The stories you share with your sons will be part of their lives forever.
You can’t prepare yourself too much for parenting; nothing else is as annoyingly relentless as a kid who will be your responsibility forever. But good books can give you a little perspective on the big picture and what you want your progeny to take away from all those Saturday mornings with cartoons and life lessons.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Remember being a teenager? The feelings of isolation and desperation? Even if you had a good experience and didn’t have to live the Ponyboy life, this book is a great trip back to the world of teens seemingly without any adults in their lives.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy talked to Oprah about his inspiration for this book: he was standing at a hotel window, watching fires outside, with his young son asleep across the room. This harsh look at post-apocalyptic life is really just a story about a man caring for his son. Protection, love, endurance—it’s all here.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
If you only have a movie version in your head, take some time to read the original text. It isn’t long and you’ll want to share it with your kid when he starts kindergarten. There’s something to be said for preserving childhood…and for growing up. Peter Pan’s remained relevant for all these years because of how it speaks to the purity of our early experiences that we wish we could retain.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Worried about being a bad parent? Not being able to provide the life you want for your kids? Never fear, read this book and feel supremely competent. Walls’ memoir shows a unique world you thought didn’t exist in this country in modern life. Most remarkably, her emotional wisdom and life success are a testament to kids being amazing and resilient no matter their circumstances.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
If you read it as a kid, go back. You’ll still cry. A boy and his dog—there’s something powerful in that relationship that we as adults can see more clearly. A constant companion, without judgement, a partner in adventure and learning. This book doesn’t shy away from tragedy as part of life—one of the hardest things to teach kids about when all you want to do is protect them.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Owen Meany kills his best friend’s mom early on, never grows very tall, talks in a weird voice, has utter faith, and is a character I’ve never forgotten. Relationships are what you take away from this book—the narrator and his friend Owen. There’s also a sense of a purpose to life that we all bring something to the table, which is a powerful thing to contemplate as a parent.
The man knows kids, knows how the world looks to them as it is inhabited by incompetent adults. All Dahl’s books excel at giving the underdog the voice and perspective, but these two in particular remind the reader that kids have a lot more going on than we give them credit for.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Atticus Finch is the role model for what kids want in a dad and what dads want to be. He’s crap at sports, works too much, but he’s present when he speaks to you and is the best man around. If you read TKMB under duress in your early years, read it again with some life experience. See Scout and Jem and the challenges kids face; see how hard it is to parent in an imperfect world; and see how love is all we can do.
Photo: Flickr/Stewart Black