Hallmark holidays – no thank you! I’d rather listen to Freddie Krueger scratch his nails across a blackboard than venture out for Valentine’s Day. A minor exaggeration but ultimately, I’m a Hallmark misery guts. If I got all righteous on it, I’d rant about capitalism exploiting human sentiment and blah blah blah. I’ll spare you the pain.
Big O shares a similar bias except when it comes to his own lovely mammy. On Mother’s Day this year, I sat patiently with tiny o in the car as he popped into our local florist. While waiting I indulged myself and pondered, “Perhaps he’ll get a bouquet for me as a gift from tiny o, as well as flowers for his mam?!” But alas he emerged with a magnificent arrangement of lilies, which he asked me to hold to keep intact on the journey to his folks. Eh nice one! Thus ensued a tirade of teasing about this irony. Me: “Ha ha ha ha!” [squinty-eyed death stare] Get. me. flowers.
I’m still waiting for my phantom lilies. Despite all of this, I did indulge for Father’s Day this year. Too early in our lives to venture into sock territory, I purchased two very different picturebooks but on a similar theme – the unconditional bond between a dad and his child. These are special books tiny o can read with Big O or indeed, his squidgy-hearted granddads; other father figures in his life. Both stories feature boy. This works for me with a son but they can certainly resonate with daughters too.
This story is told by a single narrator, a little boy’s dad with tattoos; two sleeves and front and back tats. These are intricately painted by New York Times bestselling illustrator, Eliza Wheeler.
The little boy’s curiosity opens the narrative as he asks to see his dad’s tattoos. His request is fulfilled, our journey begins and unfolds through a series of tattoos. Behind each one, our narrator shares a hidden meaning.
Memories from childhood of his favourite story his mother read to him. The affirmation his father taught him – to be kind – subtly illustrated in his old man’s affectionate eyes. A Ferris wheel depicting the day he fell in love with a woman’s pretty smile. The longest journey he took and how he missed home.
When I turned the page to his longest journey, the image initially jarred with me as it depicts soldiers trekking across a scorched landscape. Then I noticed that none of the soldiers carry guns and there is no attempt at commentary; it simply is the longest journey he took. I wonder about the author’s intention here, whether this is meant as an opportunity to explore conflict and peace with children. Is this an intended choice for the reader?
The story moves on to the simplest tattoo but the one favoured by the boy and most valued by his dad. It depicts a special date 22nd July 2012 when a tiny little person arrived into the world. Can you guess who?
When you close the book, on the back cover is a dove with an olive branch; a symbol for peace.
This centres on the loving bond between Tender Heart and his Papa who are Maasai, one of Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups. I was excited to bring this book into our home as I’ve travelled to Kenya. I also want tiny o to explore and appreciate other cultures and to be curious about our wonderfully diverse world. Picturebooks are an excellent way to do this.
If you’re familiar with ‘Guess How Much I love You’ and Big and Little Nutbrown Hare, you’ll see a similar pattern in this book. Tender Heart asks, “Papa, do you love me?” To which Papa responds a resounding yes. But Tender Heart like all small children eager to test the limits of his independence, presses his dad for evidence of the extent of his love.
Papa provides lots of evidence and in doing so transports us on a journey through Maasai culture. We see the Adumu, their traditional jumping dance. We get the lay of their local landscape where Greenheart trees, bush babies, wildebeest, hippos, fierce lions and howling hyenas all venture.
We see Papa reassure Tender Heart that even if his son does something that makes him angry, he will still love him. That he’ll care for him, love him and teach him always, “Because I am your Papa, and you are my Tender Heart.”
There is an alternative to this book called, ‘Mama, Do You Love Me?’ by the same authors. It follows a similar pattern but the story pivots on an Inuit girl and her mama. It is a massive hit with tiny o! Nonetheless, the overall winner is [drumroll]… Papa, Do You Love Me? It’s been ten days since Father’s Day, ten days of reading this book over and over and over and over again. We know it word for word. All three of us. A 2-year old’s take on an epic page-turner and happy dad reciting its words 🙂
I’m Jen Murphy, award-winning blogger and wellness advocate for working mothers. I created Working Mother Wellness as a platform for mums to share our wellness experiences. Sign-up to build your own Working Mother Wellness toolkit. You will receive updates on Kundalini yoga and meditation practices, wellness tips, and info on upcoming workshops and programmes.