One morning, a good many years ago, a boy of six or seven years was starting away for the district school, about a half-mile down the road. His mother went to the gate with him, putting his lunch basket in his hand, and, as she kissed him good-bye, bidding him not to linger by the way, but to go straight to school, and come straight back. And she stood looking after him a little anxiously, for going to school was a new experience to him.
And the boy, going down the road, came to the bridge he had to cross, wondered if he could see a fish, stopped a moment to look into the water, and saw the prettiest fish with the prettiest yellow and red spots, and then saw another one, 'way down half way out from under a stone ledge. Then he suddenly remembered his mother's word and hastened on. But, just as he got off the bridge, there on the bush right in front was a butterfly with such beautiful, bright colours. And he put the lunch basket down, took his cap off, and creeping softly up to the bush, put his cap down on the butterfly—he thought.
But, when he began very cautiously to lift the cap off, the butterfly wasn't there. Oh! there it was just ahead on that next bush, and he went up to that. But it flew off before he got there. And he went after it. And there they went, butterfly and boy. But the fly kept ahead, and by and by the boy suddenly remembered his mother's words. He guessed he'd better get to school as soon as he could. He turned around to get the lunch basket at the bridge.
But the bridge wasn't there, and he couldn't see a thing familiar. He had gone so far that he had gotten clear away from anything he knew. So he quickly tried to get back, but he couldn't seem to find the bridge, nor anything that he knew. And he kept going till noon came, and hunger, but no lunch basket; then afternoon, and then shadows. At last he thought if he were to go through a field of corn he saw he would find the way back. But the corn was higher than the boy, and he was soon more lost than ever.
Then he remembered how his mother had told him often that if ever he was in trouble, if he'd pray, God would answer. Well, he thought he was in trouble now surely, and the only thing left to do was to pray. He knew two prayers, "Now, I lay me," and "Our Father." The first didn't seem just suitable; he decided on the second. So he kneeled in the tall corn, and with eyes shut and clasped hands began in a pretty trembly voice, "Our Father, which——"
Just then a man's voice said, "Well, Isaac, what is it?" And there was his father just behind him in the corn! And soon the tired-out boy was in his father's arms. And as they went back home the father talked quietly to his son, and told him how he had been thinking about him that morning, and had followed him thinking something might happen to him in his new experience of going to school alone. He had followed, and watched all day, and then helped God answer his prayer.
Then he said, "That's what God is like; you can't see Him, but He is always watching you, not to find fault, though He sees the faults, but to help; and He's always near," and a good deal more. And they reached home. The boy went to school, and to another school, and to college, and then to a seminary, and became a preacher, and then the president of a college in Eastern New York State.
In his preaching he referred frequently to God as a father in a very warm and tender way. And when he was asked how he got such a tender idea of God, he would smile, and tell his boyhood experience. What a blessed boy he was with such a father! And what a father! not only in his love, but in his wise using of an incident so small and commonplace.
Was a day ever better spent, even though the daily round was all broken up? That day's experience with his father did more in making him the man he came to be than all the college and seminary days could have done without it. You can see big fields through a very narrow chink in a fence. That incident would be only one of a lifetime with such a father.
He who lives with his children, breathing the fragrance of his strength into their lives, sharing with them his wisdom gotten in many a hard experience, nursing them up into finegrained vigour, imparting to them the highest ideals, jealous of letting any one else teach them first the higher hallowed things, sharing the difficulties and joys and sacred confidences—he is a father. And the father who has the father-heart, and gives himself to his children, will be receiving all afresh from them the spirit of confidence and simplicity, and love, that will make his own life young, even while the grey is creeping in over ears and temples.