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Book Box: The Father Factor

Dear readers,

The first rains came on Thursday night. After a scorching summer, the monsoons are here in Mumbai!

The monsoons are here in Mumbai. 

Rains are the ideal time to curl up in cosy corners, with a stash of books. If you are a weather buff, a good book to start with, is Alexander Frater’s atmospheric Chasing the Monsoon.

Chasing the Monsoon. 
Chasing the Monsoon. 

This Father’s day weekend is also the perfect time to reflect on being a father. It can be fun and fulfilling. But it can be scary, in the enormous impact you have, the scars you may inflict through your anger, disapproval or neglect.

So how do you get it right — this most important skill?

Turning to the wisdom of the greatest minds in the world, I offer you seven books that delve deeply into being a dad.

Book 1 of 7: Life Advice

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. 
Things My Son Needs to Know About the World. 

Backman is best known for his crusty characters, in novels like A Man Called Ove and Anxious People. In these essays he changes tack, pontificating prettily on poop and other papa stuff, with essays on how to beat Monkey island 3 and on why his son should play soccer. Things My Son Needs to Know About The World is laugh out loud and makes for great reading,

For more poignant papa essays, read The Last Lecture. This slim volume is written by Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. These essays are the text of a lecture he gave and encapsulate his life learnings, for his three children and his students. They include touching truths like, “The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have.

Book 2 of 7: Survival Lessons

The Road. 
The Road. 

A father and his son, walk alone across a burned landscape, in this starkly beautiful story. Nothing moves across the land; the sky is dark and the wind brings ash. The “man” and “the boy” must make their way to the coast, past the marauding gangs that stalk the road. They have the clothes they are wearing, a pistol, a blanket, a cart of scavenged food — and each other. The Road by Cormac McCarthy is bleak, but it also offers hope, as a father teaches his son how to survive.

Book 3 of 7: Dealing with Difference

The Rosie Result. 
The Rosie Result. 

The Rosie Result tackles many problems parents today face — like equipping an eleven-year-old boy to deal with discrimination, with a hierarchy where sporty is superior to nerdy, with racism and sexism. The third in the Rosie trilogy, this book, like the other two, is humorous and relatable. We follow the very lovable Don Tillman, brilliant geneticist and problem solver, now evolving and solving the problem of being a parent!

Book 4 of 7: Writing Letters

Letters from a Father to his Daughter. 
Letters from a Father to his Daughter. 

There’s something magical about a parent writing letters to their children, and I have been inspired by Letters from a Father to his Daughter to try and do this at least once a year. It’s harder for me, because I am not as erudite as Pandit Nehru was, and maybe also because I am not in prison! But seriously, these letters, written by Nehru to his 10-year-old daughter Indira, while he was in prison for fighting the British, are stirring in the way they teach the history of humankind.

Book 5 of 7: Teaching Ethics

To Kill a Mockingbird. 
To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Atticus Finch has long been the poster boy for lawyers and fo single dads. When you read To Kill a Mocking Bird, it’s easy to see why. Finch is a father, who is open to his children’s questions, who demonstrates principles of justice by example, and who gives them the freedom to experiment.

Book 6 of 7: Financial Advice

Rich Dad Poor Dad. 
Rich Dad Poor Dad. 

The story of two fathers – a biological father and a mentor father figure, Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a useful book about the advice fathers can give. We get many of our attitudes to money from our fathers, so building the right frame of mind for financial literacy is an important gift a father can give his child.

Book 7 of 7: Fallible Fathers

Out Stealing Horses. 
Out Stealing Horses. 

In this evocative book, a 69-year-old man reflects on a summer he spent living with his dad, in a cabin, in a Norwegian wood, in the tree felling season. Something happened that summer, that caused him to see his father, for the first time, as a flawed adult. Read Out Stealing Horses for its haunting prose, its exquisite sense of the landscape and to see the damage that fathers can do to their children.

Illustrating this kind of existential damage, are dreadful dads, like the bipolar father in Educated, the alcoholic fathers in Angela’s Ashes and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the killer father in The Shining and the father who sold his child in The Mayor of Casterbridge.

But to end on a positive note, let’s remember one of the dishiest dads of all time – Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, who reinvents himself from rake to pram pushing papa, after the birth of his daughter Bonnie – so there is hope for the prospective papas who don’t feel quite ready yet!

That’s all the reading for today. Next week we look at a selection of the best audiobooks and how talented storytellers bring these tales to life for you, as you get on a plane, are stuck in traffic or are simply too tired to read print.

Until then, happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading requests or suggestions, write to her at [email protected]

The views expressed are personal

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