NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
What does a boy need to learn from his father and what does a father need to teach his son? This coming weekend, a lot of dads will get a book that proposes stickball, kite, fishing and camping, and stories around the fire, stories about Gettysburg and expeditions to the South Pole - activities and stories transmitted from father to son, but between the pressures of modern life and the forces of political correctness; stuff that may have skipped a generation.
We'll talk with one of the co-authors of "The Dangerous Book for Boys," and with a professor of popular culture. And we want to hear from you. What should every dad teach his son? What do you wish your father taught you? Our number is 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Later on in the program, the new media on the grill. Tony Blair decries that packed instincts of the feral beast. Dan Rather says CBS has dumb down the evening news. David Folkenflik joins us for another edition of the Media Circus. But first, fathers and sons, Conn Iggulden is the author of "The Dangerous Book for Boys," a manual for boys and their fathers. He joins us from a studio at the BBC in London. And it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. CONN IGGULDEN (Co-Author, "The Dangerous Book fro Boys"): It's very good to be here.
CONAN: And you write in the introduction that one of your motives for writing this book is this was stuff that you had hoped you'd learned as a boy?
Mr. IGGULDEN: Yes. An awful lot of it, you know, came from things we did as kids, first of all. And then also when we started to put it together - I mean, I was working with my brother, Hal, for six months and had shared to do this - we've started to realize that, you know, there's an awful lot that we didn't want to see forgotten - some stories like the RAF pilots, (unintelligible), Scott of the Antarctic, you mentioned, or Nelson or Robert the Bruce, or the Wright Brothers. Boys love stories and we loved stories back then.
So we started putting in sort of stories of courage and things like that just because, yeah, that's the sort of boys - that's the sort of thing we always wanted when we were kids. It just widened. I mean, we put a lot of practical things in there, but boys can be very geeky about facts and knowledge and skills and crafts.
I mean, you were talking about what, you know, your father teaches me. And my father always said that you might not be an expert at something, but you can always be competent. And you can be competent at just about anything. And I like that. I'm very keen on the wide range of skills.
I think that's one of the reasons why the book has such a wide range of different skills, because there's no reason a boy has to sort of have doors shut in his face. You know, you can do just about anything when you're a boy. And that's just a wonderful part of being a, sort of, 10-year-old or a 12-year-old, there are no door shuts. You can be a scientist. You could be a builder, an architect, God knows what you got to be.
CONAN: And it…
Mr. IGGULDEN: And is it - go on.
CONAN: I was just saying. There's all sorts of, you say, practical stuff. There's also sort of stuff that would - I guess, in the expression of when I was that age - was just neat, stuff that, you know - make a bow and arrow, make a trip wire. This good interesting stuff.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Well, these are things we did. I mean, we used to cut bows and arrows and then go hunting with them in the local bush, usually with a complete lack of success. Although we did catch a raven once - I managed to net a raven. I think it must have been nil, because I - still, to this day, I can't see why a raven allowed a few 12-year-old boys to catch him.
It's a sad story we - my mother used to keep chickens in a tiny, tiny garden, and we put the raven in the chicken run. And I'm sure this will horrify some people - but we were very young and the bird eventually died - I had an idea of teaching it to hunt at the wood (unintelligible) so that I would be the terror of the local park. But, in fact, it just died.
And then we wanted to cremate it because I'd read something about Odin's bird and warriors'…
Mr. IGGULDEN: …cremations.
CONAN: Yes. Of course.
Mr. IGGULDEN: So we built a little nest to bricks and poured lighter fluid over it and stood with our hands clasped in prayer. And we're very solemn as the flames roared up, and then the flames went back down again. Of course, the bird was there still because it turns out that it takes a temperature, a thousand of degrees, to cremate a raven. What we actually did was cook it.
CONAN: And did it taste like chicken? I'll leave that.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Now be fair, there are limits. I didn't eat it afterwards.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on this conversation. We're talking with Conn Iggulden, the co-author of "The Dangerous Book for Boys," along with his brother Hal. Let's begin, 800-989-8255, by the way, if you'd like to join us. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's start with Graham(ph), Graham with us from Westchester in New York.
GRAHAM (Caller): Yeah. Hi, Neal. How are you?
CONAN: I'm well. Thanks.
