This Fathers Day, we celebrate the joy of reading with dads who read to their kids.
Studies have shown numerous benefits of reading to children, ranging from language development, bonding with your child and creating a relaxing routine as well as building confidence and increasing engagement with learning.
The books can be as varied as they come, and the young minds they help nurture a testament to the power of stories and imagination.
Here, we speak to a few fathers who read to their children, and from the tales they share, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it is child or adult who considers it their favourite part of the day.
And that is perhaps the best possible outcome.
Happily ever after
Helmi Majid doesn’t consider himself an avid reader, yet he has a home filled with books. He says never read as much as after becoming a father five years ago – never mind that it is princess stories that his daughter insists that he reads to her every single night before bed.
Helmi, 38, is now able to recite Cinderella from memory – with different character impersonations to boot – and he has promised his daughter that the mermaid costume she has been dreaming about will be hers once she learns how to swim.
Ariel from The Little Mermaid might want to be part of the world where people walk and run and stay all day in the sun, but five-year-old Sofea Isabella wants to be where her story books characters are.
“It is princesses and happily-ever-afters that capture Bella’s imagination at this point,” he laughs.
Helmi, who works in the oil and gas industry, started his daughter on flashcards when she was an infant. Now that reading has progressed to princesses and princes, frogs, evil stepmothers and fairy godmothers, he is happy to go along for the ride, no matter where the journey takes them.
“Bella wants me to read many of the same stories to her every day, it has come to the point where she finishes the sentences for me. Our routine each evening is story time, then she drinks her milk and goes to bed. Without reading, she does not want to sleep!” he says.
Superheroes and insects
There are plenty of characters in the fantasy world to tickle the fancy of a toddler. Sim Polenn knows this well, having read stories featuring Batman, Captain America, Hulk, Ironman, Spider-Man, Superman, Thor, and Ultraman, along with Carnage, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin and Rhino, to his three-year-old son.
“Jadenn will ask me to read them two or three times to him, before switching to other books, like the one he likes on bugs. He likes superheroes, but he likes insects too,” says Sim, 36.
Every week, he takes his son to a bookstore in the neighbourhood mall, where they spend hours in the study corner.
“It is a good place to read to Jadenn. He used to watch a lot of cartoons, but shortly after he turned two, I decided to start reading to him. I am very happy to see how eager he is to be read to and how inquisitive he has become. He throws many questions at us now!” he says.
Sim, who is the director of an art auction house, does not hold back on gushing about his first-born, calling him a bundle of joy and the greatest blessing in his life. He estimates that he has given him “more than 35,000 kisses” to date.
“I believe that spending time together with your child is very important. Since Jadenn came along, I have made it a point to be at home most nights. I do not remember my father reading to me when I was young, so I hope to change that with my son,” he says.
Sim reads more to Jadenn now than he does himself, but he recalls a point in his life when he once read 60 books in five months.
“The effect was amazing: confidence, knowledge on a myriad of subjects, an imagination and creativity booster. The experience was superb and I hope that my son will discover the joys of reading for himself one day.”
Joseph Foo, the father of two teenagers, has fond memories of the days when he read to his children, describing the moments as “some of the best times spent with them when they were young”.
He and his wife are firm believers that it is never too early to start kids on books, so Faith and Peace were read to even before they could string together sentences of their own.
“We started to read to them when they were around a year old; we learned not to underestimate their capability to understand what we read to them,” he says.
Foo, 50, a creative director, laughs while recalling how he would pretend to be reading at home just to set a good example to his kids.
“It was our ‘evil plan’ to get them interested in books and to be able to think independently by sometimes pretending that we are reading when in the presence of our children. To be honest, I do not read as much as I am supposed to, but both my wife and I know that given the choice, we would rather invest in books than TV or digital devices,” he says.
He considers these reading sessions to be a bonding opportunity between father and son. It is also a good way to develop not just reading habits but also their ability to stay focused, he says.
Foo and his wife, Naomi Tan, 48, read lots of Bible stories to their children, and now that they are 17 and 15, Faith, the eldest, is a huge fan of fiction and Peace will devour anything to do with data/information and other nonfiction titles.
“C.S. Lewis remains one of our favourites,” shares Foo.
And guess what? He still reads to his teenagers – just not entire books.
“Now whenever I find words of wisdom, inspirational quotes or scripture that are relevant to the situation we find ourselves in, I read those out loud to them.”
Joy for generations
His father might no longer be around, but his enthusiasm for reading will always be remembered by Ahmad Kamil, who is now passing on the same to his grandchildren.
“He instilled a love for reading in us, we had so many books and magazines around the house. I did the same with my kids. And now that I have two beautiful granddaughters, I read to them as often as I can,” says the 67-year-old retiree.
His grandchildren, Lily Zubaidah and Zyna Zainab, live in Wellington, New Zealand, so they make the most out of those weeks when Kamil visits them. It is a journey he makes at least twice a year, and often more frequently.
The reading sessions are a daily routine, synced with the kids’ bedtimes.
“My daughter Farah usually reads to them every night, but when my wife and I visit, the kids will insist that it is now Grandpa or Nenna’s turn to read,” the doting grandfather relates.
Just shy of five and two years old, the two girls are certainly not too young to be the ones calling the shots about which books will be read to them.
“We also take them to the public library every week for reading and storytelling sessions. Reading is a good habit and we hope that by first reading to them, they will grow up to love books and be avid readers,” he says.
“And if I live long enough to meet my great-grandchildren, then I will read to them too. Now that would be truly wonderful.”
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And this old adage cannot be more true with Timothy Johnson. Growing up, his father read all the classics to him, from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales to Aesop’s fables.
Now, the 48-year-old reads daily to his four-year-old daughter, Elisha.
“It is a must to read to her daily. Since she was born, I have read to her every night before she goes to bed. Now that she has started preschool, I read to her in the car while we are stuck in the jam heading to school,” Johnson says.
He is the senior vice president of marketing, product and partnerships at Inti International University & Colleges.
Johnson began with books like Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Eric Hill’s Spot series and Nick Sharatt’s range of picture books.
He then moved on Ladybird Books’ Peppa Pig series and books by Malaysian writers such as Emilia Yusof and Yusof Gajah.
“I have also started to include Bahasa Malaysia stories so that she can pick up the language,” Johnson adds.
Johnson shares that the reading sessions with his daughter gives them a chance to bond and spend some quality time together.
“I used to read to her at bedtime, along with my tuneless singing. Now, it has become a habit to read to her whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
“I believe that starting her young has made her appreciate reading on her own better. And now, we sometimes create our stories without books which I believe makes her more creative,” he says.
To other fathers out there, Johnson has this to say: “Read to your child as a way to get their attention. They may not listen to you when you talk to them … but when you read to them, you are their idol.”
Never too young
Benjamin Teo is a busy man. As a film producer with his own company, his hours can be long and unpredictable.
But when he does make it home before his 21-month-old daughter enters dreamland, Teo takes the opportunity to read to her.
The collection he reads from includes nursery books and Disney-based books.
His own father barely read to him when he was a young boy. But for the 32-year-old Teo, reading to his daughter is important as he believes in cultivating children’s knowledge at an early age.
“It is also good exposure for children to listen to fully formed and structured sentences that will enable them to grasp what is being said.”
Teo encourages other fathers to read to their kids because not only is reading beneficial to the child in the long run, it also creates a bond between the father and child.