There is a story about a boy and his relationship with a tree as he goes through life. It was written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. It was first published in 1964 and has subsequently been translated into dozens of different languages.
The tree always provided the boy with what he needed:
As a boy he swung on its branches, and rested in its shade. He was nourished by its fruit. He whittled it’s branches and crafted fine wooden toys. As the boy grew older, he required more and more of the tree. The tree loved the boy unconditionally and gave him all he asked for. The ultimate act being
when, the tree lets the boy cut it down so that he can build a boat (I have heard a version where he builds a house for his family) in which he can sail away leaving the treestump behind. Many years later, the boy, now an old man, returns, and the tree sadly apologises for having nothing left to give, But the old man replies that he doesn’t need much, other than a quiet place to sit and rest. The old tree stump being a perfect place for this, the man takes up the seat and the tree was very happy to still be needed and useful to the boy now an old man.
The story has generated controversy and debate since it was first published. Some arguing over the tree being selfless or merely self-sacrificing, and the boy being selfish or reasonable in his demands of the tree.
My interpretation - contentious or otherwise is thus:
As a seller of wooden toys the story appeals because it is about a tree and demonstrates so profoundly the value of trees and how they do indeed give. I am a firm believer in preserving our planet and it’s natural forests for our children. Trees play a vital role on our earth.
The story is also about a boy, playing and growing through his play, and asking relatively little while he plays as a young boy - what a powerful message that is!
The tree is symbolic of a parent, and I believe a good one. I love that the tree nourishes the child, this is one of the very first fundamental, basic acts mothers typically carry out for their babies within the first minutes, days, weeks and months of life (even in the case of babies bottle fed from birth, in all but the most extreme examples, mum or dad gives those feeds).
The tree plays with the child with it’s branches- I conjure up images of a parent holding a child up high and playing rough and tumble
And Ultimately the tree allows the child, now a young man, to be independent and provides the vessel for that freedom. In so doing there is a part of the tree always with the young man prodividing the foundation and helping him stay a float/ keep safe. I believe helping our children to independence is the ultimate parenting goal.
The boy returns when he needs respite and the tree is there to receive him as an old man.
The criticis say that the tree gives selflessly and the boy takes selfishly however I argue that the tree gets great pleasure out of giving, and being able to provide for the boy, and the boy only takes what he needs from the tree at the time that he needs it.
Mostly I relate to the story as a mum, being a parent is so profoundly analogous to this story for me. If I could be everything my child needed, what an absolute pleasure that would be, and if my child could sail away confidently on the body of what I have helped her gain through life, how wonderful and then for her to return to me when she needs respite and for me to still have something to give, Isn't that the ideal every parent strives for?
Should the tree's giving be contingent on the boy's gratitude? If it were, if fathers and mothers waited on reciprocity before caring for their young, then we would all be doomed.