GRAHAM: Good. I don't have anything specific that I'm looking to teach my son, nor do I get any impression from him that he's looking for me to teach him many things specifically. But basically, what I want to say is that he's now 11 years old, and up until about 10 years old, he was very, very close with his mother, spent most of his time with mother and very little interested spending time with me.
And then, something clicked or changed or whatever at about nine and a half or 10 years old. And he expresses a very, I guess, open desire to spend time with me now…
GRAHAM: …and just hang out with me. And if I'm going to the store, oh, I'll go with you. And, you know, just - it seems to be an instinctual desire to spend time with his father. I don't know if that's more (unintelligible) or whatever…
Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah. That's absolutely common. I've heard of that a hundred times. It's absolutely common, usually from the age of about 6 to 10 that a boy switches on and notices his dad, and then he starts wanting to learn the sort of things that his dad can teach him. And that can be anything from keeping your temper when you stub your foot, and don't swear and jump around, to how to build something, how to drive a car - you name it. He starts picking up the skills and looking through his father as a role model. It's so very common.
CONAN: Wait a minute. We're not supposed to curse and jump around when we stub our toe?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IGGULDEN: In front of the kid?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GRAHAM: Well, I'm doing something wrong.
Mr. IGGULDEN: There's a difference between doing it on your own and doing it in front of a 6-year-old boy. I think…
GRAHAM: Oh, it's interesting. I appreciate your insight because I was, you know, wondering if this was normal, and apparently it is.
CONAN: Yeah. And it's - and thanks very much for the call, Graham. But it strikes me that lot of the things - the activities you suggest in your book boil down: It can be here's ways to spend time with your son.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Yes. I mean, that's - the nicest I think about publishing this book is that, you know, I published it as a very, very personal thing. It was things I like, things I wanted when I was a kid and to some extent, for my own son as well because I couldn't find a similar book around. And the nice thing is being discovering that so many other people care about exactly the same things and are doing the same things with their sons.
Some - I mean, I had a letter from a divorced father. He was using it on the weekends when he saw his sons, instead of fast food and a film. He was using this to, you know - he builds something with him. He'd make a go-cart or a bow and arrow. And it was just, you know - that's right. The best thing a father can possibly do, you know, is spend time with his son. There's no better use of their time.
CONAN: Let's talk with Matt, Matt with us from Wichita in Kansas.
MATT (Caller): Hello.
MATT: Yeah. I was just calling to say I think the most important thing for fathers to teach their sons is about the Constitution and what this country has built on.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Absolutely.
MATT: There's nothing really much more important than that. I mean, love comes and goes, but Constitution will always be there. We need to know what the Constitution means and how we can use it.
CONAN: Yeah. I was saying - and it's a good point, Matt. But I was thinking, Conn Iggulden, that there is a, you do for example, reprint "The Declaration of Independence" in "The Dangerous Book for Boys." I'm just curious. Is that in the British edition?
Mr. IGGULDEN: No, it isn't. We had a chapter on the British Empire in there, and we also have one on crickets and we replaced that for stickball. I mean, we're made - luckily, I mean, the American and the British cultures are sister cultures or should I call them, you know, fraternal cultures.
But the point is, you know, the similarities are stronger than the differences. But on the other hand, no one seemed to know in America, you know, what conquers where - horse chestnut strung on a string and smacked against each other. We had to make a few changes. But I agree with that last caller. A father is - you know, one of the wiser - one of the important things about being a dad is passing on your culture.
And, I mean, I sort of said in the book that the British culture is based on three things - it's on Shakespeare and Latin and the King James Bible. And passing on that sort of thing is as important as passing on basic skills. There's an - my dad was a very practical man. He was a qualified woodwork teacher, a math teacher.
He flew in bomber command during in World War II. He could fix cars - you name it. But at the same time, he quoted poems that he had memorized as a boy. And he showed me that it is just as possible for a man to love a good line of poetry just as much as a good dovetail joint.
CONAN: And it's interesting, amidst all these stuff about building go-carts, you also have chapters on proper grammar.
Mr. IGGULDEN: The way you said that - you see the figures - I was a teacher in the 1990s, and I was still saying the same old stuff in the '70s that, I mean, I had a head of the department who told me that, you know, grammar wasn't good for the boys in particular.
