My 7 year old son is reading aloud! I should be so proud. Yet, he is reading the prose of Super Baby Diaper 2, another semi-literate installment in the Captain Underpants series.
I cringe at every sentence beginning with “Me want…,” and yet I’m glad he’s reading something other than those other puerile Scholastics “classics,” the retelling of Star Wars by Lego characters.
At the same time I’m hearing him read aloud, I am reading an opinion piece in the Saturday Wall Street Journal Review (my favorite section of the week) on the power of memorization of poetry and prose (“How Memorization Makes Words Live“). Memorization has become an ante-diluvian concept in our internet-ready world, looked on as backward as bothering to learn the multiplication tables. Yet, I believe, as the author does, that poetry is learned in a different way when you carry it around with you, ready to jump out at the strangest times and with the most abstruse connections. Popular music does this the same, at least when it’s written well. The lyrics of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Joni Mitchell are for me as close as the words of Frost, Yates, Eliot, and Prévert. Kids can find their analogues in modern music (God knows where) to understand the power of holding words inside themselves.
And this is where I connect reading to money. In posts long ago, I’ve pondered the use of allowances. As the wise Harvey Beck, of ActiveAllowance.com, once told me, the way parents give allowances is often a reflection of their political and economic beliefs. Some parents give an allowance for doing jobs around the house, connecting cash with work. Others communicate that the family is like a commune; every person does their jobs and an allowance is part of the bargain, but isn’t paid for getting the work done. Still others may just pay for specific tasks. We give our kids an allowance responsibilty-free,which I suppose reflects the effect of living in San Francisco for fifteen years. The kids get money for some tasks, especially those associated with work experience and things I’d rather not do myself, like stuffing envelopes. But the real money-maker for them is in reading and poetry. $2 for every “real” book they finish and $2 for every poem over 20 lines. Motivated kids could make a mint that way. Instead my son is happily reading “Super Diaper Baby 2, The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers.” Go figure. He’s done the price/value correlation and has decided that entertainment trumps industry, at least before noon on a Saturday.
We love the picture books by David McCauley (The Mosque, The Cathedral, The City, and many others) because both my son and I learn a lot. They are a springboard for other discussions and a reference point when we are out looking at other things. The best kids books for dads to read are books like these that are written in a way that interest and inspire both dads and kids.
That’s why I like the new book Letters for Freedom: The Civil War, a hand-on history book. It’s a thorough examination of the causes and history of the Civil War. The story is well-written and compelling and had my son and I eager to read another 4-6 pages each evening to learn more about the Civil War. My son liked the hands on features, though I don’t know if either of us was really enamored with the centerpiece of the book: the actual fragments of letters written by soldiers, officers and Abraham Lincoln during the conflict.
We both learned a lot reading the book, which wasn’t too heavy handed about which side was “right,” though slavery is covered in enough detail to give kids a lot to think about (for example, despite a lot bucolic photos of slaves in fields, most male slaves died before the age of 30). About half of the book is dedicated to the causes and aftermath of the war and half to the major battles and turning points. Dads, with the benefit of a lifetime of geography, might actually start to understand the enormity of what occurred to our young country and what a miracle it was that the country came back together.
$16.99 for ages 8+
Todd Patkin and we share a lot of the same philosophy about the importance of dads. It was fun to get a chance to ask him some questions that get at the heart of some of the themes in his new book.
Q: You’ve written an important book that touches on an important aspect of parenting, Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. What is the one thing you think parents should know about your work?
The biggest takeaway for parents is the importance of being happy. I don’t just mean trying to raise happy kids—I mean being happy yourself, and being happy when you’re with your kids. Our children learn to live their own lives by watching how we live ours. They notice when we’re too hard on ourselves and don’t show ourselves enough love, and when they see that, they’ll grow up thinking that unhappiness is an acceptable way to live. However, by modeling what positive priorities, outlooks, and attitudes look like to your children, you’ll give your kids the best chance of growing into content, positive, and fulfilled adults.
