It wasn't easy. The last three years were solitary ones, after my only sibling left for school and work. My dad was never really home, although he spent a lot of time in one corner of the living room reserved exclusively for himself.
We lacked the means and the space for him to have that extravagant expression of self-indulgence known as a "Man Cave," so he settled for a corner containing an end table with drawers, a small book shelf. and an old upholstered chair. I sat there once, shortly after his passing, twelve years after I had launched my own career and moved away. I had come back for his funeral.
There were two things that stick in my mind. His chair, covered by an old blanket, had no seat cushion. His "Man Cave" chair had a seat of solid wood. I suppose there might have been a message in that.
On the wall there was a message, in the form of a small, framed poem: "If," by Rudyard Kipling. I must have read it some time, but the poem worked its influence on me more by absorption, without logic, a subtle but penetrating influence.
Kipling isn't read much any more, but his poetry is easy to find online. He was born in India in 1865of English parents, and became well-known for his poetry, short stories, and tales for children, He was famous in his day (he won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 and even made the cover of Time magazine in 1926) but nowadays is known more for his 1894 "Jungle Book" that inspired a Disney cartoon movie in 1967. Two names from Jungle Book, Mowgli and Baloo, come directly from Kipling.
His poem "If," is short, four stanzas, 292 words. But if appears fourteen times. It's all about manhood, and the prerequisites for it. Beginning (logically) with "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you," continuing with "dream - and not make dreams your master," and "bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools." There are twenty-two more requirements, but if you can do all these things, then, "Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"
Being very young, I thought that everything I read was true. I don't know where this copy of the 1910 poem came from, what my dad thought of it, or even what Kipling himself thought of it. As nearly as I can remember, the poem was never read to me nor was it recommended to me that I read it.
That didn't matter. Gradually, certain phrases like the ones quoted above would come to mind, or I would see them in print somewhere.
For a while, I was so beguiled by the exquisitely-expressed conditions for manhood that I became a Rudyard Kiplian manhood fundamentalist, not realizing that the poem, at once earnestly idealistic and realistically unattainable, was not the only path to manhood. In fact, neither my father nor Rudyard Kipling even came close. Nor did I.
Eventually I took a more logical look at "If." A chapter of a book on logic called "Disjunctive and Conditional Arguments" spelled out an alternate course I have since adopted. I am now serenely confident about my own masculinity, Rudyard Kipling's verse notwithstanding.
While a phrase containing "if" can be seen logically as "If A is true, then B is true," that does not mean that "If any part of A is false, the B is false as well." Kipling would have had to write the equivalent of "If A (and only A) is true, then B is true."
A small point, but formal logic depends on small differences. Finding that out, I can now enjoy Kipling's poems but not find them threatening. I never did want the whole world and everything within it. Come to think of it, I don't much want my own "Man Cave" either.