Today I’m happy to present a Guest post from my husband, Andrew. He describes the effect reading with our daughter Peach, has had on him and how it’s made him a better parent.
(Very mild spoilers ahead)
When Peach and I started this journey almost three years ago, I never dreamt that I would come to believe reading a massive seven-book, kid-centric fantasy series would make me a better dad. Now that we’re halfway through the final book, I’m stunned at just how big a role it has played in our relationship. Here’s how it happened.
I missed the boat on the books originally. By the time I was really aware of how huge it was, author J.K Rowling was well into the series and at least one movie had come out. I was too far behind to catch up and decided I’d wait until I had kids and read it with them.
So when Peach was just five we started Sorcerer’s Stone and we were both immediately hooked. We were thrilled at Harry’s discovery that he was a wizard. We felt giddy when he went to Hogwart’s wizarding school and left the home of his aunt and uncle, who literally kept him in a closet under the stairs. (!?) We were horrified to learn that Harry was an orphan, whose parents had been murdered by a dark wizard when he was just a baby.
Details like that gave me some pause. As I read to her, I kept stealing sideways glances at Peach, making sure she was handling it. I kept asking how she felt about this, if she was okay with that. By and large, she was.
Most concerns were mitigated by her enthusiasm and curiosity. She never asked me to stop reading, even the scary parts. She soaked it all up like a sponge. She liked me using accents for different characters, especially my (admittedly awful) attempt at Hagrid’s Scottish brogue. Plus, we were reading books with words like “subsume” and “ostentatious.” And she was asking me what they meant!
Every time we finished a book, Peach could watch the movie. We all watched together, letting Cindy into our club on a guest day pass. Since lots of details were left out, we had in-depth discussions about why those choices were made and which scenes worked better on the page than the screen and vice-versa. My five-year-old and I were inadvertently engaging in literary and film criticism.
While Cindy watched the movies with us, because she hadn’t read the books, she missed a lot of material, which was constant fodder for daddy/daughter in-jokes and secret references. We had a special language none of the Muggles (at least in our house) understood.
As the books got longer, darker and more emotionally complex, difficult issues began to crop up. We talked about them. There were questions about parental abandonment, why some people choose cruelty over kindness (and if they can find redemption), whether loyalty and justice are mutually exclusive and of course, there were questions about death.
Lots of characters we care about die in Harry Potter. Some we see coming. Others are sudden and brutal. Rowling never soft-pedals them. And more than once, those deaths have led to conversations about the loved ones we’ve lost, from grandparents to pets. Even when unbearably painful, Rowling renders these moments with such delicate beauty that one can’t help but marvel. Check out this brief excerpt, in which Harry holds a devoted, dying friend in his arms:
[quote ]“And then with a little shudder…became quite still, and his eyes were nothing more than great glassy orbs, sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.”[/quote]
There’s a reason Entertainment Weekly named the series #7 on their list of the 100 greatest books of all time, just above Faulkner and Updike and just below Dickens and Fitzgerald.
There was recent hubbub about a woman who is rewriting the books to replace wizarding references with Christian ones. But to my mind, she misses the point. Harry Potter is no more about wizards than Casablanca is about a bar.
Harry Potter is about the strength of true friendship, about developing the fortitude to overcome adversity and most of all, about the power of love to overcome hate, to offer comfort and hope, even in our darkest moments. Aren’t those the traits we want to instill in our kids, even if the there’s a little magic involved?
So what about that whole “making me a better dad” thing? The answer is this: the books give me an entry point to discuss all these weighty topics with a not-quite-eight year old. We’ve talked about loyalty and grief and love on a level I’m not sure we could have reached otherwise. It’s brought us closer and strengthened the bond between us. And when things inevitably get tougher for her down the road, I hope I’ll be able to call on that shared bond as a way to connect with her when she needs it most.
In the meantime we still have 250 pages left in this shared adventure. And while completing it will be an awesome accomplishment, it will also be bittersweet. I find myself wanting to slow down, even as we race toward the conclusion. I know we’ll find another series to read together. But it won’t be like this epic journey. Each page brings us closer to the end of something…magical.
– Andrew Lyons