Q: What are your feelings about the role of the father in child development?
Fathers are incredibly important in their children’s development. Kids want our approval so badly, even though we may not realize it. In many cases, what fathers see as annoying behaviors or acting out are their children’s attempts to catch our attention and impress us. They watch everything we do, and if they see you absent or unwilling to spend time with them, they’ll learn that working is more important than family. However, if they see you present and engaged, they’ll learn balance. At a time when many fathers perhaps haven’t been as engaged due to insane work schedules, it’s more important than ever for us to be purposeful about setting aside time to spend with our kids.
Q: What is the best thing dads can do in raising children?
Not just dads, but parents in general, are often guilty of thinking about work or bills or the car repair while ostensibly spending time with their kids. Remember that kids are smarter than we often give them credit for. They know when your mind is elsewhere, and when that happens they’ll feel unimportant. Over time, your relationship will suffer. One of the best things you can do as a dad is to be there—in body and in mind—when you’re with your children. And as long as you’re present, why not also try to be the funnest father around, someone your kids can truly have a ball with?
Q: What is the biggest parenting mistake dads can make in raising their children?
The biggest mistake dads can make is not loving their kids for who they are. You may think that you’re doing your child a favor by trying to mold him in a certain way—but that logic only holds so far. Trying to force your child to be who you want him to be, and not who he really is, will do him a great disservice. Trust me—your kids will be happy adults only if they too learn to love and be okay with themselves as they are and for who they are. So even if you wanted your son to be a star athlete, you’d better love him just as well if he prefers the arts, and be cheering loudly at all of his concerts.
Q: Is there one practical parenting tip you’d suggest to dads?
In some ways, dads tend to be very simple. We think about work for large portions of our day (after all, our jobs are how we provide for and support our families!), and because so much of our time is spent at “the office,” that’s what we tend to prioritize. We know we’ve got to have a great meeting, for example, or make sure that a particular delivery gets made—so we plan for and devote a lot of thought and energy to achieving those goals. I advise treating time with your kids the same way! Purposefully set aside an hour with your children in the evening for starters, and put some thought into what you need to do to make sure they have a ball. If you spend as much time planning kid time as planning work time, you’ll be amazed by how positive the results are!
Q: It’s been said that the greatest regret aging men have is that they didn’t spend more time with their kids and paying more attention on raising kids. How do you feel about that statement?
I agree one hundred percent! Believe me, I know how tempting it is for men to focus their lives on other things. It’s easy to believe that you need to be at work longer than the standard eight hours or so in order to provide the best life for your family. It’s easy to become addicted to achievement and accolades. However, it’s very painful and difficult to wake up when you’re 60, 70, or 80 and realize that you really screwed up. At that point, you’ve missed out on the opportunity to be an active part of your kids’ growing-up years. No matter how committed you are to your career, remember that your most important and rewarding job will always be “dad.”
Q: Every generation worries that their kids aren’t strong enough to handle the real world. Do you feel kids need to be “toughened up” by experiencing rough times?
I think it’s great for kids to experience disappointing times, like being cut from the baseball team or not getting a prominent role in a dance recital, for example. No one’s life is perfect, and we can all expect to face obstacles and disappointments from time to time. It’s best if children realize this before they leave the love and support of their parents’ homes. I truly believe that it’s a blessing when kids go through tough times…but only when they happen naturally. Parents certainly don’t need to make it their “job” to toughen their kids up!
Q: Or conversely, do you think kids need to be smothered with love to give them storehouse of good feelings with which to deal with the inevitable challenges of life in the real world?
