As some of us rush to the mall to pick-up a handsome pinstripe tie, or make last minute brunch reservations for Father’s Day this weekend, we wanted to catch our breath for a minute and reflect on our favorite father moments. At the Library Foundation, those favorite moments translate into books, so we asked our staff to recall a favorite book they associate with fathers, which incidentally could lend itself to a great gift idea. Happy Father’s Day to all this Sunday!
My father’s favorite book was Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, because he so identified with Yossarian, the beleaguered protagonist, who was so estranged from military culture. Heller’s novel spoke to my father’s own experiences as an infantryman in the Pacific War, his scorn for officers who often took the easy route out while the “dogfaces” slogged through combat. My father never spoke about his war experiences, and my siblings and I were admonished not to ask him about them. However, I was able to learn quite a lot from a discovery I made in the storage locker of my parents’ condo in Culver City, in 1990, the year both my parents passed away. I found over 500 letters my dad wrote my mother from the Philippines. Some of those letters were written during the 160 consecutive days of combat my dad endured during the battle of Balete Pass, in northern Luzon. Among the letters, I found a typical war souvenir– a Japanese rising sun flag– with the name of a Japanese soldier inked in black on white silk. I became obsessed with transcribing and deciphering my father’s letters and as well, I became obsessed with the identity of the owner of the Japanese flag. In 1995, I was able to go to the snow country of Japan to return the flag to the family of Yoshio Shimizu, the young man who faced my father in combat at Balete Pass. The Shimizu family and fellow townspeople welcomed me with great warmth.
By the time I found the letters, I could no longer ask Norman Steinman questions about the war. However, his letters told me a lot, and reading them, transcribing them made me feel incredibly close with my father. I encountered the lyrical, poetic side of the man– the way he was before the traumatic experience of combat. I sometimes describe my memoir, The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father’s War, as a posthumous collaboration with my father.
–Louise Steinman, Cultural Programs Director
Growing up on a farm in Illinois, my fondest memories are of wandering down to the creek with my two sisters and brother, my dad and our dog Trixie to see what wildlife we could see. Often we’d spot a family of quail crossing the road, blue jays quarreling in the trees overhead or elegant Red-winged Blackbirds skimming gracefully across the top of the tall corn against the backdrop of a periwinkle sky. My father never went to college. I have no memory of ever discussing literature, art or the meaning of life with my father. But I do remember a copy of the Audubon Society’s Book of Birds on the roll top desk in our dining room. Next to it laid a small wooden bird whistle that I suspect came with the book that my father had ordered through the mail. This book is what I attribute my deep fascination with birds. My father’s love of wildlife bonded us together all these years since university, my move to Los Angeles, graduate school and my embarking on a career, many miles from the farm where I was born. Recently, my nine year old excitedly told me that he saw a bird at school, with long legs, that sang a beautiful song. And with wonder in his voice, he told me that the bird was the color of cinnamon. I must check the Audubon Society Book of Birds to see what this magical cinnamon bird might be.
–Jean Grant, Assistant Vice President for Advancement
I am in charge of putting my son to sleep—he is two and a half. We have a little routine: kiss mommy goodnight, walk to his room, use the potty (he’s in training), put on pajamas, pick out a book, read three to four books together in the rocking chair, and then sing/whistle a medley of songs that always begins with “A Love Supreme.” One of the books he frequently selects and that I especially enjoy reading is Time for Bed Baby Ted. Ted attempts to defy sleep by making his father guess what animal he is impersonating, but dad is smooth; turning Ted’s alligator impersonation, for example, into an opportunity to snap on his pajamas. As you read on—you see the rituals Ted and his father share before bedtime. There’s something so universal about sleep. Happy Father’s Day and a big triple-shot of love to my Dad, who would freestyle stories, taking me on countless adventures as a child.
-Imani Harris, Assistant Director, Foundation and Corporate Relations
My husband and I are expecting our first child this summer. As we prepare for the exciting new adventure by stock-piling adorable onesies and socks the size of pinky fingers, we get the giddiest over imagining what books we’ll read to our little boy. My mind goes wild with all the less than obvious choices—wouldn’t “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” make a great lullaby? Wouldn’t a four-year-old be amused by Nabokov’s use of synesthesia? (I would read him a G-rated version of Nabokov, of course.) Luckily to balance out my overly ambitious reading list, my husband has his head a wee-lower from the clouds and closer to the honey pot. As a soon-to-be father, he’s most looking forward to reading Winnie-the-Pooh to our son because he believes A. A. Milne is a philosophical genius, and (perhaps unlike my choices) is relevant to any age from 0 to 100. I concede to my husband’s fatherly instincts that reading a book that can last a lifetime is not a bad starting point.
–Bridgette Bates, Writer-in-Residence
The Leather-Bound Library
As a kid, my father was my absolute hero. To me, he had always been the tallest, strongest man who could fix anything, and was definitely the smartest person I had ever met. I remember thinking that the reason my dad must know so much, is because he always read a lot of books. His bookcase was massive and towered over me as a child, but I loved to just look at all the different titles he had accumulated into his personal library over the years. I don’t associate one particular book with my father, but I know that I was incredibly awe-struck by his pristine collection of beautiful leather-bound classic books that were decorated with fancy gold writing on the covers and gold page linings. To me, these books were works of art that my dad somehow possessed, and I revered them as such for years, not ever wanting to hold them for very long so I wouldn’t smudge the pages. Now that I’m older, I realize that these classic book collections are not as rare as I once thought, but whenever I see one, I am instantly reminded of my father, and his book collection.
-Sarah Charleton, Cultural Programs Coordinator