RAISING COURAGEOUS KIDS: EIGHT STEPS TO PRACTICAL HEROISM, by Charles A. Smith. Sorin Books (Notre Dame, Ind., 2004). 252 pp., $14.95.
101 SECRETS A GOOD DAD KNOWS, by Walter Browder and Sue Ellin Browder. Rutledge Hill Press (Nashville, Tenn., 2004). 239 pp., $14.99.
A NEW DAD’S GUIDE TO PLAYING GOD: REFLECTIONS ON THE VOCATION OF FATHERHOOD, by James Penrice. Alba House, St. Paul’s Press (New York, 2004). 132 pp., $12.95.
Anyone who says parenting is easy must not be one. To borrow a slogan: Parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love.
Second toughest is reading books about parenting. The three books reviewed here have much to offer, but advice writers tread close to the line that separates giving helpful hints from being condescending — or even worse, making readers seem like bad parents because they don’t already know their tricks of the trade.
Raising courageous kids is a noble goal. Charles A. Smith’s “Raising Courageous Kids: Eight Steps to Practical Heroism” is filled with stories of young people doing heroic deeds. As I read it, I wished I had it in ninth grade religion class to counter my teacher’s assertion that children were not capable of doing great things.
The courageous kids’ stories come courtesy of the Carnegie Hero Commission, which figures quite prominently in this book. But heroism isn’t just for kids, who need to learn by example. “Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Mother Teresa achieved greatness because they did not allow fear to determine their course of action,” Smith writes.
At another point he notes: “Morality cannot flourish when fear of reprisal enforced moral rules. If children remain locked into an external locus of control, then borrowed values are weak and short-lived. If we want our influence to endure, we have to let our children make choices. If we deprive them of opportunities to make moral choices, we rob them of independently won integrity.”
Smith lists these eight steps in the path to becoming courageous: from power to willpower; from community to caring; from danger to vigilance; from fear to composure; from self to empathy; from morality to integrity; from justice to honor; and from responsibility to valor.
In “101 Secrets a Good Dad Knows,” Walter and Sue Ellin Browder try hard to demonstrate the kind of skills fathers can pass on to their children — they are skills that take quality time to learn and teach. But the book is poorly sequenced; I’d much rather learn how to pick up a cat (secret No. 23) before learning how to give a cat its medicine (No. 16).
What’s more, I’d be eager to find out just how many of these 101 secrets any dad (or child) knows. My father was a good man and a good dad. Yet after reading this book, I counted only 25 of these skills — 26, maybe — that I learned from him and can now pass on to my little one. And I turned out reasonably OK. (You can stop chortling now.) And there are a few secrets I’d still like to know. Maybe a companion volume — say, “101 Secrets a Good Mom Knows” — would tell me how to fold a fitted sheet.
James Penrice’s “A New Dad’s Guide to Playing God: Reflections on the Vocation of Fatherhood” has the best (meaning the least dorky-looking) cover art, and is by far the most earnest of these three tomes. He tackles the meaning of his could-be-provocative title right off the bat, saying that his vision of “playing God” doesn’t include a vengeance-seeking deity also capable of other random, heartless acts.
Penrice also takes on such topics as the mother’s role in the home (through the dogma of the Immaculate Conception) and Catholic teaching on marriage and baptism in such a way as to be deceptively simple, although skeptics are likely to view his essays on these matters as simplistic. But give him high marks for at least trying.
“God continually lays out the expectations that we fail to meet,” he writes. “We certainly frustrate God as much as our children frustrate us — even more so.” Amen I say to that!
Pattison, who is media editor for Catholic News Service, read these books while on paternity leave.
Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops