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Wednesday, 16 October 2013 13:43

Some old-fashioned lessons for living

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bookGoogle books on parenting, and you will find thousands — tens of thousands — of titles. There are books on parenting boys, books on parenting girls, books on parenting toddlers, adolescents, and teens, books on parenting the chubby and the thin, books on parenting every sort of child under the sun. 

 

In If Aristotle’s Kid Had An iPod: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents (Saint Benedict Press, ISBN 978-1-61890-414-0, $26.95), author Conor Gallagher offers a philosophy for moms and dads which sets his book apart from this teeming throng. For one thing, If Aristotle’s Kid Had An iPod is not, as Gallagher himself tells his readers, not really a practical parenting book. “I’m not qualified to write one,” Gallagher states. “I’m not going to say spanking is good or bad, or that video games are OK or not OK.”

He then goes on to inform us that he is more interested in writing a book of philosophy for parents, that “I am going to use philosophy to help you understand how your kid can become more virtuous, how he develops true friendships, and what will truly make him happy. I’ll leave the specifics to your better judgment.”

Does Gallagher deliver on this promise? In spades.

First among the delights of If Aristotle’s Kid Had An iPod are the author’s style and tone. This is no stuffy tome of philosophy. Gallagher addresses his readers informally, as if he were speaking to them in their living rooms rather than in a lecture hall. There’s plenty of Aristotle’s philosophy on virtue, wisdom, and young people here, but there are also forays into The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Anecdotes from parents abound as examples throughout the book, and the lively prose and thoughtful ideas should give any parent both pleasure and insight into many different issues of raising children to adulthood.

Like Aristotle, Gallagher stresses the importance of good habits, which can in turn lead to virtue. He writes: “We’ve all heard the saying ‘You are what you eat.’ This is very Aristotelian. When you form a habit, it becomes a part of you. You become what you do. One action is not a habit, nor is it a virtue. If your kid is generally rude, but says ‘please’ out of the blue, he’s still a ‘rude kid.’ If he works at it and begins saying ‘please’ some of the time, he becomes a quasi-polite kid. Eventually, good manners will begin rolling off his tongue. You now have a polite kid.”

Gallagher, who studied philosophy intensively in college, earned a degree in law, and today works as the CEO of a Catholic publishing company operating out of Charlotte — in addition, he is the father of eight young children — is particularly good when addressing the importance of friendship in a child’s development and of the cardinal virtues — justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence — as tools for living the good life, ideas which he takes from Aristotelian philosophy but which he then transforms into a format easily understood even by casual readers. His examples here range from Tiger Woods to U.S. Army warrant officer Hugh Thompson and his helicopter crew, who on seeing the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam taking place, saved several Vietnamese from certain death by American troops run amuck on that day of disgrace. 

If Aristotle’s Kid Had An iPod also offers us an excellent reminder that the life lived virtuously will bring happiness. Too often young people — and adults — define “happiness” as pleasure and chase after it for its own sake, failing to recognize that not only is the object of that pursuit false, but that they lack the proper tools to have any chance of success. Ideas like these make this book apt for parents, yes, but those of us whose children have already gone out into the world—and indeed, anyone who has dealings with young people—can profit from the wealth of thought and reflection offered here. 

Highly recommended.

•••

A second book for review this week also comes from a Catholic press, but like If Aristotle Had An iPod, it too deserves a broader audience. This is James Stenson’s small book of reflections and aphorisms, To Be A Man: Life Lessons for Young Men (Scepter Press, ISBN 978-1-59417-162-8, $5.95). Collected here are valuable bits of wisdom designed for young men from age 12 to 30. Here are some from the chapter titled “Professional and Business Savvy:”

‘One of these days’ is really none of these days.

Friday afternoon is the worst time to talk with anybody about something important.

Never send a letter or memo that you’ve written in anger. If you do, you’ll probably regret it. Hold it for a day or two, look it over calmly, then either revise it or throw it away.

Here is advice on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from how to handle a bad roommate in college (move out) to etiquette in the workplace. This little book makes an ideal gift for someone going off to college, starting a new job or even getting married. 

Another thumb’s up.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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