If You Can Read You Can Do Anything

clip_image002That something would happen to remind me of my father near Father’s Day is not a surprise; I’m reminded of him on a regular basis. I was planning to write a different story about him because I wanted to have something ready to post. It’s not that I felt that I should have a Father’s Day post this weekend; it’s that I wanted to officially mark the fact that I miss him. So, what happened to the post about taking care of tools?

Earlier in the week, I was listening to a news story on NPR about how high school students today are reading books that were written for a much lower grade level. In fact, the story suggests that on average the books they are reading are written at a 6th grade level. This caused me to think about my dad, because the words in the title were a favorite saying of his. He wanted his kids to read, and he wanted us to read things that mattered. When I was very young, my parents bought a set of encyclopedias and a companion series on general knowledge. The purchase was timed to support my brother’s school work, and since he was four grades ahead of me, the content was initially beyond my ability. Consequently, the books in the companion series are one of the earliest memories I have of my father reading to me. He wasn’t a big fan of children’s stories; he was more interested in having us read something that we could learn from. Don’t worry, the morals, ethics and life-lessons baked subtly into most fairy tales were things he covered directly and in equally colorful language.

Although he would stress that we could “learn how to do anything” from reading, he also stressed that we should read those things in advance and “remember what you read,” so that we had the knowledge when we needed it. He once used the example of landing a plane as something that I might not want to have to start reading about when it became necessary. Ironically, I have used that same example with employees who have tried to avoid attending a training course. I was reminded of this by an article in the NY Times this week, further nudging me away from my topic of choice. The title of the article “ ‘Boo Radley’ of the Woods? Not to All Maine Neighbors” makes no sense if you haven’t read / don’t remember reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” My father used the example of being able to participate in an intelligent conversation as a reason to read about current events and to be able to understand them in the context of historical events (something my brother learned better than I did).

Reading, reading to relax, reading to learn and a little bit of reading for fun has remained a focus in my life. In college, I was reminded of the need to retain what we read for reasons other than the obvious. I was forced to take an additional 6 credits of English, in a deal to avoid having to retake Freshman English as a result of transferring, and the only course available was Poetry. The first three weeks of class was spent reading Edith Hamilton’s collection of Mythology, because so many classic poems included references to Greek and Roman myths. Initially the requirement seemed like an undue burden, but I quickly found myself understanding references that I had previously ignored. When I realized that I had been skipping over phrases like “Night’s Plutonian shore” in Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven,” I started to understand what I mentioned last week, that poets struggle to make every word count.

I’m not sure if my father cared if I would be able to have a richer experience while reading poetry, but I know that he wanted me to have a body of knowledge that I could depend on. He once gave me a series of books dealing with the maintenance of power tools. While interesting, I didn’t see the point of reading about how to maintain tools we didn’t own, some of which were no longer being made. He told me that “things are like other things” and that knowing how and why we repair a specific table saw will be useful no matter what table saw you are using. In his mind, there was no useless knowledge; learning anything was a valuable pursuit and chances were good that the knowledge you gained would come in handy someday. In the 30 years since he passed away, I have come face-to-face on many occasions with the proof that he was right. Thanks dad, for teaching me to love reading!


  1. One of our favorite things to do with our two girls once they could understand what we were reading to them, and later as they learned to read, was to always allow them to buy books. When they acted up, as kids will often do – and they would want to buy something – the only thing we would allow them to buy was a book. They could be monsters, but they could always buy a book. No games, no puzzles, no candy – but they would head for the book store knowing that even though they misbehaved, they were going to get something. They thought they were winning the argument, and actually they were, because they both became voracious readers and very successful in life and business. I can’t really take credit for this idea – I don’t think I’m that smart – so somebody else must have suggested this. However, growing up poor, the library became my best friend and I could find anything I wanted to learn about on those shelves. We tell this story every Father’s Day, as we did today with our girls, their husbands and our first grandson. I lost my Dad at 15, Mother at 18 . . . maybe this was a gift from them!


    • We read to our daughter and allowed her to select books as well. She is also a voracious reader, and also doing very well. One of my Father’s Day gifts today was a copy of a Twilight Zone book published in 1962 (my wife bought it on eBay). I checked that book out of the library so often, I think they had to create a new card. Happy Father’s Day Bob, thanks for reading, and for sharing your experience.


  2. My daughter also was a voracious reader. My favorite story about her took place in the isles of The New England Bookfair, one of the best independent book stores around. We were searching for more of her favorite series, The Babysitters’ Club, which was not easy because she had read most of them. We were in the correct isle and some other little girl said to her father “Daddy, can I get one of these? “(pointing to the Babysitters’ Club books). Her father replied “Can you say ‘junk” Melissa?” My daughter didn’t hear it, but I really took it to heart. That guy! It is one thing to be snobbish, but quite another to be snobbish about reading!

    By the way, pal, my daughter graduated with honors from Yale and will be attending Columbia Medical School in the fall.

    Dan, I have been wanting to tell the world this story for 20 years. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
    (Btw, I loved reading our encyclopedia also! Maybe that is why we became friends.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Picture – That’s the book my father gave me in the mid-1970’s. It still has some useful information, and I still enjoy reading through it from time to time. Happy Father’s Day to every father.


  4. Reading is something I love to do as well, and have been doing so since I was just a wee lass (I’m 34 now)
    I find myself trying to instill the same principles with my children :) Everything seems that much more easier in life if you are able to read and write! Great post :) Thanks for sharing :)


  5. Reminds me of my dad, too…the most voracious reader I have ever known with an impressive ability to retain the knowledge he gained. And I’ll never forget that every time we went to KMart he let me pick out a book to buy. He never judged my choices–just let me pursue my own interests. I am forever indebted to him for my love of reading. I recently built a Little Free Library in our front yard in his memory… It just seemed right.


  6. Your dad would have been proud of this post, Dan. What I’ve learned by reading your written word is that you are a fine conversationalist, as well. All the reading your father encouraged also made you a fine writer.

    I was also brought up in a household where learning how to fix or accomplish things was deemed important. I read to learn. My brother tore things apart and learned by putting them back together. To this day, I adore sitting in his fancy red barn/shop and watch him restore old pickups. And anything with a motor attached. I find both ways of learning quite valuable.

    In response to your few classes in poetry, I think most Renaissance men like you can hold your own due to intimidating classes such as those. Heck, I could tell you stories of all the literature and poetry classes I sat through, but I’d be hard pressed to admit any of them taught me how to write poetry. Reading poetry taught me to write poetry. I think you dad sounds amazing. Would have loved having a mentor such as him. You’re a blessed man, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Audrey! I was a Chemistry major at the time. At first, I thought I was doomed, but the poetry course became a kind of escape. It reinforced my love of reading and I have always appreciated poetry since then. I follow a bunch of poets and I look forward to their new work (I’m sure you know that that includes you :)


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