Learning to read

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My father loved John Kennedy. For most of my childhood he had a bust of JFK in his home office. 1523 Dunstan Drive. I remember that office as being huge then but in reflection now it was probably small. Dad has his principles desk on one wall of the office. (He gave me that desk when we lived in Cincinnati Ohio and they moved out of their house in the country). Dad taught me to read at that desk with Dr. Seuss. My teacher Mrs. Brown told mom and dad that she had one every year and for my first grade year I was that one. A student that would never read. I struggled unbeknownst to Mrs. Brown more with the way she taught reading than the ability to read. But at that point she had been a teacher for more than 30 years and it couldn’t be here. It has to be me that was not capable. Her system worked for everyone (except me).

So dad started teaching me to read. Sitting by him at the big principles desk in his home office.  He would pull the arms out of the desk (it has wooden arms that extended out from the desk. I suspect based on size that they were made for typewriters. Or some machine. I use them as pull out laptop holders today. Dad spent hours with me on the weekends teaching me words and what they meant. I started out first grade in the lowest reading group Mrs. Brown had. By the middle of second grade I was beyond the highest reading group. I never had to read in a group again. All of that because of my father’s patience and unwillingness to accept that his children wouldn’t read. Or at least his son couldn’t read. We never talked about the gift he gave me in all the years after that. It was just part of his being dad. In fact like all the other gifts my father gave me we never talked about them again. There never was a tax with my dad (I taught you to read so do this now). Certainly there were a number of things I did that he didn’t understand. But he would at least listen to me and let me build my case. It wasn’t often that in the end he relented and we did it my way. But he taught me to think through what you wanted carefully and present your arguments without emotion. To this day Cat in the Hat remains one of my favorite books.

I also never had to be in a reading group again.

My mother introduced me to Peter, Paul and Mary. From the time I was six or seven years old the songs they sang filled everything. I later drifted on to Neil Young as my favorite but I still listen to Peter, Paul and Mary. As by the way do my children. Mom had many of the original PPM albums released in Mono and I have played those 100 times a piece. I wonder if she regrets introducing me to music.

Mom used to read books to me at night. The one I made her read 200 times was “Where the wild things are.” Like the Cat in the Hat I still love that book. Although I have to admit that when I hear it read aloud I do tend to get sleepy. That book is a treasure to me and remains my other favorite book.

.your loving son…

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