Year of the Dad: The Difference Reading Makes

Dad in library reading to daughter
Category: Bookbug

2016 is Scotland’s Year of the Dad, and reading to our children is one of the best ways fathers can bond with their children. Douglas Guest of Fathers Network Scotland shares the impact of his own family reading journey.

Stories fire the imagination and inspire creativity, but being dyslexic, I found school reading – and particularly reading aloud – very challenging. I fell in love with reading through comics like 2000AD and Marvel superheroes.

It was only when I was given a Star Wars chapter book of The Empire Strikes Back that I started to find reading interesting in the form we traditionally know it. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion.

My fear of reading aloud persisted, however, so in order to overcome it, I started reading simple picture books to my own boys when they were very young. I began with the Bookbug mainstay HUG by Jez Alborough and other ones I picked up in the library.

My fear of reading aloud persisted, so in order to overcome it, I started reading simple picture books to my own boys when they were very young. 

Then, as my confidence grew, I was ready for wizards, and ended up reading the whole Harry Potter series to my six-year-old over three years. I’m enjoying Famous Five books that I couldn’t get into the first time round.

Reading is a fertile learning ground for us all. When tears emerged reading David Walliams’ Gangster Granny, we were able to talk about our grief around the death of the real-life Nana in our family. And there was joy and laughter in discovering Roald Dahl books I never knew existed.

Given my shaky start in reading, who would have predicted that story time would become one of the most treasured parts of being a dad?

The Fathers Network Team
That’s why I’m so passionate about Year of the Dad, which aims to celebrate the difference a great dad can make – and change outdated gender stereotypes to reflect the millions of dads out there quietly nurturing their children. (Douglas is pictured here, back row, on the right.)

Quality time is crucial. In the 1970’s, dads spent 15 minutes a day looking after their children during the week; today it's three hours (O’Brien 2005). That’s good news for everybody, because research overwhelmingly shows that children, families and society as a whole benefit from the positive involvement of fathers.

We call it the Dad Effect: Scottish kids who spend time with a Father Figure enjoy better life chances across:

  • educational attainment
  • health especially increasing mental health
  • confidence in raising their own kids
  • ability to form healthy relationships
  • employability
  • criminality (Engaging Fathers DfES (2004))

That’s why, throughout 2016 and beyond, we’re issuing a rallying call to services and employers to support dads, embrace family-friendly, inclusive practice and reflect the importance of fathers in child development.

Time off in the early years is particularly valuable – and influences reading. An Economist article The Dad Dividend quoted OECD findings that dads in Britain who took time off at birth were almost a third more likely to read books with their toddlers than those who didn’t.

And a good start ripples right through a child’s life. A Norwegian study found that the children of fathers who took paternity leave were more likely to flourish at secondary school. (Indeed, another study showed Mum’s career earnings increased by 7% for every month their partner took off for child care!)

Dads across the country are already quietly living out this culture change, and others only need a little support to make changes they know will benefit their families.

Dads across the country are already quietly living out this culture change, and others only need a little support to make changes they know will benefit their families. I was lucky to do a preparation course with Dads2b and was told by a health professional that if I bathed my babies it would provide bonding time for me and them. From what I know now, I’d say reading to your child is every bit as important. Start early with picture books, move on with them and learn with them.

Now my boys and I always look forward to bedtime. Reading settles them and, funnily enough, me too. Indeed, I now believe so passionately in reading that I don’t know when to stop! My oldest is ten and I’m still reading to him. He reads the X-Men after we’ve finished Terry Pratchett and the light goes off twenty minutes later.

I love looking in on my sleeping children, dreaming of adventures in Neverland or Tatooine. It’s a huge privilege.

And I hope Year of the Dad, in collaboration with Scottish Book Trust and other literacy experts, will help bring the joy and privilege of reading to many other dads. Please join us in our celebration!

Year of the Dad is organised by Fathers Network Scotland with support from the Scottish Government and many other organisations. Sign up for more info at: www.yearofthedad.org

Looking for a book to get started with? We have loads of suggestions on our book lists. Check them out!

Douglas Guest

Douglas Guest is Head of Programmes at Fathers Network Scotland.