Sunday, September 20, 2009

Take up and read (to the kids)

At this year's first "Good to Great Dads" meeting, the men at my table talked about getting time with the kids. Encouraged by my greatest fan (the lovely Carol), I offered something that worked well for me: bedtime reading.

I'm going to assume you know a bunch of reasons why dads should read to their kids; if not, click for some from and Here's a great summary from the bookdads site:
The changing role of fathers in today’s society asks more of us than ever before. A particular challenge for many of us is finding ways to forge and maintain strong emotional connections to our children as they grow. Reading aloud to our children not only allows us to promote the habit of literacy and to provide positive role models for our children, it also gives fathers a means to foster deeper emotional relationships with them.
And for Christian dads, I'd add that reading the Bible counteracts the stereotypical image of church as Mom's thing.

What, me read the Bible?

Yep. We had a few volumes from the Read-Aloud Bible Stories series; as of this writing, has a few. These books really make it easy. And if you stumble a little, it doesn't matter. What matters is you're spending time with them and giving them something from God's perspective.

You might try a (church or public) library before spending the money on your own copies; this particular series may not be a match for your kids. You could visit your local Christian bookstore and get their advice; if they help you with advice, please support them.

At some point, your kids may want to have a real Bible, a whole Bible -- one that's got everything in it rather than just the stories that the editors chose. You could do a lot worse than going with the CEV; it's easier to read than the NIV. Take a look at the first part of Romans 8 for example: NIV and CEV. See what I mean? "There is no condemnation" vs "you won't be punished."

What if they ask questions?

Well, I certainly hope they do! It used to happen all the time -- I'd read a story from the read-aloud book, and one of the kids asked what happened next, or where this person came from, this sort of thing. I said well, that's not in this book; it's in another part of the Bible that's not in these Bible story books. That's when our older kid asked for a whole Bible.

Did I do that on purpose -- bait the hook, so to speak? Well, not the first time. Afterwards, though, I congratulated myself for stumbling on a trick to whet the appetite, and from then on I did it on purpose.

Now, what if they ask you something when you're reading from the whole Bible, and you don't know the answer? Tell 'em you'll investigate. And go investigate! Do you have a copy of NBCR (or another reliable commentary) on your shelf? If not, you can do some research online, email your buddy, ask your wife -- and by the way, if your wife went to seminary or studied more Bible stuff than you did, that's nothing to be ashamed of. "That sounds like something Mom might know" is NOT a cop-out if you ask her yourself, check out her answer to see if you agree, and get back to the kids on it.

The Bible and...

There are a lot of other great books out there; my wife tried to get me to read literature to the kids, and sometimes I did. I also read the Berenstain Bears and the Box Car Children. (Even when I read 'em "literature" I took a rather liberal interpretation of the word; Wilder's Little House books, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan, L'Engle's Austin family series -- this sort of thing.) Even literary junk food (or "television books" as we sometimes called them) can be useful for encouraging your kids to think about what the books are teaching. The Berenstain Bears books, for example, often portray the father as some kind of ninny. This is entertaining to a point, but I hope you ask your kids what the authors think about parents, about Papa Bear in particular, etc.

How long to spend reading to them?

This is a terrific question, and a hard one to answer. On the upper end, don't neglect your wife. (The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. Who said that?)

But how much is "enough"? Here are a few random comments. Half a minute is probably too short. Half an hour may be excessive. If you can read one story from Read-Aloud Bible Stories, and maybe 2 or 3 pages from The Trumpet of the Swan, I think that's terrific. That'll take longer than you think, by the way, because the kids will ask questions like "What does 'superficial' mean?" or "can swans really write?" (depending on their age and sophistication).

Here are a couple of ways to think about it: Imagine it's Sunday night. The kids are asleep. There's school and work tomorrow morning. How much time did you spend reading to them Monday night, Tuesday night... up through tonight? Do you think it was enough?

Now fast-forward. They're in high school, and they stay up later than you do. The time for reading is past. Looking back over the elementary and junior-high years... will you say "I wish I had read to them more"?

I've got other things to do.

I hear you, I really do. But there never will be enough hours in a day for everything. Guaranteed! The question is, what are you going to shortchange? I mentioned to the guys at Good to Great Dads that our yard isn't in great shape, I'm at the same pay grade I was 7-10 years ago, etc. Will I regret those choices? Some of 'em, maybe. But taking 15 minutes out of your evening with the kids -- the boss will never miss those minutes, but your kids will.

A few conversations I remember:

We might have been reading Genesis, and one of the kids asked me if, e.g., in the garden of Eden, they had a smaller vocabulary, and if that restricted the range of their thoughts. (She didn't ask in those exact words.) I recalled a controversy about that from my college years, and also remembered hearing about a book, Thinking in Pictures (by Temple Grandin). In the week that followed, I found it in the library, and we read excerpts from it. (Yes, this involved some preparation on my part, but it was a fascinating read.)

I was reading to one of the kids from Stephen Carter's integrity, when I came upon the claim that ethics are based on the golden rule. "H'm, is that right?" I mused. My daughter paraphrased Matthew 22:38-40, or maybe it was Matthew 7:12 (" to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets"), and I was put in my place.

Another: we were reading from Acts maybe, and one of the kids asked, "It seems people don't believe in God and spirits so much these days. Is it because we have TVs and things like that?"

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