father and son poetry

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Father / Son Poetry


There’s an old expression: “Keep it in the family.” The problem for writers? Family is one of the wellsprings of emotion, and from emotion comes words, sentences, paragraphs or stanzas.

We could clarify and say, “Keep the bad stuff in the family,” maybe. At least then you get half the territory to play in. The good stuff. Father / son poetry, for instance. The inspiration that brought Michael Milburn to write his poem “To My Son’s Girlfriend.”

Good poetry often answers a question. The more unusual the question, the better. For the speaker in this poem, the father of a teenage son who now has a girlfriend, that question might be “Why am I a little jealous? It doesn’t make sense.”

Or does it?

Read along and see if you feel some empathy for the speaker:


To My Son’s Girlfriend
Michael Milburn

I’m tempted to ask
what you see in him.
Although you probably
see the good that I see
I wonder if you realize
how much he is my handiwork,
or which of the qualities
you daydream about in class
are the ones that I take pride in,
his cordiality, for example,
or love of silliness.

It’s uncomfortable for me
to think of anyone else
loving him the way I do,
possessing him in a way
that only his mother and I
have ever possessed him,
and I can’t deny being jealous,
not so much reluctant
to share or relinquish him
as resolved to remind you
that he’s been around
longer than your love,
under construction if you will,
and that each cute trait
or whatever occurs to you
when you hear his name
I feel proprietary about,
like a woodworker
who makes a table
intending to sell it
but prays that no buyer
will recognize its worth.


In this case, writing about family seems safe enough. If you were the son in question reading the finished poem, would you object? Probably not. Probably you’d chuckle. Feel a little pride. Feel an extra burst of love for the “carpenter voice” of your dad stepping back and admiring his writing.

For this is more than the stated “jealousy” we see in the poem. This is also the passage of time, a milestone seldom noted along the way like, say, graduation or marriage or retirement.

This is about a son transitioning from boy to man. This is about a father suddenly reluctant to give up his handiwork when it is too late to grasp and hold on to the status quo.

The buyer already has cash on the table. On life goes on….