Meet Brian, The Dad Who Brings Kids Closer To Books!

EDUCATION, INTERVIEWS, PARENTING | | June 29, 2009 at 9:10 pm


I cam across Brian during the focus with Hooked On Phonics. Being the only guy amongst the callers, he was the only one who did not need to introduce himself each time he spoke. I have always been intrigued when guys take strong parenting roles (as you would have read in my post, Meet Paul, A Stay At Home Dad and Children’s Museum Easton Celebrating Father’s Day). Since reading and education is something close to our values, I appreciated Brian not only being a forceful figure but also creating a platform for other dads.

What made you start bookdads?

Our son has two dads, so when he first joined our family we were concerned that he wouldn’t have enough women in his life.  Instead, we found ourselves surrounded by women – at school, on the playground, and elsewhere – and found the world of parenting dominated by “mommy culture”.  Suddenly, we were dads in a mom’s world, whether looking for masculine diaper bags or searching for parenting advice that wasn’t directed exclusively to mothers.

Reading together is one of the most important things a parent can do for a child, and a strong legacy from both of our families.  But more often than not, we found ourselves reading books to our son that always talked about moms but rarely mentioned dads (an assessment that we’ve since seen echoed by others).  Book Dads grew out of our search for books to share with our son that emphasized fathers and the importance of fatherhood in children’s lives.  The purpose of Book Dads is to provide a resource for finding books that have positive representations of fathers and fatherhood, and to encourage fathers to read with their children as a way to both bond with them and to deepen their own involvement in parenting.

What has been your most rewarding experience?

It was from a mother who wrote to tell us that she had found our site while looking for books to read for her children while their father was away on military service.  That was a wonderful response from someone who we hadn’t even considered as part of our core audience, and we were so impressed that she was actively doing what she could to help her husband stay connected to his children.

Best Book?

That’s a tough question, but I’d have to go with my current favorite, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.  This is the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins living at the Central Park Zoo who not only pair-bonded, but also hatched and raised a penguin chick named Tango.  What’s even more amazing is that for three years in a row, And Tango Makes Three has taken the #1 spot on the American Library Association’s Top Ten List of Most Challenged Books – yet it’s a true story!

My runner-up would have to be the amazing book  The Emperor’s Embrace: Reflections on Animal Families and Fatherhood by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.  It’s a nonfiction book about the incredible depth and diversity of animal fatherhood that really empowered me as a father and legitimized my desire to be deeply involved in raising my son as a drive shared not only with other human fathers but also with fathers among  the animal kingdom as well..

Surprise you had to deal with (as Book dads):

The number of books submitted to us for review that don’t fit the type of recommendations that we do on our site.  Some authors are so eager to promote their books that they don’t really pay attention to what our site is about, which is that we focus on “books with positive views of fathers and fatherhood”.  Some books portray difficult aspects of fatherhood or troubled relations with fathers, and that’s okay – we see that as a realistic depiction of fatherhood and of issues that are worth exploring.  But a book that doesn’t have  a significant fatherhood element, or one that even portrays fathers in a strictly negative manner, isn’t a good fit for our site.  For us, the “dad content” is the primary focus of our review, and the main thing we want to know about a book and communicate to our audience.  We’ve since rewritten the review guidelines and have gotten much more selective about what books we select, but we still turn down a lot of books submitted for review.

What has been the community response so far?

We’ve had a very positive response, especially from bloggers who are involved in literacy advocacy and education.  I think that’s where we see our primary affiliation; it’s just that we’re approaching these issues from a father’s perspective.

Where do you see Bookdads in 5 years?

We’d like to become more deeply involved in advocating for literacy, and to do more outreach to fathers who are seeking to become more involved in parenting and may not have considered books and reading as a way to do that.  We’re also actively involved in growing the site, and are currently looking for other reviewers to help us handle the volume of books we receive for review.  Because of our focus on dads we have a slightly different take on book reviews than other sites; anyone interested in reviewing for Book Dads can contact us and we can send them a copy of our guidelines for what we expect in a review.

How do you deal with stereotypes?

For us as a non-traditional family (gay, foster-adoptive, and transracial), that’s what I call the “Green Eggs and Ham” Problem.  There are certainly some people who are simply hateful and biased against our family and will never be  swayed.  But for most people, they’re uncomfortable with us at first because we’re strange and unknown to them – like Green Eggs and Ham.  And with those people, we need to be just like Sam I Am: we need to be patient in showing them that although our family is different, there’s nothing really scary about us.  We’re just like any other family in the things that we want for ourselves and our children.

In terms of stereotypes about fathers, well, I think we as fathers need to get out there and do the work because to some extent those stereotypes are true.  There’s a reason why parenting is “mommy culture”, and that’s because mothers are doing all the work!  As a two-dad family, we have no choice but to be involved as fathers because there are no mothers in our family, and I think our experience can help other fathers understand how best to do that.  That’s a big part of what we’re about at Book Dads, which is encouraging fathers to use reading with their children as a way to bond with them and become more involved in their lives.

What do you do for a tantrum (don’t dare tell me he does not have them):

Once he’s having an actual tantrum we usually put him in a time-out and let it run itself down until he’s calm again.  That can sometimes be embarrassing in public but I’ve learned to be pretty brazen about it; bystanders can sometimes get a little alarmed – especially given the racial differences between us and our son – but if you tell them he’s in a time-out everyone is understanding.

Like most parents, we of course try to head them off as much as we can.  In an emergency, I can do one of his favorite things and make up a story with him where we take turns filling in what happens next.  Since he really enjoys the Backyardigans show on Noggin, the stories always start “One day the Backyardigans went into the backyard and it was full of …” and we take off from there.

What won’t you leave home without?

Some kind of audiobook.  We’ve found them to be one of the best tools for regulating his behavior; we listen to them during dinnertime (our most difficult time of the day) and also in the car.  Right now we’re listening to the Magic Tree House books, which they also read to the children during “quiet time” at his school.  We’re currently reading him the Andrew Lost series of books at bedtime (a little more quirky than the Magic Tree House and with a focus on science instead), and we’re looking forward to listening to them on audio as well.  I also rip the audio track from DVDs of television shows that we’ve recorded for him at home, and then transfer them to CD.  It’s easier than it sounds, and it gives him a “radio play” to listen to and use his imagination even when we don’t have an audiobook on hand.

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