My son was hunting around for a bookmark and asked me if I had one. I replied in the negative and he said, “Oh yeah. You don’t read books.” Wow, that hurt. I was a French major in college and have an MA in French literature. I once felt as bookish as my nine year old does today, but my book-reading habits have fallen off. Now, I plow around the internet and read a lot of magazines and two daily newspapers. I read and write all day, but read for fun far less than I used to.
Right now, I’m “reading” Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but have been reading it for a few too many months now, nibbling at a few pages before lights out, while my wife devours selections from the New York Times book review next to me. I have rediscovered the joys of the Times crossword puzzle, but have not retained the ability to get lost in a good book. The last compelling read I can recall was the book Saturday by Ian McEwan, which should be read by every father who is feeling his awesome responsibility and vulnerability in the new world.
My son’s comment made me think of one of the many messages I’m sending him. He’s five and barely “reading,” though he can consume any number of cheap novelizations of Power Rangers stories. I worry that he’ll become a reader by looking at books filled with trucks and power machinery. Now, I wonder if I’m modeling the right behavior. Years ago, when I stayed home to take care of my newborn son while my wife brought home the bacon, I overheard someone ask my five year old daughter what her dad “does.” She replied, “Nothing. He just stays at
home.” Right away, I realized that had to change and I embarked on a plan to show her that I had worked for two decades and was still working while she napped.
Now, it seems I need to do the same thing, though it might take a bigger behavior change on my part. I’m sure I would feel guilty if he turned out to be a non-reader. What if I could have changed the outcome by giving him a good example. Just like the the thousands of other things I try to model for him, like patience (while he’s trying mine), tolerance, and moderation, again I’m the one learning as much or more from my children.
So, out will have to come the lists of all the books I meant to read someday, and some real temptation avoidance to get back into a healthy book reading habit. And, that means books, not just print. Add that to the salads, added workouts, and other self-improvement necessary in midlife, and maybe I’ll find some time in there to also be an inspiration to my wife.