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From Logical to Loving in One Storytime

August 1, 2012


By Gretchen Stern

My dad is logical and calculating. He’s smart, analytical, and reserved. When he can chat about baseball stats, the return on an investment, or the in and outs of running a business, he is right at home. But when it comes to relating to my 18-month-old son Emmett, daddy-o is not quite sure what to do.

When my parents visited recently, my mom was easily the nurturing caregiver, fixing meals for Emmett, changing his diapers, kneeling on the floor to play with his favorite toys, and snuggling before bed. My dad engaged in his own way, but always with an air of caution.

This is not for lack of interest or love, as there is no doubt he cherishes his grandson. Instead it comes from a shyness or reservation, an unconscious withholding of certain emotions until he’s comfortable enough to let down his guard.

One evening, however, Emmett broke through that barrier in the most surprising of ways. As my dad relaxed with a Sudoku puzzle, and my mom and I chatted in the kitchen, Emmett worked his way to my dad’s side of the room and held up a book.

Without hesitation, I swooped towards them, popped Emmett onto Grandpa’s knee, and said “Do you want Grandpa to read you a story?”

My dad parted with his Sudoku book and read through Moo Baa La La La – without much inflection. Next he hobbled through of A Lot of Otters – a dreamy, poetic story – without any rhythmic flow.

I smiled to myself as he went on to flip through a book of sign language while Emmett proudly demonstrated to Grandpa each sign he knew.

Emmett didn’t care that my dad read stories like an engineer. He paid no mind to my dad’s slight unease at this new role of storyteller. He has no doubt that Grandpa loves him, and he was utterly satisfied to spend these precious moments together.

After this exchange, the most amazing transformation took place. Suddenly Emmett was demanding that Grandpa be the one to “do do” (translation: sit In the chair next to him), and Grandpa became Emmett’s playmate, showing him how to spin a bottle by flicking his wrist, stop his ball with one finger, and otherwise keeping Emmett fully engaged while they both giggled with delight.

When Emmett woke up in the morning, the first thing he wondered aloud was where Grandpa might be. When Grandpa’s attention turned elsewhere, Emmett would yell his name and show off some silly trick. He would climb under a chair or spin in circles until Grandpa stopped what he was doing and became Emmett’s one man audience.

They had formed a new link between generations.

And the next night, when the evening began to wind down and take Emmett with it, who do you think Emmett sought out for story time?

It’s amazing what books can do.

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