A Guide to Growing Stately Trees

In honor of Father's Day this weekend I'm sharing a gem from my very own dad--who is, himself, a gem. I've always been curious about people--especially the whys and hows of human development and the ways parents and families can support that process. Knowing this, several years ago my dad wrote down for me his own philosophy of parenting, set in the form of a poem and rooted in the imagery of growing trees. 

 painting by Grant Wood

painting by Grant Wood

A Guide to Growing Stately Trees Comprised of Two Instructions and an Admonition

Instruction: Bend the Twig
If you want to grow a stately tree
You usually start with a tiny sapling,
Although some people grow their trees from seeds.
This is not an easy thing to do.

They say that as the twig is bent so grows the tree
And I think this is probably true.
So young saplings are snipped and pruned to give them shape and character
And staked out to give them rectitude.

And I think this is good and important to do,
Up to a certain point.
But who hasn’t seen and pitied dwarfed and stunted trees,
Crippled as saplings to please the grower’s sense of beauty, or ambition, or convenience.

Oh, and one more thing:
You can’t make an oak tree out of a willow sapling
No matter how much bending or binding
No matter that you desperately want an oak tree and you’ve been given a willow twig 

Instruction: Hug the Tree
And then of course at a certain point,
Which admittedly varies from species to species,
The twig cannot be bent or staked out further to any good purpose.
It has become a tree.

It has become shade to someone weary from the road,
A refuge to those seeking solace, or a place for visionary youth to pray.
It has found its own reason for its existence
Fulfilling the promise of the seed and the shaping of the sapling.

What then? What more does the tree need from you?
Well, and this is important, trees never lose their need for warmth and belonging.
They need support to brace their sagging branches from the burdens of too much to bear,
And time-tested remedies to fight the infestations and blight that will surely sap their souls.

They need to know that they are part of a forest,
That they belong to a family of trees,
These graceful willows, flamboyant maples and sturdy oaks,
And that this kinship of family extends forward and backward beyond the reckoning of time.   

Admonition: Bend the Knee
Finally, a gentle word of counsel to you who would grow trees.
Give thanks to the Lord of the Forest.
Give thanks for the seeds.
For the soil and moisture that nourish them;
For the seasons that refine them,
And for entrusting us with their care.
For the forest in its majestic splendor,
For the music of the breeze in its leaves,
Its diversity of colors and shapes that give it beauty and purpose;
And for the Sun, its eternal beckoning call to seeds and saplings
To leave the frozen ground and reach for the warmth and light of the heavens above. 

M. T. Bentley (my dad)
February 2008
Logan, Utah

 My dad and me, NYC, 1971ish

My dad and me, NYC, 1971ish

A few more father gems:


Happy Father's Day weekend, US folks! Here's to the dads and the father figures who've nurtured our growth and tended to our needs.