During the past few months, I have begun to appreciate the reasons why my parents raised me in the manner they did. I understand why my mother told me to never talk with strangers, why I was made to finish my spinach and squash at supper, and why my mouth was washed out with soap when I used bad language. I am just beginning to recognize all the things that Mom and Dad did were done to protect me, sustain me, and mold me into the person I am today. They did certain things to help me grow physically and mentally. Only recently, I realized a way in which my dad cared for me.
For the past thirteen years or so, my dad has read aloud to our family before bedtime at least four times a week. My siblings and I used to snuggle up to him on our sleek plaid couch and listen to the narration. He started with just plain old bedtime stories. The best tales were when he would use different vocalization for the various characters. His voice sounded nasally for Tux the penguin, low and gruff for Bru the bear, and slow and dumb for Puddles the hippo. My favorite was McWhiskers the mouse, for his voice sounded high-pitched and was so comical coming from a grown man. We were entertained by his mistakes, such as when he accidentally used the Bru voice for McWhiskers.
Sometimes Dad would read us into the story. In Babar and His Friends on Vacation he would substitute the characters in the picture book for our names. “As soon as they arrive at the cottage,” he would narrate, “David, Ruth, Lydia, and Jon decide to go in swimming. ‘Please don’t jump around so much, Jon.’ complains Mom, who is trying to put on his sailor hat.’” We were engaged in the story, wondering what we would do next, and groaned with disappointment when he was done. The question, “Just one more?” became a routine.
As we got older, he advanced onto more substantial literature. We crowded around the sturdy couch to listen as Dad read The Chronicles of Narnia. After we had stretched his voice to its limit and stopped for the evening, I occasionally would sneak back and read ahead to the next chapter. I read in secret because everyone would feel cheated if I possessed knowledge they did not. Once, I casually covered our piano bench with a crocheted blanket, to create a hideout for my felony, and stealthily slipped under with The Silver Chair. I did not want to be left on edge till the next evening. Not knowing how Jill and Eustace were going to defeat the green serpent was an emergency that I needed to rectify. I proceeded on undiscovered for about three paragraphs until my sister came to practice her piano lessons.
Dad would get absorbed in the book as much as we did, but he always took the time to make sure that we were comprehending the story. However, I believe I abused this privilege when he was reading The Lord of the Rings. I listened enough to get the gist of the story but soon found it was easier to just ask Dad every few minutes for a summary of the current situation. My mind would generally wander during these intervals, and I played with the stuffing from the couch. Once, a perplexing thought suddenly popped into my head. I interrupted him for the twenty-seventh time and asked, “Dad, wouldn’t they save a lot of trouble if they just flew on eagle over to Mordor and dropped the ring in Mount Doom?” He looked down unperturbed and patiently answered with a smile, “Then there would be no story.” I am positive that he knew his answer would keep me preoccupied in thought, and thus, he could continue uninterrupted for a few minutes.
I did not ask as many questions during Dad’s narration of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for Dad offered a commentary of his own. If he saw that we did not understand an irony, he would gladly enlighten us. He broadened our knowledge of life matters. “Using a dead cat to remove warts was just an old superstition back then.” he said. We listened wide-eyed as he explained, “People should never swear unnecessarily. They only need to take an oath in court or on their wedding day.” We thought ourselves very grown-up to be able to understand about superstitions, prejudices, and grave robbers.
For the most part, when Dad read, we were just passive listeners engaged in the story. But then, Ten Little Indians came along, and we were introduced to the murder mystery. The entire book was a puzzle. In order to discover the murderer and motive, we had to outthink the author, Agatha Christie. “Why would she add that detail about the curtain unless it was important?” we would ask. Our brilliant conclusions often ended with, “This person couldn’t possibly have done it, so it MUST be him.” As we tried to solve the crime, Dad often pointed out her continual themes of good and evil. Though the victim may have deserved his end, Christie always made sure that the murderer did also. He showed us how to understand the author’s deeper intent or beliefs.
Our education in matters of murder was not always so serious. One night, after we had finished a chapter of Thirteen at Dinner, Dad asked us, “What is the number one rule for assassination?” We were surprised at such a question and even more shocked as he answered solemnly, “Kill the assassin.” Howerver, he could hardly keep the smile behind his eyes from showing as he tried to add sternly, “So keep that in mind kids if you are hired for the job.” We all burst into smiles and chuckles for we thought it ridiculous to imagine us children as expert killers.
I had long ago discovered that peaking ahead took away the joy of surprise. Yet, it was pure torture for us to be left hanging after a homicide. Therefore, we soon discovered ways to prolong Dad’s narration. If there were signs of his tiring, one of us would dash out into the kitchen for a plate of milk and cookies in order to bribe him to continue. I would try to inconspicuously make him feel comfortable with foot massages, so that he would not want to get up from his lazy-boy chair. (We had long outgrown the rickety couch.) However, it couldn’t be helped. Every night always ended with those fateful words, “And that is all for tonight.”
Now Dad’s evening readings weren’t the only literature I was exposed to. I was a regular bookworm and would often stay up late reading books like The Scarlet Pimpernel and Anne of Green Gables. But, Dad’s style of critique had rubbed off on me. Following his judgment, I began to distinguish between the good books with strong characters and the weak books with bad characters. Nancy Drew was distained because of her artificial faultlessness, but Judy Bolton was respected because of her realistic struggle with wrong and her victory through good. I noticed that the books I didn’t like, such as The Hunger Games were the ones that mixed the good versus evil theme.
I realize now that when Dad read to us, he was subtly, unconsciously educating us. In books like Go Dogs Go, he first entertained and engaged us. With Sherlock Holmes, he expanded our understanding of life. In A Tale of Two Cities he pointed out important morals of the story and explained how we could learn from them. I do not think Dad even knew how much he was instructing us or guiding us as we grew up. He was doing what just comes naturally to him as a father. The time he took to read to us and teach us was just one of many ways in which he showed his love for us.