“SO!” thundered Rudyard Senior. “You think yourself a man now, do you?”
Rudyard Junior cowered into the corner of his spartan bedroom as his stupendous father’s imposing shadow undulated across the floor.
“Answer me, boy!” Rudyard Senior roared.
“Y-yes, Sir ... ” his son stammered, gazing cow-eyed up at the Great Man.
With an ominously deliberate footstep, his father fully entered the room. The door behind him seemed to creak shut of its own accord, the sound oddly complementing the boy’s sense of dread and awe. “And what is it that makes you think that you are now a man, BOY?” The silhouette could not disguise the profoundest sneer in its tone.
“W-well, Sir ... it’s my eighteenth birthday today, and so legally – ”
“Legally.” Rudyard Senior interrupted, his voice now ominously low. “Legally,” he repeated. Then he shook his head in profoundest disappointment. “Woe unto the world, if we let the mere, impersonal letter of the law bestow unto us the honorific of Man!” The immense shadow took another step closer to his semi-supine son. Big hands clenched and unclenched. “Well, let me tell you, boy, exactly what it truly takes to be a man.”
“But if ... if ... if I'm fully grown, and old enough, surely ... ”
“IF? Silence! Listen to me now, boy. ‘If I’m fully grown’ be damned. 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...” Rudyard Senior paused. “Are you writing this down, boy?” he barked.
Rudy Junior leaped to his feet and scrabbled around for a pen and paper. 'Y-yes, Sir,' he mumbled, starting to scribble down the latest of his father’s dictatorial tirades.
“IF,” his father continued loudly, “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 ...” he paused for a moment, thinking, twirling his immaculately barbered handlebar moustache as the sound of his son's furious scribbling filled the room. Momentarily satisfied, he continued, enunciating each and every if like a beatitude. “IF you can dream … and not make dreams your master; IF you can think...and not make thoughts your aim…” the Great Man’s voice thundered on, pummelling his already cringing son’s form further into what he would later consider the carpet of his self-esteem; a litany of ideologies and ifs as seemingly unattainable as the very moon. Rudy Junior just kept taking down his stupendous father’s lofty dictation miserably.
Finally, his tirade ended: “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…” he said something else, but Rudy Junior had heard enough and had clapped his hands over his ears to drown out his terrible father, only to remove them again a moment later, trembling.
“… you’ll be a man, my son! And not one moment before!” Rudyard Senior finally concluded. With a disdainful snort, he stamped out of the room.
A moment later, he burst back in again, snatched up the paper on which his son had dutifully written down his dictated words, muttered “I’ll have that, thank you! I want to work on the ending,” and left again, leaving his dejected boy, head bowed, crouching fetal in the dark.
© Al Pine 2021
(image by OpenClipart-Vectors / 27402 of Pixabay)