Fatherhood Meets Yertle the Turtle
Copyright 2008 by Neil Chethik
My son is 14 years old, so it's no surprise that he tends to find me dull company. But I may have discovered one reason that he doesn't shun me all the time. From his infancy to recently, I have read to Evan almost every day.
It turns out that consistently reading to a child is a formula for fatherly success. A recent Texas A&M University study of 300 dads found that after just four weeks of daily reading to their children, 70 percent had strengthened their bonds to their kids. Two-thirds of the fathers said they felt better about their own parenting.
I can relate. Evan and I started early. Perched on my lap in pajamas, the pre-verbal version of my teenager would slap his chubby hands against the laminated pages of Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Soon, with Dr. Seuss' help, Evan was “reading” the pages himself. We met Horton, Yertle, Bartholomew, the Sneeches, and Thing One and Thing Two. We got pelted with Oobleck; we feasted on Green Eggs and Ham.
In early elementary school, Evan and I sleuthed with the Hardy Boys, wove webs with Charlotte, and hobnobbed with the Hobbits.
And then came Harry. As J.K. Rowling unveiled each new adventure, we joined the throngs at our local bookstore for the late-night Harry Potter parties. On the way home at 1 a.m., Evan would peruse the pages by car-light. For weeks afterward, I was Evan's audio book, lugging the latest tome to wherever Evan happened to be in our home. By the time Harry, Ron and Hermione grew up, I'd read aloud 4,224 pages of their escapades.
In the midst of Harry, we started clicking off the classics. We submerged ourselves in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; took off On The Road with Jack Kerouac; agonized alongside Hamlet and Holden Caulfield; explored black-white relations with Atticus Finch as our guide.
During these reading years, Evan and I were in many ways a typical son and father: We scrapped about privileges, consequences, chores and choice of friends. But all through it, we had the cushioned connection of literature. As I drove him to the mall, instead of silence, we analyzed Harry's options versus Voldemort, or wondered about Piggy's fate on the island in Lord of the Flies.
As Evan matured, he became ambivalent about my reading directly to him. So I adapted. I read to the open air. While he My-Spaced his cyber-friends, or texted his phone-mates, I could be heard droning in the background: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Finally, a couple of years ago, Evan politely told me to shut up. I relented, and I have mourned the loss. Every now and then, however, I claim a prerogative to resurrect the ritual. Today, if you stop by my house, you might hear me blathering in the back room: “It was the best of times and the worst of times.”
For more of Neil's writing, visit www.NeilChethik.com
Join Neil for a Men’s Weekend this Fall in New England
This is a get-away men's weekend (Sept. 26-28, 2008) about connection. It's called “Relating Well: Strength With Heart.” We'll explore how we can connect more effectively with our spouses, children, friends and others. We'll spend the weekend in the company of other men. And we'll connect directly with nature at its most spectacular – at Rowe Mountain retreat center in Western Massachusetts, as the leaves are changing.
I will be joined by my friend and co-facilitator Jaco B. ten Hove, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister. Jaco has spent decades exploring his spiritual life through music, story-telling, and relating well. To learn more about Rowe and this particular workshop, visit http://www.rowecenter.org/ . Hope to see you there!