She said there was no evidence it showed any greater or it helped with any understanding of English. But at the same time, she took enormous satisfaction from her own understanding of grammar. And I felt why deny that satisfaction, that nuts-and-bolts appreciation of language to a generation of boys who actually like a better structure.
I mean, there's different ways of looking at English and you - yes, you can empathize with the old lady who's losing her children to the Nazis and all the rest of it. But at the same time, my brother once said if he had been told there were only nine kinds of words, he did damn well learned them. I like that. I like the attitude, you know. If you can give something structure or just recognize there is structure, and let them learn it. Boys love this.
CONAN: Let's get Emery(ph) on the line, Emery is with us from Parma, Ohio.
EMERY (Caller): Hello. I think the books for boys is perfect for a camping trip because it's got a whole section on trees and like what poison ivy looks like, what kind of animals you'd find, where you'd the gecko or a lizard or something like that. And I just think it's really cool and…
CONAN: Emery, it sounds like you're speaking from experience. Have you used the book?
EMERY: Not yet. We're moving and we've got a big backyard with trees in it. We're going to use the design for the tree house for it…
Mr. IGGULDEN: Great.
EMERY: …but it has had a lot mostly pine trees so we don't know about it but we might still.
CONAN: Uh-huh. When you say we, you mean you and your dad?
EMERY: Uh-huh. My brother and my dad. He made a cool extension for our old tree house and we were like 3 or 4 when he made it, so we were too little to help him. But we were going - but we would've helped him if were going to make it.
CONAN: As you looked through the book and you've obviously looked through this book, and the stuff that's in there that you might want to make, what's the thing that interests you the most other than a tree house?
EMERY: I think the battle sections because it's interesting looking at the battles. I kind of just flipped little sections and looked for like, one that I feel like reading about. If I feel like reading about a battle or the revolution or, like the British Empire…
EMERY: …look there and it just looks really cool.
CONAN: Conn, go ahead.
Mr. IGGULDEN: You're a good kid, Emery.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And he's not with any relation to you?
Mr. IGGULDEN: None. Not at all, but thank you for that.
CONAN: Emery, good luck with the tree house.
EMERY: Thank you.
CONAN: And thanks very much for the phone call.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Can I make a point here?
Mr. IGGULDEN: Because I, you know, I have had - I expected there'd be some kind of a backlash. You publish a book with the word dangerous and the word boys in the title. You expect there to be a problem somewhere. Someone will complain. And I have read a few blogs and a few sort of comments, you know, saying that it excludes girls in this sort of thing.
But that's - I think that's coming at it from the wrong way. I mean, just, you know, judging by that last caller, we wanted to do the kind of book for boys because we were boys and we want it to interest boys because, you know, I have a son.
We weren't trying to shape anything. If not, we were responding to what I know is true, that boys are interested in things. You noticed he went for the battles chapter and the tree house, and the two things are quite different.
But boys are fascinated by knowledge, especially knowledge that sets them apart. You've only to look at something like a coin collecting convention or a science fiction, you know, convention - you name it. The vast majority would be men and boys there and no one ever sort of thinks themselves will hang on.
That means that men are fascinated by facts and fascinated by stories. They always make jokes about it being geeky and all the rest of it, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with saying any more that boys are different to girls.
CONAN: We'll talk more about it when we get back from a break. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The book, "The Dangerous Book for Boys," is meant for kids - to teach boys how to fish, make a go-cart, even play poker. It turns out, though, it's as popular with dads. The book is on its ninth printing and no surprise here, the publisher is working on a daring book for girls that should be out sometime in October.
We have the co-author of "The Dangerous Book for Boys," with us. Conn Iggulden wrote it along with his brother Hal.
We want to hear from you sons and dads out there. What do dads need to teach their son? And if you're a grownup who's reading this book, what's the attraction? 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, email@example.com. You can also let us know what you think at our blog, that's in npr.org/blogofthenation.
Mark Anthony Neal is a son and a father. He teaches at Duke University and studies American popular culture. He's written quite a bit about fatherhood, and he joins us now from the studio at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. And Professor Neal, nice to have you back on the program today.
Professor MARK ANTHONY NEAL (African-American Studies, Duke University): Good afternoon, Neal. How are you doing today?
CONAN: I'm well, thanks. And what did you learn from your father?
Prof. NEAL: You know, my father worked 68 hours a week. He was a short-order cook. And we lived in New York City and he worked in Brooklyn and we lived in the Bronx. So literally - he spent, you know, two hours a day traveling back and forth to work.
