Some of my fondest memories of growing up are of sitting with my mother and brother on the double bed my parents handed down to him when they got new furniture and listening as my mother read us stories. We had Big Little Books and Golden Books in those days and, of course, Mother Goose. I could always find my mother reading her adult books and couldn’t wait for our weekly trek to our public library. She’d weave her way through the book shelves checking for favorite authors or interesting titles, and finally check out a stack of books for her and a stack for me. As I grew older and taller, there was little I liked better than to sit in the spreading Chinese elm tree in our backyard and take myself to new worlds and different lives via the pages of a book. The example my mother set has a lot to do with my choice to become a writer and editor.
But I honestly can’t remember seeing my father ever pick up a book while I was growing up. He did sit at the kitchen table and painstakingly read the newspaper and then discuss some of the articles over dinner. This annoyed my mother, as he liked to argue his points when she would rather have had a relaxing, quiet meal. But he never shared a book with us. He never read them himself, and he certainly never read them to me and my brother. I remember my mother even suggesting that he couldn’t read very well, pointing to how slowly he went over the newspapers. And I guess I kind of believed her.
Imagine my surprise when I saw my father devouring novels like candy when he was laid up in bed with a long illness. Why, of course he could read! He liked it, and would talk about the authors he especially enjoyed—Elmore Leonard, Mickey Spillane, Damon Runyon. I was thrilled to be able to share my passion for literature, but why had it come so late? Why hadn’t he read to me as a child? Why hadn’t he read books when I was growing up? What a wonderful thing that would have been to share with him.
Today’s fathers are much more engaged with their children in every way than they used to be, but some of the pressures that kept my father’s reading sidelined during my childhood—working at night, having very tiring days, household chores, and defined roles for moms and dads—are still preventing fathers from being more of an active presence in their children’s lives and education. Reading to children, especially, is one of the very best ways to ensure their academic success. So dads, when your child says to you, “Read to me, Daddy,” remember the lasting effect you will have if you say, “OK! What story will it be?” You’ll not only be helping your child learn, but you’ll be building memories you both will cherish in the years to come.
Please vote for National PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project so that together we can increase male involvement.
Marilyn Ferdinand is the editor of Our Children, National PTA’s magazine.