Holding Forth no image

Published on October 23rd, 2013 | by Richard Black


Shel Silverstein, Therapy, and the Ruin of Modern Society

In addition to his contributions to pornography and poetry Shel Silverstein also dabbled in children’s literature. Shel wrote a lot of weird shit for us kids back in the 1980’s but the book that really fucked me up was, and still is, “The Giving Tree.”

“The Giving Tree” was one of the staples my parents read to my sister and I growing up. Somehow it snuck into the weekly rotation despite the fact that neither my sister nor myself wanted to have anything to do with the book. It may have had something to do with the fact that my parents were in the process of a divorce or the fact that neither one of them could read the book without leaking a few tears or bawling outright but I never took to the the tale.

Despite out protests “The Giving Tree” was read on a regular basis instead of something more age appropriate like “The Bernstein Bears Floss Their Teeth” or “The Shining” my sister and I were subjected to Shel’s unique idea of parental duty.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to have never read the book I’ll be happy to put the plot in a nutshell. There are only two characters; a little snot of a boy and a tree. The tree is a giver and the boy is a little shit.

During the course of the book, and as the boy grows older, the tree cheerfully agrees to have itself stripped of its fruit, limbs, and finally trunk all to provide for the boy with the means to buy a car or a house or fund some sort of shady import/export business.

At the very end of the book the boy, now an old man, has nothing and (guess what?) goes back to the giving tree that is now nothing more than a stump.


The tree asks what it can do for the old man now that it has no limbs or fruit or anything else to give. The old boy (whose family has, apparently and wisely, left him or died) simply responds that he is tired and sits down on the stump of the tree that has given him everything.

I could be wrong but I distinctly remember my father sobbing at one point once he finished the book and who could blame him? I’m pretty certain my sister and I went to bed in tears as well.

As an older and somewhat more mature reader I understand that Shel probably meant for this to be a heartrending tale. Readers feel for the tree and even for the old man at the end of the book.

That said I’m fairly certain I have years of therapy and a metric ton worth of pills to blame on Shel and my parents for reading me “The Giving Tree” every two weeks. But that’s my own issue.

What isn’t are the millions of children and parents who thought that the tree had a pretty good idea, that unconditional love is all that is required when raising a child despite all consequences. These are the helicopter parents who badgered their children’s teachers in high school and college for better grades. They harangued their kids’ boss for more pay and better benefits and essentially shepherded in a generation of clusterfucks who need to be coddled into working for a paycheck without a trophy for participation.

I like to think that Shel is rolling over in his grave when he sees how his book has been misinterpreted. Then again Shel might have better things to do on the astral plane. Until he tells me otherwise I’ll continue to raise my daughter without cutting off my arms or legs to build her a home or buy her a sporty little car.


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