So, you know, he wasn't able to teach me very everyday tangible things. But one of the things I did take from him was his work ethic, you know, how to put in a day's work and the kind of responsibility that you have to have, you know, when you're old enough to have own family and those kinds of things.
And, you know, what I liked about, you know, my father is that day that he had off, which was always Sunday, you know, he thought it was important to be able to pass on some aspect of himself to me. So for him, there was his love of gospel quartets like the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Soulsters, and it was his love of baseball.
And you know, some 40 years later, I mean those are the things that resonate the most with me about my relationship with my father - listening to gospel music and watching the New York Mets.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And did he teach you how to cook?
Prof. NEAL: Oh, yes he did. He was - because he was a short-order cook, I think I started cooking when I was 7 years old, you know. Then, it was just frying eggs. And ironically, you know, again some 40 years later, I tend to do the majority of the cooking in my house now, if only because, you know, it was a skill, you know, a definitive skill that my father passed on to me.
CONAN: Yeah. Interesting. I know that you're the father of daughters. Do they shout out to the kitchen, Adam and Eve on a raft?
Prof. NEAL: No, they don't. It really did take them a while, though, especially my oldest daughter, you know, because, you know, we live in a society that presumes that, you know, men and women do certain kinds of things and the idea of a father that cooks or a daddy that cooks.
It took my 8-year-old a little while to wrap her head around then. I think while she appreciates my cooking, she will always say that she likes her mother's cooking much more.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: She probably knows which side her bread is buttered upon too…
Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah.
CONAN: …and so as we think about this, though, this question. What do boys need to learn from their fathers? Work ethic, of course, is important. How to cook could come in handy too.
Mr. IGGULDEN: I think part of it is about socialization, and I think this is what the book speaks to that there're ways that these, you know, whether it's a slipknot or, you know, a go-cart or a range things that are covered in the book.
It's a way for fathers and sons to obviously to have relationship, but it's also a way to socialize boys into a relationships with other boys. And I think particularly in an American context, I mean, there's a lot of anxiety that folks are losing their sons, you know, from everything from videogames to hip-hop and a range of other things.
I mean, I think the book speaks to this kind of nostalgia for a moment where things were just so much more simpler if only because you didn't have 24-hour video channels, if only because, you know, clear channel didn't have 50 million radio stations.
I mean, things were just thought of if we think of them being so much more simplistic where, you know, if you had any relationship with your son, it would be something that you were doing outdoors where you could share, you know, your energies.
CONAN: And also aimed at an age of boys where they are still looking up to their fathers and are not quite yet rivals with them.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Old fashioned, Conn Iggulden, some people have said the book is old-fashioned?
Mr. IGGULDEN: I suppose, in some ways it is. I think it's old fashioned because it's optimistic. You know, old-fashioned books tended to be optimistic. I was very keen not to write a kind of post-modern cynical mocking thing with loads of in-jokes for adults, you know, the sort of thing - the sort of thing I have seen.
I wanted to write a book that was all about innocence, if you like, because childhood is a very innocent time. You know, all I was really trying to do was to write a kind of compendium that would have everything in it than I'd ever done and everything I wanted to do, everything I wanted to know as a kid.
And of course, you can't do that. I mean, it turns out - I've done a fair amount - but it turns out some people are using it as a kind of a refresher course for dads because you forget things. I mean as adults, I think I learned latitude, longitude when I was a kid but I forgotten them.
And I've forgotten all the names of the clouds and everything else, and it's kind of nice because your son expects you to know, you know. He expects you to be absolutely certain. You can't say, stay there son, I'm going to go Google it. You need to have the information there and I was quite keen to sort of remember some of these things and as I say, it works as a refresher course.
CONAN: I'm glad you've memorized them all because Conn Iggulden, we're going to have a pop quiz for you on naval…
Mr. IGGULDEN: Don't test me…
CONAN: …recognition flags at the end of the program. Now, let's see if we can get another call on the line. This is Vince. Vince is with us from Chico, California.
VINCE (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Hi Vince. You're on the air.
Prof. NEAL: Hi, Vince.
