When Alex from Bump & Baby Club asked me to recommend a book for dads, I panicked. In my local bookshop there are hundreds of books on pregnancy and motherhood, whereas the few books for dads are relegated to the humour section. Thankfully, after a callout on Twitter, several people recommended Owen Booth’s What We’re Teaching Our Sons. This remarkable debut novel is a collection of life-lessons from fictional fathers to sons. With short chapters, it has the same episodic quality as Hollie McNish’s Nobody Told Me, making it the perfect read for the sleep-deprived dad.
Owen Booth is a father of two, and the book began as a series of short stories on his blog. Each chapter begins with a new lesson on a different theme, from ‘We’re teaching our sons about Vikings’ to ‘We’re teaching our sons about violence.’ Through the lessons we learn about the beautiful and complicated relationship between fathers and sons, and grandfathers and sons. The tone shifts throughout, with humour on a stag-do to Amsterdam in ‘The Big Bang’ through to fear in ‘The Particular Smell of Hospitals at Three in the Morning.’
What We’re Teaching Our Sons fulfils a need for books that help navigate the difficult waters of fatherhood. In my Bump & Baby Club group the women are constantly meeting up and sharing advice and experiences, whilst the men reach out less frequently. When I spoke to Owen about this need, he said: ‘I think men definitely find it harder to seek advice. I know I do. For starters, we don’t like to talk to each other – not about important stuff, anyway (there’s a story in the book about the lengths men will go to, to avoid talking about their feelings with other men). We don’t much like asking for help or appearing vulnerable, either.’
But this is not just a book for fathers of sons. As I write this review my nine-month-old is finishing a two-week settling period at nursery. There have been a lot of tears, all my own, the worst of which was during a pick-up when all the other babies were listening to a story and my daughter was playing on her own. I’ve felt like I’m back in the survival days during the fourth trimester, with no idea what I’m doing, and have been struggling to understand why. Then I was struck by the following lesson on parenting from What We’re Teaching Our Sons: “The best we can do, we realise, is to keep their hearts from breaking for as long as possible.”
I spoke to Owen about what he meant by this as it really resonated. He said: “I wonder if we ever entirely move out of survival mode again – it’s ironic because that line comes from the ‘Plane Crashes’ story, where the Dads spend the whole journey worrying about everything while the kids are totally just in the moment and enjoying the experience. And in a way part of our job as parents, of course, *is* to do all the worrying so our children don’t have to. But we have to find a way to just enjoy the experience too, of course, or we miss out on the fun of the whole thing.”
On my next nursery pick up I took a deep breath and tried to enjoy the moment. When I arrived, my daughter was sat in the middle of a group, happily eating playdough. The nursery staff had given her a nickname that day and her smile was wide, her eyes bright. I stopped worrying about whether she had slept that day, taken a bottle or whether the playdough was toxic (it wasn’t!) and pulled up a tiny chair to join them. I’ve selected Owen’s book as a book for dads but recommend it to all parents as a reminder to make time to enjoy the present.
Three other books for your Christmas wishlist:
The Quick Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer
Quick, nutritious and easy recipes with minimal washing up!
One Christmas Night by Hayley Webster
A heartfelt pageturner that celebrates families in all shapes and sizes at Christmas
Baby: A Soppy Story by Philippa Rice
A gorgeous collection of comics about life with a new baby