Many children bond with their fathers during camping trips or sporting events, but I bonded with my father over the reading of stories. Throughout my childhood, my father read aloud to my siblings and me. In addition to reading books aloud, he regularly read the Sunday comics to us. Every Sunday morning, before our mother got up, one of us would hand Dad the comics section from our paper, and he would start reading.
One Sunday, when I was around 8, I decided to play a trick on him. I dug through the stack of old newspapers next to the fireplace, found the comics from the previous Sunday, and slipped them inside the current week’s comics. Then, after Dad woke up, I handed him a double dose of comics to read aloud. He began by reading Blondie, and then he turned the page and found another Blondie. To my glee, he also read the second one. He went on to read both weeks’ worth of every strip, never letting on that something was not quite right. I came away from the whole experience elated. The thought that I had actually tricked Dad helped me feel closer to him. I now understand that he knew that he had been tricked, but he played along. It was a loving thing to do.
My father’s decision to read the comics to us stemmed from an experience he had growing up in New York City. In June of 1945 the newspaper delivery drivers in New York went on strike, which meant that most people in the city did not have access to the popular comic strips published in the papers. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia responded to this situation by reading the comics aloud during his regular radio show called Talk to the People. He continued to read the Sunday comics throughout the strike, and my father was one of the people who always tuned in to hear the Mayor read the comics.
Like Mayor LaGuardia, my father read the comics in a dramatic fashion. Also like LaGuardia, he would often comment on some aspect of a particular comic strip. Just as LaGuardia’s reading of the Sunday comics left an indelible impression on my father, my father’s reading of the Sunday comics left an indelible impression on me.
Literacy experts extol the importance of reading aloud to children. In the words of Munro Richardson, the executive director of literacy initiative Read Charlotte, “Reading with your child — asking open-ended questions, identifying new words, and talking about the characters, storyline and ideas — is one of the simplest yet most powerful things we can do to prepare children for a lifetime of learning.”
As an English professor who specializes in children’s literature, I appreciate the value of reading stories aloud to children in terms of their literacy education. However, as a son and a father, I also know that reading aloud to children can help parents and children form lasting bonds. On this Father’s Day, I urge all fathers to take out a little time to read aloud to their children even if it’s just the Sunday comics.
Mark I. West is chair of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte English department. Readers may send him email at email@example.com. He wrote this for The Charlotte Observer.