Essential Reading: Father’s Day
My father worked for 30 years in the warehouse of an international book publishing corporation, surrounded by hundreds of pallets of books which he shipped far and wide. He filled the shelves of our house with damaged tomes: memoirs, classics, children’s favorites, and coffee table albums, but never read a single one. To this day, many years into retirement, he is still not a reading man, but all three of his children became bookworms, largely because of the abundance of reading material he provided. So, I’m using the opportunity of this Father’s Day to thank all the dads who take the time to nurture a love of books and reading in their children, whether it’s by taking them to the library or bookshop, reading to them, or setting a great example.
This month I caught up with a most endearing father in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. In this heart-wrenching story, 14-year-old Susie Salmon observes from a heavenly perch, as her family flounders in the chaotic aftermath of her murder. While Susie’s mother turns inward, unable to process her grief, Jack, her father, pours with emotion, hounding the police, investigating neighbors, and knocking on his surviving daughter’s bedroom door insisting, “I just want to know how you are.” When his conviction—that a reclusive neighbor is the murderer—turns destructive, Jack and his children must face the consequences. Like most of our fathers, Jack is not a hero. He does not save the day, nor raise his remaining children without scarring, but he is present, he is empathetic, and he does his best. I enjoyed the prominence the story gave to a father’s grief. So often, in the heartbreaking case of the death of a child, our greatest sympathy lies with the mother, while the stoic father appears less in need of support. In The Lovely Bones, we meet a bereaved father’s emotions: guilt, pain, frustration, empathy, appreciation, and thankfulness, as he both mourns his daughter and tries to rebuild his family. The desire to see how Jack and his family fare after such tragedy kept me reading and ultimately gave me hope that life goes on, even in the most painful circumstances.
Kim Ruff, Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Editorial Assistant, reveals how her father influences her reading habits by sharing his favorite books with her. “My dad is an avid reader and can be found searching for his next great read on the bookshelves of any charitable gift shop, public library, and my own bookshelves when he stops in for a visit. He is generous and likes to share his favorites; those that stay with him even when he’s finished reading, which is how I came to read Elie Wiesel’s Night (translation by his wife, Marion Wiesel). I read an excerpt from this book in my MFA program, but had never read it in its entirety. As my dad handed it to me, he warned me that the details about what happened to Wiesel, his family, and the Jewish community were deeply sad and disturbing. The book is only 134 pages, but my dad was right—Wiesel’s retelling of life and death in a concentration camp was so intense that I had to put the book down a few times. Wiesel recalls his surprise when he and his father are separated from his mother and sisters as soon as they reach the first camp. In that moment, he decides to stay by his father’s side at all costs. He believes that he and his father will survive as long as they have each other. Night is not only one boy’s memory of the Holocaust, it is also his memory of the love and trust between a father and a son during their darkest days. I recommend reading this book for its obvious historical significance, and in honor of Elie Wiesel and all Holocaust victims, living and deceased.”
Editor-in-Chief, Karna Converse, tells us how her father’s cultural heritage led her to a book about WWI. “I’m intrigued with my father’s German heritage and, in particular, with how society viewed Americans of German descent during the two world wars. Neither my grandparents (teenagers during WWI) nor my father (eight years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked) spoke of injustices or prejudices levied against them in our Midwestern farming community, but I suspect they knew of neighbors who stopped talking to each other and of store owners who openly questioned their customers’ loyalties. Karen Gettert Shoemaker’s debut novel, The Meaning of Names, is a haunting look at 1918 and how war, nationalism, and the 100% American campaign affected the members of a small Nebraska community. Gerda Vogel is a young farm wife of German descent who believes that the war is ‘over there’ until a storekeeper asks her about her name and her husband is required to sign up for the draft. She watches the community become increasingly fearful and hateful and nearly break apart—sauerkraut is removed from restaurant menus, petitions to ban books by German authors are circulated, ‘no krauts need apply’ is added to job advertisements. Even the influenza epidemic is blamed on the Germans, and when it strikes the Vogel family, Shoemaker’s characters reveal just how difficult it is to put fear aside and embrace those in need. In addition to issues that surround citizenship and patriotism, this 2016 One Book One Nebraska selection touches on grief, reconciliation, and familial bonds. For me, The Meaning of Names provides voices to the old photos in my family album and a glimpse into the issues my grandparents faced as they entered adulthood.”
Abigail Lalonde, Social Media Editor, shares which book helped prepare her husband to be a dad. “My husband will be celebrating his first Father’s Day this year, and while it’s been an amazing journey watching him grow into a husband and father, I knew early on that he would take to the role with little effort. During my pregnancy, he was active in all of our birth classes and, on the advice of a doula friend, even read The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. I had to read it myself after he told me of the opening chapter where Simkin prepares the birth partner for all possibilities that can occur during labor, both physical and psychological. I discovered that it’s not just another book about the birth process, as throughout the text Simkin asks: ‘What does the mother feel?,’ ‘How might you feel?,’ and ‘How can you help?’ I found this to be the only book I read that considered the partner’s feelings, which was refreshing and eye opening. With four sections: Before the Birth, Labor and Birth, The Medical Side of Childbirth, and After the Birth, Simkin leaves nothing to question. She even offers strategies for a partner to aid in labor, such as supportive positions to provide comfort during contractions. After giving birth with my husband by my side, I cannot say enough good things about how this book helped him prepare. It is an invaluable tool that every expecting father or partner should keep in their tool box.”
Do you have a book that reminds you of your father or that celebrates dads? Share it with us in the comments below, or tweet us @LiteraryMama. Follow us on Goodreads for more recommendations.