This letter was received by my Grandfather from his friend, Alex Snith, after the birth of Lad, the first of six children born to Alfred Duryee Guion and Arla Mary Peabody Guion. It’s a letter full of advice from a father to a new father, advice that I believe Grandpa took to heart.
April 22, 1914
This is the third time I have started a letter to you since the little pink notice arrived. It is going this time if I stay up all night to write it.
Congratulations don’t quite express it. Having been through it twice myself and expecting another little one any time now, I can appreciate something of how you feel. I wish
you, Arla and Alfred the great long life and lots of happiness. May he be the chap his father and mother hope he will be – and then some.
I hope Arla has recovered fully by this time and the happy family is rapidly getting acquainted on the new basis. For there will be a readjustment all along the line you’ll find.
Now I’m just going to ramble along without much rhyme and less reason. I’m not going to try to impose any mature reflections on you (if I am capable of such) but just think things out on paper until I get tired of writing. You know you’ll read this in about 1/10 the time it takes me to jot it down, provided it is legible. First off the reason I haven’t written sooner is that I wanted plenty of time and nothing else on my mind when I got to. Second I have been so busy that I have not had until now such an opportunity. And third I am becoming the ____ of writer’s cramp. I haven’t done any writing since Friday so my arm isn’t bothering me tonight. One of the things I think of when I hear of a little fellow coming into the world is, what has the world in store for him? And, conversely, what will he give to the world? It is a mighty good thing for civilization or I might say, mankind, that childbirth is seldom the result of much deliberation. If it wise I am convinced that there would be lots fewer children, but what does it mean? Well, better fellows then I have attempted to answer that question. I don’t know as I can. But I’m going to let you in on some of the things that have passed through my head more than once in connection with it. You have entrusted to your care one of the most difficult problems you’ll ever run up against. I don’t mean this in a warning or foreboding manner at all. It is just a matter of fact. Difficult problems make life interesting. But one of the things that is most of forcefully born in upon me is, there is a real necessity for my living. Before Florence had these little ones the loss of my life would not have been nearly so serious a matter to her as it is now. She could have gotten along very well without them. But she has them now and I am responsible for them. I’ve got to live and work and be a decent fellow for them as well as for her and myself now. I can’t be as foolhardy as I’d like to be sometimes. I can’t be as irresponsible. I can’t be a marker for I’ve got to hand on a clear inheritance to them. I looked up to by that. That brings me up with a jolt sometimes. I’ve got to deserve being looked up to. When they get to a place where their judgment will be passed upon me, I don’t feel I can afford to be a disappointment to them. I want them to feel that they must pass on to their children a better and nobler life than I passed along to them, but not because mine is ignoble. Now maybe you won’t get my slant on this. I don’t know as I’ve got it myself, but I know I ought to be trustworthy and true for my wife and myself and society generally. But somehow these youngsters are an additional bracer and steadier. Maybe you’ll feel as I do about it later and understand what I’m driving at.
Then you find it will make a tremendous difference to Arla. You have borne it until now. Well you’re it now, old man, in a different way. You are the father of her son. That will make a difference you’ll find. I’ve heard a lot about the baby cutting the old man out. In a sense he does. But not in a sense that counts. You’ll see how she worries about the little chap. She wants to tell you all about him. She’ll note everything he does and you’ll find yourself an audience every evening instead of being the disclaimer yourself. You may feel like a square peg in a round hole for some time but finally the edges will get rounded off and you’ll find you fit. In fact you’ll find you always fits it.
Another thing I think of often, is how am I going to fit with these children of mine as they come along? I guess that depends almost entirely on me. Florence says it does. I found she knows something about it to. I want to respect them as well as want them to respect me. And out of my own bitter experience I want to stick by them through thick and thin. Whether I can respect them or not I never want one of my boys to feel that the old man feels he is no longer responsible for them. I never want to say no matter what the provocation may be “You are no longer a son of mine.” because I feel that is a lie. They will always be my boys, no matter how hard I try to persuade myself to the contrary. One of the things I find I must do is to curb my temper. And also I must try to realize how much I can dominate them physically and mentally for the formation part of their lives. I know that I can contribute largely to whether or not they become strong men, physically and morally, and I realize it with considerable gravity. I know I’ve made mistakes already. But I’m trying not to make the same ones twice.
Well, in a certain sense that’s one phase of it. The other is the one you’ll enjoy more. It won’t be long before the youngster and you will begin to form an acquaintance. You’ll find that next to Arla, you are the most important thing in this little fellow’s life. He will be laying for you when you come home. If you could hear the hubbub my arrival at night causes, you can understand what I mean when I say it warms you up inside no matter how tired you are. I can’t get in the house and get my things off before they are swarming over me. And until they get quite sleepy there is no use in my trying to do anything that doesn’t include them. I have tried it sometimes for one reason or another. They don’t understand it. And they want to know, at least the older boy does, when it will be Saturday and Sunday, for daddy will be home. I’d like to go on but Florence said, “I told Arla you’d tell them about the house” i.e. “if you are rambling come down to earth before it’s too late”.
He goes on for another 6 pages with a description of their new house, the lot and a drawing of the floor plan – including a room for Al, Arla and Lad – and where the house sits on the lot and ends with:
Best regards to you and Arla and Alfred the second.
Hope to see you soon.
Alex R. Smith, Jr.
Tomorrow, another Tribute to Arla covering the years 1915 to 1922.
On Monday I’ll begin posting a week of letters written in 1942. Lad is expected home from Venezuela, Dan, Ced and Dick are all still in Alaska.