During my childhood, my father was often the one who read to my siblings and me. Most of what he read I can’t recall, but I do remember The Wizard of Oz, because I remember that it upset me—as much because it ended as because it was frightening. Later, I remember an abridged version of Moby Dick. At Christmastime in our older years, he favored O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi or Bret Harte’s How Santa Claus Came to Simpson’s Bar. Both were stories of heartbreakingly pure intentions, tragic sacrifice, and a kind of loving success that looked very much like failure. I found them unbearable and cried reliably. That, I remember very well.
As glad as I was to see that holiday tradition fall away, I’ve grown up to regard reading aloud to my children as one of the most important things I do as a parent. They’re now eight and ten, and quite capable of reading anything on their own; I read to them anyway, as does my husband. The boys prefer books that make them laugh, and, frankly, so do I. But we read difficult things, too—including the Wizard of Oz, which, sure enough, upset them. (They were definitely glad when it was over.) Although a book has yet to make either of my boys cry, at Christmas, I always read Rumor Godden’s The Story of Holly and Ivy, and I cry through the last quarter of it while my husband sniffles in the other room. The kids shift awkwardly, but they stay. We get through it together, each feeling in one way or another the sharp, discomfiting prickle of the wish that makes Ivy’s loneliness into love.
As a child, I think I understood that sitting down to read together was a luxury and an honor, even if I didn’t fully understand why we had to sit under a blanket of literary gloom, like a lead apron in our laps. But my dad thought that those stories were worth their weight, and I see now what he meant. I learned from him that while books can be an escape and a delight, they can also be a challenge, an education, and a catalyst for emotions that we’d rather not feel—and all those things are good.
A happy Father’s Day from all of us at Literary Mama; may all our children grow to value literature’s tough love.
We’re taking a short break in July and August, but we’ll be back with your favorite magazine features in September. Until then, take a walk through our archives. Since last fall, we’ve published work from more than 150 writers!
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Heartsong: Joy by Kate Ristau
Jesús Saved Us by Jim Ball
Daddy Catches Lice by Stephen Young
Two by Mark Bennion
In the Bathroom Mirror by Lorraine Henrie Lins
Fibroids by Ellen Elder
Dear Grandpa by Dayna Patterson
The Cold Feel of the Forks and Knives by Shannon Bramer
Photos by Cynthia Adonailo, Julia Cho, Megan Devine, Jennifer DeVille Catalano, Lisa Lopez Smith, and Heather Vrattos