Adrienne Miles Holderbaum (Producer): Welcome to Library Matters, the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ podcast.
David Watts: Hello and welcome to Library Matters. Chances are if you’re a parent or maybe thinking of becoming one, you’ve read a parenting book or two. If you’re a father you may find it slightly challenging to find and connect to modern parenting books. If so, you’re in luck.
Today we have two guests, Fred Akuffo, the Library Assistant Supervisor at Long Branch Library, and Tom Palmer a library associate at Silver Spring Library. Welcome to the podcast Fred and Tom.
Tom Palmer: Thank you.
Fred Akuffo: Thanks for having us.
David Watts: Tell us a little bit about yourself, how old are your kids and what is your parenting style?
Fred Akuffo: Okay. My kids are 13 and 10. I’ll say my parenting style is a daily discovery. That’s what I like to call it. I like to see what new I can find out to make things great for my kids.
David Watts: Okay, Tom.
Tom Palmer: So my son Theo was born just about three months ago, so I’m very new to the whole parenting thing. So I’m not sure I have a style honestly. I’m on the lookout for one. But I would say, for my wife and I, just trying to do as much as we can as a team. You know, we each have our own roles during the day but when we’re home together you know, there’s a crying baby you know, trying to share the load you know, because we’re in this together and that’s – I think that’s the only approach that will keep us staying in this early part.
David Watts: What parenting books for dads have either of you read?
Tom Palmer: So I’m pretty early on in the game. So with a pregnant wife the last year and then a newborn, I’ve not been reading a ton. But one book I’ve been – I did read was The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin which is just so much information, almost overwhelmingly. But you know, I’m sure we’ll talk more about it, but it was very helpful to sort of go through – have someone go through the whole process, what might happen in different scenarios. So I did enjoy that one.
Fred Akuffo: For myself, I don’t really read a lot of the new books. I’m more of a parenting style off of more ancient reading. I use the Bible a lot at my home and I also use Aesop’s Fables. So I like using Aesop’s Fables because it deals with a lot of character issues and I think for growing kids, one thing we want to do is make sure that character is developed. I get a lot of input from that book. And then for the Bible, Bible gives us hope. So that’s another thing I like to make sure that my kids have instilled in their character is a sense of hope in life, because it goes this way, that way, it’s a rollercoaster sometimes, but if we have hope then we can maneuver.
But in case people hearing want some reading that’s newer. There’s suggested books like the Dad’s Playbook which is a coach telling about methods he used for his kids by Tom Limbert, Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg, Better Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson, and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Meg Meeker. Also another book that I constantly read is the Boy Scout Handbook. It shows a lot of things that you can do with your kids to encourage them to be hard workers, encourage them to be creative, encourage them to be prepared. So I’d add that to the other two.
David Watts: Why did you guys pick those parenting books? Was it a gift or did you choose it on your own, or did someone suggest it to you?
Fred Akuffo: You know, for me, the Aesop’s Fable was a gift that at a very early age my mother gave it to me as a boy. And I’ve always been interested in what I’m going to do as a dad, even as a boy. So I’ve kind of been reading parenting books like all my life because I’ve always wanted to be a dad, you know. You know, I love my dad. My dad was – he didn’t speak much, he’s a tough guy but you know, he loved us, he worked hard for us. And so I always wanted to be in that position. But I wanted to maybe do a couple of things differently than he did. So I was always looking around to see what that would be, what I would change, what I would keep, and I use that to continue to look for different things and raise my own kids.
David Watts: Tom?
Tom Palmer: So for me, once I found out my wife was pregnant, it was sort of like, “Oh, my gosh, I need to learn everything I can about the whole process.” And actually our doula, the woman who taught us our birth class, she suggested The Birth Partner because she knew you know, and I wouldn’t say I was scared but I was you know, nervous a little bit about you know, when someone you love is going through a big thing, it’s scary. And she recommended this, just because it goes through all the scenarios, what might happen, and that was – I mean it’s overwhelming when you look at the amount of parenting books there are. So I kind of asked her and she suggested it and you know, it wasn’t a ton of time to read, but it did help and it made me feel a little bit more in control of the situation. First situation is by nature not – there’s not too much control over it.
David Watts: In your own experience what have you found to be the difference between the general parenting books and books geared specifically for dads?
Fred Akuffo: I’d say the length. Dad books seemed to be shorter, that I noticed, which is good for me because I tend to lose track if things get too long and if things get too wordy. I like advice to be short and concise. So when they’re too long, it can kind of take away from the reading for me.
