“Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts and incline the ear of your heart.”
These are the opening words of The Rule of Saint Benedict. Like the Rule, Adam Fletcher Bradley’s book The Adventures of a Stay-At-Home Dad is about careful listening, but if Bradley were to summarize his book in the style of the opening of St. Benedict’s Rule, he would have to reverse it to read:
“Listen carefully, father, to your child’s needs and incline the ear of your heart.”
For both books are about growing into the person God intends you to be through careful listening. Both books are about inclining the ear of your heart. Here’s how Bradley summarizes his book:
During my time as a stay-at-home dad, I was clueless on how to be the father my daughter needed. This was when I discovered the art of listening to my daughter and that if I listened close enough, she would help me become the dad and man she needed in her life.
The book contains seven “short stories” (really personal essays) on various aspects of parenting that together trace the journey that Bradley has taken along with his daughter, Lilly, and his wife, Rebecca, from cluelessness to understanding.
It is a very familiar journey. Like Bradley, I am a stay-at-home dad. My daughter, Anna, is almost seven now. We’ve traveled the earliest parts of this journey already and all of the stories Bradley tells feels so familiar. I see so much of two-year-old Anna—the sassy stubbornness for example—in his depiction of Lilly, and so much of myself—the clueless, sleep-deprived klutz—in his depiction of himself. His wife, in contrast, seems to have it all together—like mine did—though I’m sure if you asked her she would tell you she felt a lot more helpless and overwhelmed that she lets on. I know Julia would say the same thing.
And it’s that common experience of parenting that comes through in each of these chapters—these stories—of Bradley raising Lily to be a more self-sufficient child, and Lilly, in turn, teaching Bradley to be a more self-giving parent. I would have loved to have owned this book five years ago, when Anna turned two and we embarked on many of the same adventures. Each chapter depicts a lesson I learned—sometimes with great difficulty.
Chapter 1) “Annoying Love”: You don’t realize how much of your time and energy a child needs to feel safe, secure, and loved until you can’t go six minutes without hearing “Daaad!” or “Upppppeeeeee!”
Chapter 2) “Gobbly Goo Shmoo”: No one will understand your child better than you and yet often you’ll have no clue what she’s trying to say. This is a tough enough task for parents of children learning to speak at a normal pace. For parents of children with speech delays, this chapter will bring back some particularly frustrating memories.
Chapter 3) “Art of Play”: Kids remind us just how important play is. If you listen, you can find the childlike playfulness you forgot you had, and you’ll be left wondering how you ever lived without it.
Chapter 4) “Chaos vs. Rest”: The former is unavoidable; the latter is necessary. Only rest will help keep “the chaos monster” on a leash.
Chapter 5) “Loaching”: A portmanteau of leading and coaching (that sounds a little too much like loafing to me, but I got past that soon enough). Being a parent just isn’t about telling a child what to do, it’s about guidance and setting a consistent example. As Saint Francis said “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Walk the walk and your kid will walk with you.
Chapter 6) “2-1/2 Foot Tall Mirror”: We are our children’s guides and they model all their actions on what they see us do. They also repeat everything we say, and we all learn that lesson the hard way. I still get reminded more often than I care to admit.
Chapter 7) “And That’s Okay”: Potty training. Accidents happen. We all stumble and fall, and when we do, the most important thing is to get back up again. A lesson for life in general.
Each of these stories end with a set of three reflections—titled “Me,” “God,” and “The world around me”—and a couple of discussion questions intended to help the reader reflect deeper in turn. Following Bradley’s example, I will end this review in a similar way:
Through this book I got a look back at the father I was while Anna was growing up and was reminded of so many great experiences we had together. Being a stay-at-home dad wasn’t something I’d planned, but I would never trade that time I had with my daughter for any career. No amount of money would make up for that experience, and no outside career would be as fulfilling.
Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. —Isaiah 41.10
Just as our children are utterly dependent on us, we are utterly dependent on God. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said we needed to be like children to enter the Kingdom. We need to let go of pride and admit we can’t do it alone. I still can’t do it alone. I need help.
The world around me:
I got past being judged for what I do, being labeled for what I am or am not a long time ago, and I am happier and healthier because of it. Too many people let themselves be labeled by one thing—a career—and have that be the sum of their value. I am many things: a father, a husband, a writer, a musician, and a ever-stumbling Christian. All of those labels describe me, but I cannot be reduced to just one label. I am a unique individual created in the Image of God. So is my daughter. So is everyone.
Questions to help me go deeper:
1. Is there any way in which I feel that this book could be improved?
Yes. Discussion questions are a great way to facilitate reflection as well as discussion when a book is read in a small group. The best examples of these questions I’ve seen are in the books of Brian McLaren. He supplies several questions at the end of each of the chapters of his books and they are designed to trigger long, spontaneous conversations. In contrast, I felt that the questions in Bradley’s book were too few and too easily answered in generalities. They reminded me of the questions that are often tacked on arbitrarily at the end of blog posts. If this book is successful enough to warrant a second printing—and I hope it is—I would like to see these questions expanded.
2. Would I recommend this book to another stay-at-home dad?
Yes. (OK, I just did what I criticized above. Let’s go deeper.)
The Adventures of a Stay-At-Home Dad is not just for the stay-at-home dad. Whether you spend all day with your child or only get to be home after work, direct involvement is necessary for your child’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. and any father can learn a great deal from Bradley’s experiences.