When I began my professional career, my schedule was a bit hectic. I would leave at 5:30AM, fight my way through traffic for about ninety minutes and arrive for work. Since I had no clients when I started my new job, I knew I needed to put in some serious hours, so I diligently worked until about 9PM and left for home. At night, there wasn’t much traffic—all the sane people had left for home hours earlier.
When I finally walked through the door at 10PM and called it a day—a sixteen and a half hour day—I didn’t have much energy left. At that time, Lisa and I had only one child, but I wanted to be present for him. Lisa kept him up until about 11PM those days so he could see “Daddy” and play with me when I got home. The only energy I could muster was to take off my shirt and tie, throw them on the couch, and lie on the floor and let my little son climb on me, jump on me, and play wrestle with me on the carpet. I guess I was his favorite toy.
Even today, fifteen years later, though my schedule is a more normal 40 hour work week, I often come home tired. The work hours may have declined, but so has my energy level. I’m guessing a lot of dads feel that way. Let’s face it, after a long day, few of us drive home with excitement at the prospect of administering a history lesson to our teenagers. We fathers are tired. But as a home schooling father, I still want to get involved with my children’s academics, even if I’m out of breath from work.
I was recently pondering this, and I kept asking myself, “What can I do to help my children with their home schooling when my batteries are completely drained?” “ What if I’m too tired to do anything?” Then, as I was perusing the nutritional information on the back of a box of Fruit Loops, the answer came to me: I can listen to my children read. It might take patience, but it doesn’t take much energy. It’s also a pretty good way to develop a love of reading for the children, and for the academic side of home schooling, there is probably no better thing we can impart to our kids than a love of reading.
My mom had an ingenious plan to get us to read. I think my mom’s policy began when I asked her to let me stay up late and watch television and she refused. “Your bedtime is 8 o’clock Johnny,” she said. I remember going to my brother Ken who saw I was upset, so Ken asked me what was wrong. Tearfully, I blurted out: “Mommy won’t let me stay up and watch Chico and the Man.” My oldest brother, Ken (perhaps in a foreshadowing of his future career as an attorney), suggested I speak to Mom and plead my case. Ken suggested that Mom must be unaware of a fundamental truth in American society. Ken said to explain to her: “Mom, prime time television is 8 o’clock to 11. I can’t go to bed at 8 o’clock. I’m missing all the first-run TV shows.”
Though Ken had armed me with what, at the age of seven, seemed to be incontrovertible logic, she was not moved by my plea. However, she offered me a deal. I still had to go to bed at 8 o’clock, but I could stay up as late as I wanted to read books.
Thus, a lifelong long love affair with books was born. I used to read for one, two, and sometimes three hours at night. I read everything I could get my hands on—Narnia books, Encyclopedia Brown, Tolkien, Hardy Boys, Bible stories. While the world was watching TV prime time reading for me lasted from 8 until 11.
Though my mom’s method was clever, and I have used it over the years for my own children, I have been trying my own system. We go to the library during the week when I have some energy, and help the children pick out books they can read throughout the week to me. I like the idea because it gets me more involved. It also helps me monitor what they are reading, which is good, because children’s books are sometimes full of ideology. Demetrius likes to read about animals, so yesterday I took him to the library to get a book about tigers. The book we picked up should have been called Environmental Brainwashing for 12-Year-Olds. The author saw fit to include such “tiger-specific” topics such as population control, global warming, yada, yada, yada. At least if we read propaganda together, I can correct these notions as we go along.
So the next time you get home after a long day, have your children read to you. Better yet, pick up a book at the library that you will enjoy together, and have your child read it to you. (Next week, Veronica’s reading me Going Rogue.) Think of your children as a real life “books on tape” service. It will get your children reading, and you might find it more entertaining than you think.