Tom Palmer: And I would say the general difference I’ve noticed is it just goes in to you know, there are aspects of parenting unique to women and there are aspects unique to dads, or partners, or fathers. So you know, there is – for me, at least, there’s sort of that obvious bond with a mom and a child, you know, physically that she carries them for months at a time.
And so the books I was reading was helping me sort of you know, talk about you know, any problems, or not even problems, just bonding with the new child, you assume it happens instantly and it you know, doesn’t always work that way. So I think for books geared towards dads, it just sort of highlights a little bit more things that are unique to being a dad.
David Watts: What changes have you made after reading the particular books that you’ve spoken up?
Fred Akuffo: I think that call to response is something that I paid more attention to. As you read, you start to see that the things you do your children respond to. When they respond, they don’t always tell you what is going on inside you know, that you can see what’s happening to their emotions physically by looking at how their face is responding. And sometimes we need to pay attention to that I think and act, whereas, my dad wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. That’s something I think I had to learn through reading that.
When I see what I’ve said has upset my son, I can’t just keep talking and bearing down on just getting the information I want to get across. If he is getting upset in the midst of my talking to him, I might have to stop, give him a hug, let him know he is the coolest kid in the world to me and then see how we move forward you know, from there.
Tom Palmer: Again, it’s been three months for me so I’m not sure, you know? And I’m not really sure I’ve even thought about change. I’ve just been sort of doing what we can to get through the day.
But I would say in the books I’ve read, it always encourages sort of emotional honestly, just communicating with my wife. It’s always important, but especially with something that changes your life just drastically.
I was lucky enough to have a dad who is like that, but like you said with your father, even so if he was a little bit more stern than me. So I’ve tried to take it to the next level to sort of just you know, I don’t want to bug my wife everyday, but just to make sure we’re checking in with each other, everything okay you know. And that was stressed a lot in some of the books that I’ve read and that it makes sense and that’s how we’ve always sort of have you know, been in our relationship.
David Watts: What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in your spouses or even in your children in response to you and how you’re being led by these materials that you’re reading?
Tom Palmer: You know, it’s hard to say for me. But you know, in my family, we talked about everything all the time growing up, my wife not so much. So this whole, what I was just talking about, the emotion or you know, talking to each other, making sure we’re on the same page, it has come forth naturally to me than to her. But I think she has really embraced it, especially since our son has been born. And you know, I think I’ve you know, got myself a pad on the back. I’ve done a good job encouraging her to express herself because you know, it’s just – it’s a crazy time, lots of emotions. So yeah, I would say she has changed in that respect a little bit.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I think for me it’s – we will see kind of thing right now. We made changes. They react to different changes. But I think I’m finding out what those changes means sometimes.
One day I got a note that was written by my daughter and she wrote down that you know, “I love my dad,” and one of the questions on this paper works, “What do you like about him?” And she said, “He makes changes,” or something like that, “even when he is in bad mood. As to say, even when he doesn’t want to do something, he’ll do something nice for you,” you know. So I found out you know, that they’re watching all the time, you know.
David Watts: All the time. All the time. Yeah, yeah.
Fred Akuffo: And they’re watching to see what my response is going to be. Are they going to see that you know, I’m stubbornly going to stand firm? Or are they going to see that you know, yeah, I might be firm but if the time calls for it, I might go ahead and make a decision to bend here and there if needed? So I thought that was good. One day when I saw that, they were encouraged by them.
David Watts: Do you find that you’re turning to parenting books to help you as they go through ages and stages? Tom, in your case, the newborn. Fred, in your case you know, adolescence, in tween, teen years.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: I find with the tween and teens, I’m turning more towards people who’ve gone through it, because I like to ask my peers, elders, people I look up to, people I respect, what they’ve gone through, and actually even people that have made terrible mistakes, I ask them too what they’ve gone through, and what they wished they have done differently. Or I listen sometimes when I hear people telling stories about what they think they’ve done well and what worked out well.
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: A lot of times I listen to people’s children also talk about their parents. And I wish – I hear their children say, “I wish I had done this. I wish I had done that.” So I listen to that too. So I’m always looking for something more; I’m always looking to discover something. So my reading has gone down in terms of the parenting books. I definitely keep trying to glean from others.
Tom Palmer: And I would agree with you in that. There’s no one source you know, I go to for advice or you know, information. I think when parenting books can be helpful is you know, at least when my wife is pregnant, certain terms I just never heard of, I’m looking that up.
But then like you said, I go to my family for advice you know, ask friends, anyone. I’m no expert; I’m open to advice. And then you know, we take, my wife and I take that information and we make the decision we think is best if there is a decision to be made. But yeah, I would say a combination of books, internet, and then just asking my parents, my in-laws, my sisters who have all been parents much longer than me.
