Only If

I don’t think of my father often.Yet, I grew up hearing him rehearse Kipling’s “If” as the greatest life mantra. And even though I was a fragile four year old girl playing with my Barbie dolls at the time – and not the son the poet is addressing – the poem stuck and till today represents not only my dreamer father but a stance for stoicism and resistance to adversity.

Freudian and feminist commentary aside – I always wondered why he chose this particular poem – its emotional effect still reminds me of my first childhood life lessons. No, it did not matter I was not the son; it was the same being a daughter. Is it a great poem and would Gloria Steinem think it the right one to teach to a four year old girl? And better yet, would I teach it to my own daughter today?

T. S. Eliot insisted it was not, describing it instead as ‘great verse’ and Orwell called it a ‘good bad’ poem when he was describing Kipling as a prophet of British imperialism. Are such old-fashioned virtues of tenacity, grit, courage and purpose as articulated in If still relevant?

Sometimes it’s OK to forget modernity and simply go back inside the seemingly simplistic, primordial and slightly out-of-date. The lessons learned go beyond the historic – occasionally at a deeper core.

So, here’s to you, dad, wherever you are…Your granddaughter is listening.

If …

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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