The cover art of Reading with Dad by Richard Jorgensen depicts a worn leather chair. On it sits an open book, and beneath it, two pairs of shoes—one large and one small. The chair is not unlike the ones found in our home library. The small shoes are not unlike the lace-up Keds that have littered our house over the years in a rainbow of colors and in various stages of disrepair. The larger shoes are very much like those whose footprints my daughters try to follow. They are Dad shoes.
If one is to believe the predominant image presented in television commercials and sitcoms, then Dad is a hapless side-kick. While Mom deftly goes about the business of parenting, Dad forgets schedules, dishes out junk food for breakfast, and secures diapers with duct tape. As humorous as the hapless dad image may be, in real life, the role of dad is a complex and important one. The wonderful dads I know strike the right balance between protecting and empowering, between providing necessities and promoting self-sufficiency, and between accepting and expecting. While managing all of this, good dads also work to build relationship and to pass on their wisdom and their passions to their children. This is a tall order and seems to call for a Swiss Army Knife worth of tools. One of the best tools in that arsenal is reading.
When to read:
- Read routinely. There is a reason that, for generations, parents have read their children bedtime stories. Reading is a calming, comforting way to prepare for sleep. It becomes a shared special time between father and child.
The three of us snug in our overstuffed chair
(well two—it just seems like the third one was there)
The Cat In The Hat, my father, and I.
It’s just before bed and I’m warm and I’m dry.
- Reading with Dad
- Read for special occasions. Choose a story and make it part of your holiday tradition. Keep it in a special place and retrieve it to mark the occasion. That way, the story becomes part of your story.
- Read to comfort. Children have sad days and are often anxious about the future. Read books that address childhood fears or that shed a happy light on an upcoming milestone. Or just read anything at all as it will occupy their mind and imagination and give them a respite from their concerns.
- Read to make the ordinary extraordinary. Reading on a porch on a rainy day, with a flashlight in a blanket fort, or in front of a fire will add sense memory to your time together and, in years to come, will elicit fond thoughts of you and the book you read.
Then came a magical summertime night,
I was trying to sleep, but the moon was too bright,
when I heard my dad’s footsteps from out in the hall-
he couldn’t sleep either. So he whispered a call. . .
"Hey. . . you awake? Here, I’ve got just the thing—
let’s go out to the porch and sit on the swing.
You grab the flashlight, I’ll bring what we need
to send you to dreamland. Come on! Let’s go read!”
-Reading with Dad
What to Read:
- Read what your child likes. Some children like the silliness of Dr. Seuss, some the adventure of an orphan on a train, while others relish amazing facts about sharks and dinosaurs. Whatever it is, read it. Then read it over and over again.
- Read what you like. Reading provides an opportunity to share the things you value. Choose books on topics you love. Chances are they will learn to love them too. Choose books that teach life lessons. Fables and fairy tales contain age-old wisdom about what to seek and what to avoid in life. Find some that resonate with you. (Bonus: They often include talking animals and wicked witches.)
Then night after night it was pirates and kings,
then Wind in the Willows, then wizards and rings—
Tale after tale from the books that he had,
But the greatest adventure was reading with Dad!
-Reading with Dad
A typical Father’s Day post might include a list of literary gifts to give to Dad. This post is about a gift Dad can give to himself and to his children—Reading with Dad. As I was writing this, I spread some books on my desk to inspire me. One was a 1971 copyright edition of Mandy by Julie Edwards. My husband loved this book as a child and shared it with our daughters when they were young. The middle child, now an adult, walked by and grabbed it, saying, “I have to smell this.” She opened the cover and inhaled deeply. The bond between a child and a book can be very strong. The bond between a father and child is stronger still. Combine them, and you’ve made a memory that will last a lifetime.
Happy Father's Day!