David Watts: In each of your books, certainly there was that that you found that you agreed with, but were there any concepts or things discussed that you didn’t agree with? And what did you do with that information?
Tom Palmer: I don’t know if I so much disagreed with things so much as I think I got to the point where there is a little bit of information overload. You know, for some people planning for a birth or a newborn, they want to make a meticulous plan and that was one of the things that the author suggested. After a few chapters, I realized I was maybe kind of start skimming the book a little and going to chapters I thought was interesting or helpful because at least with my personality I started thinking like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of this happening before. I hope this won’t like happen to my wife.”
So I think it was just worrying about things that weren’t necessarily likely to happen, but that’s not necessarily something to disagree with. It’s just the way I approach the book versus other people.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And with older readings, sometimes you got to be careful, because things don’t work like they used to at times. There’s a story in Aesop’s Fable about a guy who went to prison and his mom came to visit him and he bit his mom’s ear off. So I’m not advocating that kind of thing.
But the core lesson was the gentleman felt like his mom didn’t discipline him when he was younger and if she had just done that, could have saved him his grief. So yeah, there’s aspects you disagree with, but you’re looking for the core lesson that’s going to be positive, so.
David Watts: So from your experience, Fred, how would you relate what you’ve learned in the book to a new parent like Tom? How would you relate your experience in what he should be mindful of as he reads these books?
Fred Akuffo: Actually I think Tom said it best. You take what you think you need, what you think you don’t need, you don’t exactly incorporate, ask advice from the people you love around you, and work with your wife on making it all work out.
David Watts: Do the parenting books, you have both read, acknowledge that there are norms that should be followed and are those norms applicable even in other cultures?
Tom Palmer: Yeah, I would say the books I read, although I’m not you know, terribly right at this point, but it did touch on some you know, cultural aspect, but it was tended to be from a reaction of a western standpoint. So it did touch in them, but not as much as might be even helpful or interesting to me. But it’s an interesting question that hadn’t really occurred to me before this, because certain things like birth you know, might be universal. But once the baby comes out, different cultures have very different ideas of whether it’s a group mentality or the parents, and the uncles, and the grandparents all raised them, or it’s a typical modern couple where they’re sort of on their own in a new city. And it would be interesting to read a book that was more or so focused on that idea, that difference in cultures in parenting.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, I find the books lately that I’ve read don’t embrace at culture as much. They don’t encourage the young wives to talk to the older women who have been through it to get tips and tricks of how to be a mom and how to make things work, you know? I find that sometimes upon reading to even suggest that those ways are the old ways. And to me, I don’t know, to me, that’s a little bit of a lost, because I think if somebody has been through something, they can give you some input and feedback to protect you, to warn you, to give you heads up to make things easier on you.
So sometimes I think the cultural aspect is lacking in the current parenting books I’ve seen. And again, just like Tom was saying, I’m reading them from a more western point of view. And I could recognize that because I’m from a family where it’s mixed. My father is from Ghana. My mother is from America. So that presents another dynamic. You know, he was from a patriarchal society, so the mindset of a dad is a little bit different from my observation and point of view and upbringing.
Tom Palmer: Going off of that, I would say I wish there was – the books I’ve read had more – would show that it’s normal to really rely on family and friends, especially early in the baby’s life. I think that some of the books touched on that, but you might need help from a family member. But I know for my wife and I, we – I don’t know if I could take that without my mom and mother-in-law staying over some nights and helping out. And I can’t speak to it you know, exactly. But I think that’s a fairly universal idea that it’s hard with the new baby and you will need help and that it’s not a sign of weakness to need help. I wish that have been stressed a bit more in the books I’ve read.
David Watts: So you disagree with the idea that there is a right way and a wrong way and looking back sometimes judgment is laid upon older methods. And what you’re saying is you do need some of that former generation’s experience to help you navigate through what you’re going through in terms of its impact in your family, right?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely. Just in something like you know, it seems like from what I’ve read, every few years, the consensus about how to position a baby when they’re sleeping changes.
David Watts: Yes.
