Be Their Book

“Raising kids is part joy and part guerrilla warfare.” – Ed Asner

Be Their Book

There are two books that my three daughters are reading.  One, let’s call this first book Dad, is about the man named Dad and the life he is living in front of them.  The other, let’s call this second book Culture, is about everyone named Culture and the life they are living in front of them.  Here’s a synopsis of each…

Book OneDad, who says, “I’m a dad.  I have three daughters.  We read books.  We laugh with each other.  We talk to each other.  We eat meals together.  We watch movies together.  We do homework together.  We listen to music together.  We shop and argue and vacation and work and dream together.  I love them and I try to teach them that what they do and say and think matters.”

Book TwoCulture, who says,I’m everyone.  I have countless daughters.  We read books.  We laugh with each other.  We talk to each other.  We eat meals together.  We watch movies together.  We do homework together.  We listen to music together.  We shop and argue and vacation and work and dream together.  I love them and I try to teach them that what they do and say and think makes no difference at all.”

As a dad, I am not interested in giving culture the top teaching position within my daughters’ lives, nor am I interested in teaching my daughters to be perfect people (there is no such thing and teaching such a thing is ridiculous and futile).  What I am interested in teaching them is that they are human beings worthy of being respected and being respectful, of being intelligent and acting with intelligence, of being listened to and listening to others, of thinking well and being thought of well, with living and loving and working and caring about more than just themselves.

Here are two interesting columns on the topic:

1.  According to a new study by the Parents Television Council, underage girls are more likely to act in “exploitative” scenes on television than adult women. For the study, the PTC viewed 238 episodes of prime time television and found that about two-thirds of them had some sort of sexual content. A third were deemed to be exploitative. Underage characters were more likely to be involved in those scenes than adults, and about a third of the scenes were designed to be humorous. But PTC President Tim Winter is not amused. “Today the Parents Television Council publicly asks, ‘When is it appropriate to laugh at the sexual exploitation of a child?'” he said in a statement. “How are our children and our society being impacted by entertainment content that utilizes sexual exploitation as humor?” [time.com, parentstv.org, 7/12/13]

2.  In our culture, instead of just focusing on the Miley Cyruses, we should recognize and applaud the many young adults who are making the right decisions. Teen pregnancy declined by 42% from 1990 to 2008, owing in part to the fact that teens are waiting longer to start having sex. In the period from 2006 to 2008, among unmarried girls ages 15 to 19, only 11% had had sex before age 15, compared with 19% in 1995. Making sure that people—particularly young people—know these facts and figures can play an important role in encouraging better behavior. Too much of our culture—from headlines in Cosmopolitan magazine to TV shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager—sends the message that promiscuity is ubiquitous and a rite of passage toward adulthood. But it’s not. Those who do take sex seriously are in good company.”  — National Review contributor Hadley Heath [nationalreview.com, 9/19/13 stats]

In other words dad, be their book.  It won’t be the only one that gets read, but it will be among the only ones that matter.

A Good Day for Being a Dad

Dad

Today’s blog is a very short one because I want to make a different impression on you. Being a father is many things, and all of them are wonderful and scary and exciting and worrisome and breathtaking, difficult and funny and heartwrenching. And once it happens, it is forever. Being a father is being a father.

When I read the last page of the book Danny the Champion of the World to my daughters last Wednesday night, I could barely make it through the last paragraph. It was so powerful and challenging to me as a father that it made me pause. Here is how the son ends the book: “I reached out and slid my hand into his. He folded his long fingers around my fist and held it tight, and we walked on toward the village…And after that, we would walk home again and make up some sandwiches for our lunch. And after that….And after that?…And after that?…And after that?…Ah yes, and something else again. Because what I am trying to tell you….What I have been trying so hard to tell you all along is simply that my father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had.”

Enough said.

Look at this Book! Danny the Champion of the World

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique “recipe for fun” this week over on our Book Cook page…

Danny Review

Today’s great book: Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl with great illustrations by Jill Bennett (1975, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.).
Time to Read: a chapter book; about 200 pages; 2 weeks reading every other night, about 20-25 minutes per reading.
Summary: From the back cover – “A daring…adventure story.”; “The hilarious adventures of Danny and the best dad a boy ever had.” This is the story of a young son who admires his father, and a father who loves his boy, the woods, and pheasants.
Best Quote: “I have decided something,” he said. “I am going to let you in on the deepest, darkest secret of my whole life.”

