kentucky voices

Rewards are lasting when dads read to kids

June 7, 2014 

Neil Chethik is director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning and author of FatherLoss: How Sons Deal With the Deaths of Their Dads.

If you are a father, would you invest 15 minutes a day if it would make your child smarter and happier? What if it would make you happier too?

That's your opportunity with FRED — Fathers Reading Every Day — a summer program that encourages fathers to read to their children at least 15 minutes a day for a month.

The Carnegie Center is launching its own version of FRED at 10 a.m. on June 14 — the day before Father's Day. Fathers, uncles, and father-figures (and moms too) are invited to bring their children for free books, snacks and celebrity readers.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and local hip-hop artist Hendrick Floyd will share stories for the kids. And one lucky family will receive a free copy of the entire Harry Potter series.

Why does it matter for a father to read to his kids?

For the child, the benefit is clear: one-on-one time with the most important man in the child's life. Numerous studies show that children who get educational attention from their dads are more likely than others to succeed in school and work. The children also feel more secure and valued, which also translates into life success.

And what about the impact on the father? A Texas A&M University study of 300 dads who went through the FRED program found the father-child relationship improved 70 percent of the time; two-thirds of the dads agreed that reading together "increased my satisfaction level as a parent."

That was the case in my relationship with my now 20-year-old son. Evan is away at college, so we don't read together anymore. But for the first 10 years of his life, I read to him almost every night.

We started with picture books. As an infant, he enjoyed slapping the laminated pages, shrieking and pointing enthusiastically. When Evan learned to talk, we moved on to Dr. Seuss with its goofy rhymes, strange creatures and peculiar foods.

Evan eventually learned to read, but he still enjoyed huddling over a book with me. After reading all 4,224 pages of Harry Potter out loud, we went On the Road with Jack Kerouac. We traversed New York City at night with Holden Caulfield. We visited a small town in the South in To Kill a Mockingbird.

During these years, Evan and I were in many ways a typical son and father: We argued about his chores and choices. But through it all, we had the connection of books. If we ran out of sports conversation, we could always start figuring out how young Harry could survive his latest predicament.

Now that Evan is a college student, he's reading books that I won't: Stokstad and Cothren's Art History and Brown et al's Principles of Microeconomics. But every now and then, Evan and I will have a conversation and he'll try to explain something to me. If I don't get it, he might try this approach: "Remember that scene in Moby Dick? It was just like that."

To register for the free Fathers Reading Every Day event: (859) 254-4175 ext. 21. Reach Neil Chethik at neil@carnegiecenterlex.org.

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