Mama and I spend most Saturday evenings at Borders here in town. I especially like to go after a hard day or week at work, although I avoid the place if there is a live musical act schedules for the nights we go. Sometimes we take the kids; last Saturday we have Ness and Mike with us. Mike immediately peeled off towards the manga section, and I went with Ness to look for books on Anne Frank.*

While we were prowling the children's section for books that broke the story of the Holocaust and WWII down to a kid's level, we became witness to a fight.

A strapping man was in total warfare, swatting away at his enemy as powerfully as he could. He wielded his weapon like an expert, landing blow after blow, trying to force his foe back. I couldn't help but marvel at the sheer brutality of his attacks, effective as they were, and found myself pulling for him. The man's daughter (maybe three years old) was there, and seemed as engrossed as I was, especially since she seemed to be the focus of the battle.

Did I mention that the fight was for that little girl's future? Against the twin enemies of ignorance and poverty? And that the weapon the man wielded was -- a book?

So what? you say. Guys read to their kids all the time.

Ah, but there is one image of the scene I haven't yet recounted: The man and his little girl were both black. And I can say with conviction, my friends, that that is a scene not witnessed enough in the black American community.

The man was reading to his little girl with enthusiasm, without worrying if he sounded silly, and without rushing as if having something better to do. The girl, cradled in his lap, was enthusiastically trying to read along, and frequently interrupting her father to point out something interesting on the page.

Why did I describe the scene as a fight? Because it occurred to me how this man was striking at the very roots of poverty and ignorance. And with such a simple weapon as the power of reading and forming ideas. That man was laying the groundwork for that girl to become something other than window-dressing in a rap video. Or a streetwalker. Or some drunken brute's punching bag. Or a brood sow waiting for yet another welfare check to show up. He was making sure, through conveying the sheer joy of reading, that his little girl would one day have the capacity to grow up, grab hold of the underpinnings of this rotted society, and give it a good hard shake.

I mentioned to Ness how good it was that the father was reading to his daughter. She just shrugged her shoulders. Not surprising; she was focused on fulfilling her own objective, but she doesn't seem to recall that Mama and I read to her when she was that age. A lot. And she's seen us reading every chance we've got. She's become a voracious reader herself, and as a result, teacher after teacher have complimented us on how smart she is.** Still, I don't think the scene was entirely lost on her.

I think everyone knows that education is one way to break the grip of poverty. And one way to jump-start a kid's brain and make it thirst for knowledge is the simple act of reading. Somewhere in all that absorption of knowledge is bound to be ways to break the cycle of poverty and make sure it's driven far from the child's life.

And again, it's such a simple thing. And yet so powerful.

I wanted to congratulate the man on his foresight and encourage him to keep up the excellent work, but by the time we found Ness' books and got back to where they were, he and his daughter were gone. Hopefully, he'll read these words here and know that he struck a mighty blow for his daughter's future intellect that night. I salute you, sir. Years from now, I hope you'll have the pleasure of hearing your daughter rattle off some fact that indicates that she could only have come to it by dint of critical thought and know that you were the one who planted that seed on that long ago October night.

Oh, and we found a copy of Anne Frank's diary. I bought it, and a presentation board from Walgreens across the street to boot. Couldn't really afford them, but what the hell -- it gives poverty and ignorance impressive shiners.

She's recently become engrossed with Anne Frank's story after learning about it at the library. She actually wants to do an extra-credit project based on her life and the events occurring at the time. Of course, there's no way I'm going to dampen her enthusiasm. Previously she wanted to absorb as much knowledge as she could about the Titanic, after seeing the movie and falling in love with the theme song.

**Forgive me a little braggadocio. But we've worked hard to make sure that Ness won't just amount to yet another pedestrian waste of flesh. To see our efforts bearing fruit like her quest to learn more about Anne Frank and the Holocaust is very gratifying.

I recently found your blog and have throughly enjoyed reading it. I too read to my 4 yr old and I must say I agree with everything you have said about that being one of the best things we can do for our children is to read to them and show them the joy of knowledge.