Again, I agree 100 percent! I believe that our job as parents is to give our kids love, love, and more love. They should never, ever doubt how much they mean to us or how special they are. However, it is not our job to make our kids’ lives easy. I understand the impulse to shield your children from pain, but it is a mistake to protect them from everything. Don’t do for them what they could and should do for themselves. For example, think about the girl whose father takes her car in for services and fills it up with gas because he doesn’t want her to be gawked at, or the boy whose mother very heavily edits his school papers. These kids will be fine until they leave home—and then they’ll be at a disadvantage because of their lack of self-sufficiency. Try to be realistic about what your kids are capable of doing by themselves, and graduate these responsibilities as they grow.
Q: Has anyone inspired you to be a better father? If yes, who?
Actually, I inspired myself to be a better father. To be more specific, the nervous breakdown I had at age 36 inspired me to change a lot about my life. I had been driven by perfectionism and the fear of not measuring up, and even though I had achieved career and monetary success, I was plagued by depression and anxiety. My breakdown made me see that I had been focusing my life on the wrong things. I realized that I wasn’t happy with myself as a dad because I had been at work all the time. I looked at the person I had been, and I knew that I no longer wanted to screw up the most important task in my life. Without a doubt, the years after my breakdown have been the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. My son is always my priority—and we’re both better off for it.
Enter to win a copy of John Lennon, Life is What Happens, to be fedex-ed to you before Christmas.
John Lennon –Life is What Happens celebrates the life and times of one of the most influential musicians in pop music history. A singer, songwriter, artist, social activist, husband and father, Lennon’s genius inspired a generation — and continues to do so today some 30 years after his death.
This fascinating read features rare images of Lennon juxtaposed by the myriad pop-culture memorabilia created from the height of Beatlemania into the late 1970s and the Plastic Ono Band. Chronicling his musical career, the book includes hundreds of classic photographs, dozens of quotes by and about Lennon, and personal reminiscences from fans and celebrities recalling Lennon’s impact on their lives.
All you have to do to enter is suggest a last minute gift idea for mom, and write it in the comments section below.
Please put your email in the form where it asks for email – don’t worry – it won’t show up in the comments. Contest closes Friday, December 17 at midnight, and is open to US addresses only. Read rules here.
Life is What Happens
By John M. Borack
Published by Krause Publications
October 2010;$26.99US/$30.99CAN; 978-1-4402-1391-5
John M. Borack is a Beatles collector and a Southern California-based music journalist whose reviews, columns and feature articles have appeared in periodicals such as Goldmine and Amplifier. Borack has also contributed to The Trouser Press Guide to ’90′s Rock, and has penned the extensive notes for Rhino Records’ Poptopia! Power Pop Classics of the ’80′s, and has served as executive producer for the CD compilations Right to Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited.
In Forty Weeks of Keeping Your Head Down Bill Bounds has written an entertaining first person look at the baby process. This genre, pioneered by Grant Eppler in What to Expect When She’s Expecting, gives the reader a very personal view of what happens on the long road of pregnancy. While Bounds’ experiences are personal, his experience is common to us all, complete with OB/GYN visits, scary moments, and the eventual joy of a birth scene. Other new dads can read the book front to back, or pick up and scan the chapters for approaching or familiar territory.
Forty Weeks of Keeping Your Head Down is organized in short chapters, with titles that are sometimes very clear on content, and some which are completely enigmatic. For example, “A Word on the Name” is clearly going to be on baby names, while “Yep, it’s Fifteen” is anyone’s guess.
As the back cover copy says, the story is of an “average Joe,” who is not a doctor or psychologist. Bounds is not attempting to provide expert advice, just the perspective of one man on the journey of the everyman new father. Still, good advice abounds, including things not to say at the OB/GYN visit and how to prepare for the eventual trip to the hospital when “it’s time.”
Forty Weeks makes a nice addition to the growing library of dads’ books which place dad squarely in the middle of pregnancy, childbirth and the immediacy of care for a new baby. His family and we are lucky that he chose to chronicle his experiences. It is a good gift for the new dad, or choice for the soon-to-be father needing guideposts during early pregnancy and beyond.