Adam Hughes relationship with his son is among the most important either of them will ever form. He has found that digging deep into the meaning of a novel or short story has enriched and strengthened that bond forever.
Of all the ways fathers and sons can spend time together and build a deeper understanding of each other, reading fiction is one of the most neglected. It’s also one of the most powerful techniques available for breaking down the emotional walls that strong males so often build around ourselves.
Depending on your son’s age, you can read to him or you can take turns reading passages to each other, classroom style. You might even each read the same book on your own time and then get together once a week to talk about what you’ve read.
Whatever specific method you choose, reading has the potential to infuse your love with a deeper meaning than you ever thought possible.
That relationship between a father and his son is among the most important that either of them will ever form, yet it can also be delicate and complicated. If you do not nurture the bond or are afraid to navigate through the difficult trials of fatherhood, you risk missing out on what should be the best part of your entire life.
You need to start taking better advantage of the time you have with your son right away, too, because boys become men with breathtaking speed.
Here is how reading fiction together can start bringing you closer to your son … now.
You Can Teach Him to Think Like You
From the moment your son is born and you hold him in your arms for the first time until you draw your last breath, it’s your job to guide him through life to the best of your ability and in accordance with your own world vision. Though you may stray from your ideals from time to time, and though your viewpoints may change over the years, it is important for your self esteem and for your son’s future that you instill in him consistent values driven by your well-reasoned principles.
But even in the greatest of father-son relationships, those messages will eventually lose some of their impact unless they are reinforced by external sources and presented through fresh approaches. Novels and short stories give you an endless supply of new scenarios that you and your son can navigate together.
A protagonist who happens to share your ideas about some aspect of life can be a powerful reminder to your son that dad is a pretty good guy, too, especially if the author is someone your son admires.
A more subtle, but maybe more potent, approach is to choose a book that would not normally resonate with you but which you know appeals to your son. Then, as you read, take time to talk about what’s happening with the characters and why you agree or disagree with their choices.
This will lead you into arguments but also will give you the chance to explain why you feel the way you do in the safe context of a book discussion. If you don’t get defensive when your son disagrees—and he will—this can be a marvelous technique for making your point stick.
You Can Learn How to Think Like Him
Be aware that this variety of thought control is not reserved for fathers trying to influence their sons.
The more time you spend hashing through a book and the issues that drive the plot, the more comfortable both of you will grow expressing your opinions and bantering with each other. As you become peers in the controlled realm of literature, your son’s true personality and motivations will emerge.
This is a tremendous gift for a father, particularly if you feel you’ve “lost” your boy somewhere along the way—to middle school, teen sulking, or a girl.
Most often, you will discover a genuine and reflective young man lurking behind whatever cloud you and he have built between you over the years. You will find that, not only do you love your son, you also like him immensely.
Prepare yourself, though, because his arguments will be powerful and passionate, and their clarity may startle you.
You just may start to think like your son.
You Might Cry Together
Men don’t cry very much, and that’s a logical consequence of our nature and nurture. We’re built for physical strength and solid, unblinking decisions, and most of us were raised in a way that reinforced the importance of those qualities.
Even the most robust among us, though, have vulnerabilities, and it’s unhealthy to never acknowledge our emotional weaknesses.
It’s also unfair to your son.
If you don’t show your growing boy that it’s OK to be tender and, yes, even cry, under the appropriate circumstances, then he will carry a false idea of masculinity into manhood. He may also never develop the caring relationships he deserves and will likely pass on your legacy of callousness to his own children.
You don’t need to turn every sitting into a man-river of catharsis, but feel free to drop a tear or two when Lennie looks off across the Gabilans as George tells how it’s gonna be on their farm.
Your son will thank you for it with his own gentleness.
You Might Write Together
Once you start reading and talking about books and stories with your son, new ideas will become a constant component of your communication. No longer will all your focus be on what happened at school last week or arguing over curfew.
You will begin talking about news events and philosophy and, especially, the stories that you read. You’ll speculate about what might happen to the protagonist in your favorite novel after the story ends.
It’s only a matter of time before one or the other of you mentions that you could have written a particular story better than the author did, or that you wish there were more good novels about baseball.
Once that happens, you can either laugh it off or grab a chance to get even closer to your son. Because, as much as you’ll learn about each other when you read together, creating your own worlds will deepen and broaden your connection like nothing else.
You Build Immortal Memories
Maybe your dad took you to see the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball, and you marveled together at the wizardry of Ozzie Smith at shortstop.
Those outings made you a Cards fan forever, and you have passed down that Redbird love to your son. But no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to recreate the same feelings and thoughts that you shared with your father.
But what if you had read Watership Down with your father over a series of Sunday evenings? Couldn’t you replicate that experience nearly exactly with your boy?
Part of the unabashed magic of books, as Stephen King pointed out in On Writing, is that an author can transport you to his world and make you see it as he did, even centuries after his death. Read with your son, and this brand of immortality can be yours, too.
Generations of your sons and grandsons can read the same stories with their fathers that you read with yours. The most important values in your life can pass through the ages on the pages of your favorite novels if you’ll only dare to start the tradition.
It may sound like an absurd ego grab, but if you want to live forever, you must do it through the work you leave behind. You have no greater masterpiece than your son, and he will carry your memory and essence into the world after you are gone if you nurture him well.
Go. Grab a book. Grab your son. Read … together.
It’s later than you think.
Photo: Flickr/Jessica Lucia