It’s June, which in book world is officially “dads and grads” season. Most bookstores and publishers have a pretty narrow idea of what constitutes “appropriate gifts for dads” for Father’s Day when the endless customers ask them “What are the best books to give my dad?” Mysteries, thrillers, sci fi, even specific kinds of literary fiction (oh hai Ian McEwen) all populate Father’s Day tables in bookstores everywhere. But these books are easy suggestions that don’t take much thought. Yes, I’m sure A dad will like them, but will yours? You wouldn’t give your best friend a book JUST because it was labeled “books for best friends,” would you? Don’t give just any books for Father’s Day.
For my dad this year, I wanted to find books that would do more. My dad and I don’t share many of the same political or social opinions and our current climate has tested our relationship in a lot of ways. But it’s also opened the lines of communication too. We’ve talked about issues that we never had reason to discuss before. And I’ll give my dad this: he’s always been open to books I’ve recommended to him. So I put together a list of books that I think that not only my dad should read, but that you might want to include in your “book + tie” gift this year. What would you add to this list?
We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I paired these together because this is how I read them, one after the other, and it’s now how I recommend everyone come to Adichie’s ideas. We Should All Be Feminists is a fantastic theoretical discussion on why feminism is not just a women’s position, but why all humans should be feminists. That means you, Dad. And then following that with Dear Ijeawale, Adichie’s concrete guide to raising (or becoming) a feminist gives a little more instruction for dads who want to be feminists (or who want to raise feminists) but don’t quite know how. Neither me or my dad would refer to him as a feminist, but I do want him to not only know why I am one but why I think he should be one too.
On Immunity by Eula Biss
While Biss’ treatise about being a mother in a time of an anti-vax mentality speaks very clearly to mothers, there is nothing that keeps it from being relevant and important for fathers to read too. This isn’t as much of a “should I vaccinate or shouldn’t I?” (yes, obviously, you should vaccinate your children) argument; it’s a broader examination of parental fear and the societal norms that led us to this anti-vax place. Even if your dad (like mine) is 100% on board with vaccines, this book is a fantastic examination of how society creates and encourages parents to fear absolutely everything that all parents would benefit from reading.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
On its face, Bennett’s novel is about abortion and both parties’ reactions in the aftermath of that decision. Not in an “the father should have a say in whether a woman gets an abortion” way, but in a nuanced “let’s not pretend that fathers have no emotional stake” way that allows for humanness and confusion and empathy. The concentric rings of that moment for all the involved parties make for a powerful novel that could generate some interesting conversations.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
An oldie but a goody. This is a bit of a cheat because my dad read this book when it came out (and cried the whole way through it), but I do think every dad should read this book. It’s not an easy book by any means (trigger warnings up the wazoo), but at its core, Sebold’s novel about a 14-year-old who is murdered and is watching her family try to cope with it and search for her killer from heaven is about the connection between parents (particularly dads) and daughters.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Guys, I swear I didn’t intend to make everyone cry with this list. But here we are. MacDonald’s memoir is about birds (no, the title isn’t a metaphor. It’s actually about hawks). But its also about her recovery and grief in the wake of her father’s unexpected death. And while it will probably make you and your dad cry, its also just a really beautiful portrait of a daughter coming to terms with this loss.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
Ugh, just this book, guys. I’m sorry again, but you’re going to need tissues. This novel has a lot going on: immigration, brain injury, young love, marriage. But its also about parenting and guilt and what you give up for your children. While the mother at the center of the story is probably what a lot of people initially focus on, it is the father that resonated most with me and he is the character I most feel for.
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I’m not Mexican American or gay or adopted, but this fantastic story by the author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is just really fantastic for building a relationship between a teenage boy and his gay adoptive father. (Let’s be real, I’m just trying to make my dad cry now).
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The most timely of timely reads, I’m not going to explain what it’s about. But I include it on this list not because I want to make a political statement or get into a fight with my dad, but because I want him to genuinely understand the fear of losing reproductive rights and empathize with the very real consequences of our patriarchal system. (See also Bitch Planet).
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Moving beyond the “novels about fatherhood that will make you cry” portion of our program, Missoula is not by any means an “easier” book for dads but I include it because, like many men, my dad was skeptical that cat calling slash fear of being raped or killed slash violence by men was a thing I faced on a daily basis until he saw that video of a woman walking the streets of NYC. I think that Krakauer’s examination of how rape culture is so ingrained into college life is a crucial one for fathers to see. I include it because I want to be able to point to something and say, see, this is how it is and this is how I feel. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where I don’t need empirical evidence written by a white man for my reality to be believed, but this is one step on the road to getting to that place.
Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker
In a similar vein, I have a hard time making arguments to my dad (and most men) about why reproductive choice matters and how being pro-choice doesn’t mean that I’m dead inside. (He hasn’t said those words to me, but it also took A LOT of work (and tears on my part) to get him to admit that he’d be okay with me getting an abortion if I were raped or mine or the baby’s health were at risk, etc. So it’s not far off the mark.) Parker has worked as a reproductive advocate and abortion provider for decades and uses this experience combined with scientific evidence to explain why providing help to women in need is fundamentally the Christian thing to do.
My dad’s version of social media is LinkedIn. And god love him for wanting nothing to do with Facebook. He has an Instagram, which he uses solely to look at pictures of my dogs on their dedicated account. Thankfully he’s rarely critical of the time I spend online, but every once in a while, I have to hard eyeroll when he makes a comment about how the only thing getting smarter from my smart phone is the tech companies. Clive Thompson’s examination of the ways in which technology is actually making us better and smarter and faster is a good read for dads in general, tech-averse or not.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Probably the last book you’d think to recommend to your dad, I know, but if more than 10 years of dating in the hellscapes that are NYC and DC have taught me anything, it’s that my dad will never understand why I’m still single unless I put concrete, quantitative facts in front of his face. Dating sucks, not least because of the internet, but it certainly isn’t helped by that, so if I can hold off the “maybe you’re just too picky” comments with a heavy dose of humor and anecdotes about Tinder that aren’t my own, I’m doing it.
Double Bind: Women on Ambition edited by Robin Romm
My dad, like many other dads, works with women in his day job. And while I am pretty confident that he’s not a gross sexist dude at work, its next to impossible as a man for him to understand the myriad ways in which being a woman in the workplace in particular is different than being a man at work. With this collection, Romm taps many different voices about this experience both specifically and in general in a way that (I hope) will illuminate the ways in which men can be professional allies and not just expect the women in their offices to do for themselves, as well as explain a bit of why I complain about the things I do after a long day at work.
I made this reading list with my dad in mind, but hopefully you find a few things you can gift to your dad (or the dads in your life) this Father’s Day. What would you add?