For those who believe it's possible to read your way into being a better dad, there are plenty of books out there that might help this Father's Day.
As a rule, these tend to fall into two distinct categories: the this-is-serious-business dad books and the lighter-side-of-being-a-dad books.
A prime example of the former is The Father's Book: Being a Good Dad in the 21st Century, by David Cohen. Although it purports to cover everything from a child's needs to discipline techniques to playing with your kid, it begins with this rather ominous observation:
"Fathers love their sons and want to protect them, but fathers are also jealous; they see their sons who are strong, beautiful and have their lives before them. Meanwhile the fathers are getting closer to the grave every moment. One way to deal with this ambivalence is for the father to teach the son and, especially, to teach the son to be like him." And that's just in the introduction!
Fortunately, the tone doesn't stay that heavy. Cohen soon trots out an old Yiddish joke that goes like this:
How many children do you have?
No children - what do you do for aggravation?
Another straight-ahead manual is 101 Secrets a Good Dad Knows, by Walter and Sue Ellen Browder, which bills itself as "a simple, step-by-step guide to those fun-loving skills that raise self-esteem, foster self-reliance and build character [in children]."
Two of the "skills" outlined in the book are how to skip a rock and how to carve a whistle (what, no tips on barn raising?). It also offers instruction for less retro pursuits, such as how to photograph lightning, that seem pretty cool.
Winner, by far, for weightiest title is The Father's Almanac: From Pregnancy to Pre-school, Baby Care to Behavior, the Complete and Indispensable Book of Practical Advice and Ideas for Every Man Discovering the Fun and Challenge of Fatherhood, by S. Adams Sullivan. Apparently, this is meant to be the absolute last word on the subject - at least until Sullivan comes out with Volume 2.
If it's yuks you seek in fatherhood advice, you may want to read Don't Make Me Stop This Car: Adventures in Fatherhood by Al Roker. The title, of course, alludes to car trips that the Today show star took as a child with his own dad.
When things in the back seat got out of hand, Roker's dad, as was customary then, would reach back with his free hand, wildly swinging his meaty paw in hopes of cracking the offending kid and restoring order. You get the feeling that Roker might have launched a few meaty paws himself while piloting his kids down the highway.
"We all swear we will not become our parents," Roker writes. "I have realized this is a futile attempt at trying to thwart the inevitable. ... You can't avoid it. Save the money you'd spend on therapy and get a good home theater with a DVD player."
Comedian/actor Bill Cosby's Fatherhood is now nearly 20 years old, but it still elicits chuckles and still resonates with common-sense advice, which seems to stem from his philosophy that there are no absolute rules of fatherhood.
"In spite of the six thousand manuals on child-raising in the book stores," he writes, "child-raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything."
In his 2002 mini-book, Bill Cosby on Fatherhood, he takes a few whacks at smug, self-congratulating new dads, in particular.
"The new father, of course, feels that his mere impregnation of his mate, done every day by otters and apes, is Olympic gold medal stuff ... " says Cosby. "He feels he and his wife have nobly created something that will last. He never thinks that they may have created one of the top ten under-achievers in their town."
Nope, never. That's just not in a dad's genetic makeup.