OK Mike, Now I got a serious bone to pick with you with respect to this post that you madee here. Umm, I think you have drawn too many forward conclusions based on a miniscule amount of evidence.
I think fatherhood these days is tough as is motherhood. But to concede a lifetimes worth of battles into one experience is wrong. Yea it was great that he was reading to his daughter, but it dont stop there and it s not much more than a footnote in the life of that girl. First let me concede the congratulatory things about what you wrote. A man was still in the life of his child. I know these days it is COMMON for some males to thwart their fatherhood responsibility(in WHITE AND BLACK AN LATINO households). It was great that he was taking a serious effort in her life. He may be the missing link between the things that go wrong in life and the ability to rebound from them. But lets be clear there are MANY things that can put/keep/ trap someone in poverty. What is it that you are going through right now? Am I to believe that you dont love your daughters nor did your father love your wife because of the economic hardship
you guys are going through right now? Thats a stretch and incorrect for me to say. Thats like saying people who are poor are poor because they WANT TO BE. I ve heard that and it tires me to have the fight all the time. Ignorance is like a big big big big river, it can drown you. Notice how I didnt use words like immense, gigantic, encompassing? Thats what the argument is like. Empathy vs. talking points on the Sean Hannity & friends channel.
I think that by reading to her he may have given an interest for inquistion which a lot of females dont have today. Not saying males have it more, but since I m writing this I can say what I wanna.
Being Black? Not as important as you d think it is. Its a class issue primarily. Race is just the distraction that makes classification simpler when dealing with simpletons. It s hard to hold onto race as a hindrance when you see the faltering quality of integrity in people who claim divine authority. Let the war in Iraq be your example and Mark Foley the next. Now I ll admit racial biases do exists and they do affect black males in the employment sector and perceptions of incompetence and inability abound us sometimes. But that little girl and my little boy will need more than to be read to for America worth its salt in the sand. I m reading the book When work disappears' by William Julius Wilson and he describes what happens to communities when good paying(read:progressive and self-embodiying) jobs leave a environment. Community instability breeds in the vacuum of economic identity.
Now I know some of your frequent guests may feel that I am going on a liberal tirade or being indoctrinal but honestly there are lot of things that have to be considered when constructing a viable society which is what we all want, right? I hate it when people make derogatory assumptions about the Black community, wherever it is, without considering that these afflictions affect ALL communities in an economic zone, regardless of race, or ethnicity. What compounds the issues, to be understood, is the level of interaction with others in the same predicament. Clearly what I am saying for those of you who dont get it, is putting several hundred THOUSAND poor people together is what creates more despair than you d get by
spreading them out, hence the symptoms of urban blight and violence that affect cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland. As a comparison you ll notice the same ailments of society as the US large cities in Paris and Madrid with the African(Arab, non-Arab, black, white) immigrant populations. In Rome, the Eastern Europeans, Albanians, Romanians, Hungarians fill this gap. In Germany, its the former East Germans, Poles. In Moscow, its the ethnic Slavs and -Stan countries. In Mexico City, Cartagena, Quito, its the indigenous persons. You ask me why is more violent here then? Come on brothren you know why...WE LOVE THE GUN. "Everybody got a gun. The day you give up yours, I ll give up mine" Gil Scot-Heron, 1980.
But back to your post, that you are seemingly, with ease, demonizing the Black father as irresponsible. That is reprehensible(to me at least). Your drawing too many conclusions about the the quality of men you see when you see women with their children. Its not fair to say that they have been abandoned and thrown to the wolves. There are circumstances. This is not an excuse. But if the divorce rate in this country is 50-60% then single parent households(primarily women) is the norm and there is nothing that strikes us as inappropriate that a man in in the life of his children or not. Is it right or wrong? That a value judgement I can answer but I ll let others draw straws on that. But I ll say that about reading to your children is effective in diminishing poverty it would be of greater concern in a country like Afghanistan or Zimbabwe. In the US, its only a small piece of the puzzle. And uhmm, no one cares about forming ideas any more. Have you seen the latest batch of politicians?

Now If I can figure out how to get more hits on my blog, I ll be starstruck and overjoyed. Lets see what gerard has to say...Balls to you...

Brood sow? Thats mean and demeans people who need public assistance to find a foothold in a safety net that they fell through.

"I think everyone knows that education is one way to break the grip of poverty." Its a means to an end, not the end. There are many people in NYC that never live up to their full potential even though they are the biggest braniacs one could cerebre-fy(not a word but it sounds good, right?)

"I wanted to congratulate the man on his foresight and encourage him to keep up the excellent work" Dont. Its like someone congratulating you for going to the bathroom. Its something you re supposed to do.
I enjoyed reading this post. It drew me in and I could see what you wanted me to envision. Great post.
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