Tom Palmer: Whether it’s in your stomach or the back. And so I finally asked my mom because I don’t – I keep seeing different things I don’t know. And it just helps to hear like you know, “We did this and you were fine.” Not that we’ll necessary exactly follow what my mom says, but it just helps to have past generation’s input and you know, they’re saying, “Don’t do this. But we did this with you and it was okay.” So it’s just another perspective that can be helpful.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. And actually I’m not saying I disagree, but I am agreeing with Tom. These books don’t push you to go to your folks and urge you to do that. And I think that’s – to me, that seems like a loss to me. The people who care most about you I would think, would be the first people you wanted to get major, major input on. These folks know you, they know what you’re going to go through more than you do, because a new dad is a new dad every time. So you can’t do enough reading to prepare yourself.
David Watts: So let’s stay with that, okay? Let’s see if we can contrast with Tom.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: Given the positions that you now find yourselves in, he is the new dad, you are the more experienced dad.
Fred Akuffo: Okay.
David Watts: What changed over your course of parenting your child that differs from what you’ve read when you first got into the game? In other words, he is reading a lot of stuff and he wants to put it in the test lab and see if it works. But you’ve already been in the test labs. So tell us how your views changed over these 13-plus years that you’ve been a dad, or not.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I mean my views are always changing.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So it’s a hard question to answer, because I’ve tried to look at it on a daily discovery basis. So whereas I thought I needed to be hardline in one area, five years ago, I changed my mind and said, “Well, I’m going to not soften up, but I’m going to be flexible in that area.”
David Watts: Yeah. So that’s good advice.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah.
Fred Akuffo: So like, okay, I just didn’t know how to word it.
David Watts: Don’t take such a hard position because you may end up talking –.
Fred Akuffo: On certain things. Yes, on certain things. On other things, I had to – I started off not really being – I started off being indifferent. And now I’m intense you know, when it comes to certain things. So my –.
Fred Akuffo: For example, let’s say social media.
David Watts: So what would you tell him as it relates to social media? He has got a blank slate. You are in the midst of the storm right now, okay? Devices, no devices, what was your experience?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. I went with – at first, I was no devices, then I found my family giving gifts that were devices without asking me. So now, they have a device. But with that, I found that there’s more in their mind than I know seeing what they are interested in, seeing what they’re reading, seeing what they’re typing or texting. So now, I have more of an inside window. So it’s not the evil device, but it is engagement to me. So my advice to Tom would be see what they are saying, you know –
David Watts: Right.
Fred Akuffo: – when it comes to a device you know.
David Watts: And in fact it added a perspective. From a little further up road –
Fred Akuffo: Absolutely.
David Watts: – is balanced. It’s always about balance, you know? My kids have devices and they’re on their devices, but I make them trade device time for reading time. So you know, if I’m going to keep this in sync with Library Matters, my kids probably read more than the average kid because they know in order to get device time, they’ve got to put in to reading. So the device sort of gets taken and the candle gets handed to them and then they’ve got to put that time in. And you know, the device tells me how much they’ve read, which is a good feature of device. So that’s all I would say to you guys, is strike a balance and, you know –
Fred Akuffo: That’s good. That’s good.
David Watts: – try to keep everything on a level plane.
Tom Palmer: And I would say that’s how my parents were. I’m, I would say, lucky enough to sort of, social media wasn’t around when I was younger but you know, like video games, stuff like that where my mom’s deal was, “You want a video game, great, you can save up for it and wait until Christmas. But any book you want, I’ll buy you.” And so that encouraged me to read and if I hadn’t read early, it just – I’m not sure I would be a librarian or the reader I am today.
So – but she was by no means you know, “No video games,” which would have you know, made me turn me away from books. So I agree that at least from my perspective of as a child, that balance was always really important.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, this is interesting, what you are talking about with the time, we call a social media time share, you know? I would like to think about that more. So that’s something that – and that’s what good. That’s why it’s good to hear how people have gone through things, have done things you know, because you can really get some powerful tools that you might not have exactly thought about at that time.
David Watts: We like to always ask our guest what they’re reading on their nightstand or whatever it is that they are consuming, maybe you’re consuming electronically. But what are you reading now or what is your favorite read?
Tom Palmer: Right now, I’m reading sort of a throwback foundation by Isaac Asimov on the young adult library at Silver Spring. So I’m always trying to keep abreast of young adult literature, but sometimes I just need to nerd out and have some fantasy or some science fiction. And so yeah, it’s good so far.
Fred Akuffo: I’m reading The Truth about Money. It’s good to know. I like to tell my son about money and how it really works. He was interested in buying more things. I don’t really give him money. So the only way he gets this is if he works. But I talk to him about, if you make money, you might want to save the money. And he is wondering why and how. So The Truth About Money is a good read. I think so.
David Watts: Would you read that to him?
Fred Akuffo: We read it together. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Awesome.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, yeah.
David Watts: Wonderful. Let me also ask you, how often do you guys read to your children?
