23 October 1956
This morning as Kurt was leaving the house, Billy asked him to go over his German spelling words. Kurt would have liked to help Billy – but it was not the time to do so. Kurt had to go to work. I gave Billy his spelling in German. One page he knew fairly well. The second page, he hardly knew it all, and it was now time for Billy to go to school. I asked Billy why he waited until the last minute to go over his German when I was home all evening yesterday. Maybe he had other homework, I don’t know. Billy was irritated with my question, partly because of me, but, I believe, mostly because of annoyance over his unpreparedness.
After he left I got to thinking about it the German and Mr.Preuss’s comments regarding Bill’s algebra. Preuss is so right – Billy is – well, you can call it lazy – but a better word is undisciplined. We are going to have to pay more attention to his homework – even if he bucks us. And I believe here is where Kurt better take some interest and pay some attention. Maybe through German, it can be done. If Kurt, (I get too mad) could only take an interest in Bill’s German – (get across to Bill the need for proper preparedness and discipline; and through showing an interest in the German; and teach Billy thoroughness in German) he could automatically show Billy the importance of preparedness and help teach Billy discipline in his studies without Billy realizing what Kurt is doing for him. This is a natural opportunity. I don’t think Billy would resent it because he knows Kurt understands German and he will consider it a help rather than an interference – as might be the case with math, or competitiveness as might be the case with athletics.
Kurt, do I make myself clear? He is your son, and this is more important than taking the kids swimming at the Y. This may give you an opportunity to knit a solid father-son relationship with Billy. Maybe now is the time to stop worrying about your own handicap and the errors of your parents Kurt, how they failed you, and instead, not make the same mistake with Billy – help him to gain what he needs rather than worry uneasily about which direction he will take; work with Preuss knowingly and consciously, thus giving Billy the chance you didn’t have. I’ll try to take care of Nancy – you concentrate on helping Bill. It would be a dreadful shame to let Billy’s talents go to waste because we didn’t guide him along the path Preuss laid out to us. Through German you could swing it. Let’s hope he never feels we failed him like ourparents failed us because of ignorance, selfishness, and a lack of guidance.
This Kurt you can do better than I for Billy. Also, it is your place to do it – not mine. And Kurt, don’t let him get you down. Use the same patience with him you use on Nancy, the same kindness, even though you hate men because your father was a weakling who failed you. It isn’t always a woman who has the strength and the know-how. They assume that strength only because they think they have to work to fill a void left there by a man who is not a man. But that void is never filled properly when it is filled by the wrong person.
If you don’t draw Billy into you – he will turn into himself like you did with your mother and father. Maybe not as bad, but he will have to struggle and face life more and more alone and without any help or guidance. He will not have a real father. I have been able to help him for a long time – but the string is running out. Just by asking him how he is getting along – just my interest isn’t enough and hasn’t been for a while already. You have to give him a chance to identify himself with a father who loves him and is interested in him, who believes in his worth and will be ready and interested in a son’s welfare – not just worried and concerned.
And I don’t mean just indulgence and permissiveness – I mean guidance.