That 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!