Fred Akuffo: I don’t read as much as I should or would like to. What I did a lot with my kids is have them listen to books on tape, books on audio CD, and they listened to a lot of stories from a series called Adventures in Odyssey, they listened to that like every night.
David Watts: I can remember, Tom, when my kids were smaller, there was a show in PBS called Reading Rainbow.
Tom Palmer: Oh, yeah.
David Watts: Yeah, yeah. And I would get the book and you know, get into the role and read to them. Do you see yourself doing something like that with Theo?
Tom Palmer: I can’t wait. He is so young right now. When he was in utero, we read the books to him –
David Watts: Wow.
Tom Palmer: – because we’ve read that that is helpful. I’m not convinced. But everyone says like it helps develop their brains. It could – but you know, I don’t know if that did anything. And we are not reading – well, there’s these books for instance, Black on White. I think it’s by Tana Hoban I think is the author. And it’s just sort of everyday objects with a white background in dark black, and it’s just about the – supposed to be good film, their vision, like the contrast of the black versus white. So that’s sort of where we’re limited to right now.
But of course we do the goofy voices with him. It feels like I rarely talk in my own voice at home anymore. But I’m very excited. That was a huge part of my childhood. It was my parent reading to me. And so as soon as I get the feeling he is actually going to get something from it, we’ll start doing some real books.
Fred Akuffo: And the reading part, I don’t do as much, but I make up a lot of stories. So my kids love hearing stories about what I call Clarence Boddicker. And Clarence Boddicker is a guy who – all the Clarence Boddicker stories are stories where I made stupid mistakes, but they don’t know it’s me. So the “me” is the Clarence –.
David Watts: So they come soliciting these stories from you?
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, they love Clarence Boddicker.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: And they can’t wait to see what happens.
David Watts: How does that make you feel?
Fred Akuffo: It’s good. It’s good, because something positive can finally come out of it. The stories are vivid. They’re compelling, because they’re real, you know? And Clarence Boddicker has to make a decision in the story and he messes up, he messes up all the time. But these are things that they can be prepared for ahead of time so they don’t do the same thing that I did when I was little, so.
Tom Palmer: Did your dad read to you?
Fred Akuffo: No, my dad told me stories.
David Watts: Okay, so you’ll continue.
Fred Akuffo: So I guess I’m – yeah, yeah.
Tom Palmer: I’d have to steal that idea from you.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah. But because, see, my father is West African, so his stories dealt with a lot of walking and talking animals.
David Watts: Okay.
Fred Akuffo: So – and those are stories you know, I’m sure you’ve heard the Anansi type stories.
David Watts: Yes.
Fred Akuffo: They’re very, very similar to that and –.
David Watts: And did that impact your reading?
Fred Akuffo: Definitely, definitely. In fact, that’s probably why I like Aesop’s Fable so much, because you know, they’re walking talking animals, too, and have life lessons stories and character building and all that kind of thing. So maybe that’s why I don’t like modern-day parenting looks because there’s no animals in them, you know? But yeah, I think entertaining your kids are you parent them is something that –
David Watts: Is important.
Fred Akuffo: – you want to keep in mind, too you know. It’s not just about lessons, but you got to search to entertain them, you got to be creative.
In fact, the creativity is probably the most important part because it just – it gives them color in their brains. And I don’t know. That’s probably a sorry way to describe it. But that’s the only way I can think. You’re painting a picture and they get a chance to do that with you. So yeah, the entertainment part is big in our family you know. We definitely laugh a lot and talk about what we’ve laughed about later, so yeah.
David Watts: How about you, Tom, did your dad read to you as a child and you feel it’s important to keep that going?
Tom Palmer: Absolutely, and I would say my dad actually is sort of more of a storyteller, and my mom was more of the reader. But I’m very, very grateful to them for instilling that in me. And I don’t remember ever being forced to read. They somehow were able to get me interested, and that’s one of those fears I have as a parent is what if my son doesn’t want to read one day and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But it’s just – it’s so important to me. It developed my imagination, critical thinking, helped me as a writer. So that’s – it’s a huge, huge deal for me and it’s something that I want to instill in my son definitely.
Fred Akuffo: Yeah, if you ever come across that, not wanting to read, have them read, choose your own adventure.
Tom Palmer: Oh yeah.
Fred Akuffo: That will help them.
Tom Palmer: All right, point taken.
David Watts: I want to thank both of you for being our guest today on Library Matters. And for our listeners, we’re going to keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Also please review and rate us on iTunes; we’d love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today. See you next time.