot of complications in the child’s behaviour including display of rigidness.

Finally, Mr. Lincoln couldn’t hold his emotions any longer and finally confesses that its a big task for both the headmaster and for his son to go through it. He knows it will be a difficult path for his son to follow, but he has no other option. And like any other parent, has faith in his child. And signs the letter as a “father “ (Dad) rather than Abraham Lincoln, President of United States. A thing to be noted.

It is the beauty and sincerity of the words that one needs to imbibe from this letter, rather than praising it for its sublimate characteristic. He has displayed the true will and the rightful responsibility of a caring and affectionate father towards his son.

The term education may have been used by one many a times. But very few people know its core meaning. Most of the time, it is misperceived as studies or knowledge or any other tangible means that assures a settled life. If you would ask any school student, Why they go to school, almost all would say to study. Maybe, even the parents send their children for the same reason. Ask yourself, or imagine yourself as a school student, the same question, probably the answer remains the same. How rarely do u find a student realizing the value and importance of education. Blame the society, blame the competition, but ultimately, its about you and you only who is responsible how you mature yourself. However big and heavy the books become as time passes in schools, let them advance the courses, the education still remains incomplete without the aspects of teachings brought about in the given letter.

Thus, what I feel, is  that Mr. Lincoln has described in his letter, a complete and ideal model of a complete, comprehensive and fruitful education.

He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.  ~ Clarence Budington Kelland on his father


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