The idea is older than Sir Isaac Newton, but it is his quotation that comes to mind:
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.
The words express a kind of humility intrinsic to the Western conception of masculine excellence. My intent, however, is to explore what lies behind the words—or, in this case, underneath.
Let us spare a moment to think of the giant.
Whatever I have achieved and whatever value it might accrue is owed to my place upon the shoulders of a giant, and his upon another. I might trace this lineage all the way to Adam, and thence to God himself. The gift I have received in this way is a treasure beyond reckoning, beyond value in gold or silver, and yet never once has this giant asked that his contribution be repaid or even remembered. Never once has he complained that my feet are dirty, that my shoes are pointy, or that I am heavy—and, at the risk of stretching the metaphor too far, I can assure you that all of those things are true.
Whatever we have achieved as a culture, and as a species, is owed to these giants of ages past and to those who still shoulder our burdens today. Far from thanked and revered, they are too often mocked and reviled, and yet to write about that would do disservice to these giants, who are too wise, too generous, and too great of heart to hold us accountable where we fail.
In the face of such a loving, indomitable spirit I cannot help but feel awe and shame in equal measure. My throat tightens. My voice fails me. So I write.
I hope that those of you who, like me, have stood upon the shoulders of a giant, will set aside a moment to remember all that he has done and all that he has sacrificed. Maybe even say thank you.
Thank you, Dad.