Our View: I can’t tell you how surprised we were by this book. There is nothing in the title or on the cover itself to give away what this book is really about and so it kept us wondering and guessing and then it all truly surprised us as this wonderful story unfolded. This is a book about how a son ultimately sees his father and it is glorious, truly a kind and wonderful work of classic writing that my kids (ages 8 and 13) loved right along with me (age 41). This is the book they couldn’t get enough of, and so often were late getting to bed because they wanted me to read “just one more chapter.” I don’t want to give away the plotline, but when you read it you will understand why I was so surprised at how much we loved this story. It is about hunting and poaching and pheasants and a father and son who live in a gypsy caravan right beside the gas station that they own in a little town in England. I will never forget how the three of us felt when we happened on the line, Danny the champion of the world, near the end of the book. It was as though that line, and therefore the title of the book, brought it all together for us and we understood the entire book’s meaning. This is a book that moved us and got us thinking and kept us talking long after we closed the final page. You need this book for all kinds of reasons…and only you and your kids will really know all the reasons. I’m thankful we found it and read it and now talk about it so often together. I’m more thankful that it is about a real dad, not a fancy dad or a wealthy dad or a genius dad…just a normal dad who loves his child, misses his deceased wife, and realizes that every single day is a good day for being a dad.

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for the recipe – “The Grapes of Stuff” – created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

A Triumph for Dads

Danny 1

My younger daughters and I just finished a new old book. By new I mean that we had never heard of it and bought it for 50 cents a few Saturdays ago; by old I mean that the book was originally published in 1975. We found our copy in a thrift store and it was printed in 1982 as part of its 7th, that’s right 7th, printing! The book is Danny the Champion of the World.

Even if you don’t know the book, you know the author – Ronald Dahl (1916-1990). He wrote many favorites including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Dahl’s birthday was just last week, September 13, and though he passed away more than 20 years ago, I imagine his kids miss him more than ever. Here’s why: he was their storyteller first. Many of his great children’s works were first told to them and often came from his own experiences and interests as a child. In reading his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984, Penguin Books), I get the feeling that he knew what it really means to be someone’s dad. And Danny the Champion of the World is a dad’s literary paradise.

The entire story is viewed through the son Danny’s eyes and his descriptions of his caring and focused father are profound and helpful to understand how important a father’s words and actions are to his children; whether those words and actions are directed at the child or others makes no difference at all.

We will tell you more specifically about the book in our Book Cook/Review tomorrow, so for now suffice it to say that this is one for the dads. It is a story like this that makes me want to be a better dad – and a children’s book that can do this is truly…a triumph for dads.

The Beginning of Fatherhood

I once read a book about a family…

Emily empty chair

It was a dramatic weekend for us, though nothing that unusual in the grand designs of history and humankind, the day our first daughter was born. The short drive home was so quiet, none of us completely certain of what to do and still happier than we had ever been about anything else at all. When we pulled up in the driveway of our home that late Spring night, all was right and we were suddenly a dad and a mom and a baby.

Of all things, I can still remember the way the front of our house looked as I turned off the ignition and tried to think of what to do next. The soft orangey glow of the evening lit the sidewalk and front door in such a way that an Academy Award for Best Lighting Design would surely have been in order.

We were two when we had walked out that door and down that sidewalk two days before, and now we were three – this little person, her mother, and me. And something made me realize in just that moment that this was the beginning of fatherhood.

It was a dramatic weekend for us, though nothing that unusual in the grand designs of history and humankind, yesterday when our first daughter left home for college. The short drive there was so quiet, none of us completely certain of what to do and still happier than we had ever been about anything else at all.

Of all things, I will never forget…well, everything.

We were three as we had walked up the sidewalk and unloaded the car and said our goodbyes – this grown-up, her mother, and me. And something makes me realize once again that this is the beginning of fatherhood.