Monday, July 13, 2009

The book of fatherhood

Since receiving a Kindle for my 40th birthday (an event chronicled here on Walks in the Marsh), I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my lifelong love affair with books. It was there from the start -- I was graced with all the books I could read and parents who firmly believed in the value of the library as well as owning books for yourself.

When I was young, the day rarely ended without being read to by my mom or dad. It was one way that they showed me, every day, that they loved me. I was introduced to Narnia, for example, by my parents reading a chapter a night to me in bed. I can still recite portions of "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo" in the same sing-song my mother used 35 or so years after she first read it to me.

When I was older, I'd hide under the covers with a flashlight to continue reading after my parents told me to turn the light off. Summers on Cape Cod found my grandmother and me going to the small library in Eastham at least once a week to select books to read at the beach or in the comfy chairs by the big expanse of glass as the stars winked at us from high above the small red cottage at the end of Old Farm Lane. Even now, my bedside table is stacked with at least 7 or 8 books and our "to be read" shelf in the kitchen groans under the weight of the treasures yet to be discovered and friends still to meet.

I realized recently that this is one of the reasons I want to become a parent -- to have the opportunity to raise my child to enjoy the same love for the written word that my parents instilled in me. Perhaps you could make the case that I'm confusing reasons to become a parent with things I desperately want to do as a parent. Personally, I don't see them as mutually exclusive.

If one purpose of parenthood is to share the world and your beliefs with your child so that they can have a happy, healthy, full life and be equipped to make the best decisions for themselves, I can't think of a better path to take than to help instill in them a love for reading (being a Red Sox fan might run a close second but that's a topic for another blog post). For me, becoming a passionate reader is the closest thing to a religious upbringing that I can offer my child being as I am generally uninvolved in any actual organized religion.

A week ago, Nicholas Kristoff's Sunday column in the New York Times encouraged parents to read to their kids and to get kids to read for themselves this summer:
So how will your kids spend this summer? Building sand castles at the beach? Swimming at summer camp? Shedding I.Q. points?

In educating myself this spring about education, I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.

This is less true of middle-class students whose parents drag them off to summer classes or make them read books. But poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break, and that accounts for much of the difference in learning trajectory between rich and poor students.

A mountain of research points to a central lesson: Pry your kids away from the keyboard and the television this summer, and get them reading.
And with that, he offers a list of the greatest kids' books ever. My favorite comment from his list: "The Harry Potter series. Look, the chance to read these books aloud is by itself a great reason to have kids." (Hopefully you'll be able to read this column via the a Times subscriber, I can't tell if this is subscriber-only content. If it is, post a comment and I'll at least least recap the books on Kristoff's list.)

Many of the books on his list are ones that I would have had on my own. I can think of so many others that I would add to the list.

This weekend, my 10-year old sister came to visit us for several days. Together, the three of us rode our bikes into town and to the newly refurbished Rogers Free Library to check out some books to read with her over the weekend. After so many years away from most childrens' books, it was like a family reunion for me as I walked among the shelves of books and found old and dear friends from my own childhood. Seeing Jennifer reading one of the books to S there in the library made me ache for the time when I'd be able to do that with my own child and give them the most valuable gift I can think of -- a lifelong reminder of how much I love her.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Somehow I have the feeling that we may be vying for the coveted "reading to the Little One" job each evening at her bedtime... Although that isn't such a bad thing, is it?