VINCE: Hi. Yeah, my dad worked with the space program with the space shuttle. He was a supervisor for the launch of some of the satellites that the space shuttle carried. And, you know, and he would go away to help with the launches and I'd look up at the stars and I knew when he was being launched.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Oh, God. You see this is why I love America. You have NASA and NASA trumps everything. I would have done a story about lawnmowers.
(Soundbite of laughter)
VINCE: Well, but the thing is I didn't know that for many years. But my dad would take me camping out to the desert and we sit in the back of his truck camping with some beans and I ask him, you know, about space and the stars and what it's all about.
And my dad was able to tell me because he knew what the satellites were doing up there and he was able to point out the satellites. And then he would tell me, you know, one of his friends was on the Challenger that exploded, and he was able to tell me why that happened.
And I learned not only then, back in the '80s - by that time I'd already been an adult - but throughout the next following years, how - my dad became a systems failure analyst and as did many people in NASA after the Challenger.
But I learned from there because my relationship with my dad continued from the time that I was a boy, and he spent all that time. And until the - day he died, those important things on analyzing society and working in the society and solving problems. And he started with that with me as a boy, and…
CONAN: Sounds like an important lesson.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Sounds like a good man, yeah.
CONAN: Yeah. Thanks very much for the call, Vince.
VINCE: All right.
CONAN: And we'll look up to the stars and think about your dad next time.
CONAN: Mark Anthony Neal, I wanted to ask you, there are more than a few fathers who are a little frightened by this small alien being that occupies their home with them and really don't know what to do with them a lot of the time. They might be even a little shy being around their boys. Activity seemed to be away to get around that.
Prof. NEAL: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the idea of getting on the ground when they're infants, you know. Getting on the ground and getting your hands dirty with your children, I think, just makes the process so much easier. I think, you know, men, you know, whether we're talking about Britain or here in the United States.
I mean, today there's an incredible amount of pressure on fathers to be productive, and be productive in a sense of being able to provide economically and providing a certain kind of stability for our families. And I think that really takes us away for more - the more simple aspects of parenting, the more simple aspects of fathering.
You know, literally getting on the ground and playing with your kids. You know, the idea of just rolling in the grass. You know, the thing that you would do with a 2- or 3-year-old that, you know, that later on becomes, you know, camping then later on becomes playing cricket or baseball here in the United States. I think we lose sight of just those little simple gestures and how they connect us without kids in very real ways.
CONAN: Let's get Jamie(ph) on the line. Jamie is with us from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
JAMIE (Caller): Hi. I'm calling because I bought this book from my son for his birthday this past month. And I bought it because I'm a single mother and his father is actually - lives in England and I thought well, this book, from what I understand, is a big hit in England.
And I thought, well, this is good. I can, you know, have something that teaches me kind of, how to teach him to be a boy at the same time. And I was so excited to give it to him and I gave it to him. He's just kind of looked and he went, mm-mm. And I said, but, you know, it teaches you about secret inks and, you know, how to build tree houses. And he said, oh, that's great. I'm going to play my videogames now.
But my brother and I, we love this book. We keep looking at it like I love like all the different things in there, like about pirates and it, really - a great book.
CONAN: Interesting that - so if you could figure out a way to make your son download it, he might be interested.
JAMIE: Yeah, maybe. Maybe…
Mr. IGGULDEN: How old is he, out of interest? How old is he?
JAMIE: I'm sorry?
Mr. IGGULDEN: How old is your son?
JAMIE: He's 9. He's 9. I thought - I'm not sure that's maybe a bit too young but I know that this is something that we'll probably going to pull out this summer. And I'm just going to turn the TV off and turn the videogames off aside and do some of the activities and, you know, look at some of the stories in there, you know, glancing at some of them. They're really interesting.
Mr. IGGULDEN: But yeah. I mean obviously, he won't be able to read this sort of long extended passages, but start him on a water bomb, a paper water bomb.
Mr. IGGULDEN: It was surprisingly hard to do, but they really, absolutely love it.
JAMIE: Okay. I'll do that. Thank you.
CONAN: Look out below, Jamie.
JAMIE: Okay. Thanks.
CONAN: And I wanted to ask, there is a - just below the copyright in the opening to this book, a note to parents. This book contains a number of activities, which may be dangerous if not done exactly as directed or which may be inappropriate for young children. All of these activities should be carried under adult supervision only. The authors and publishers expressly disclaim liability for any injuries or damages that result from engaging in the activities contained in this book. So you had attorneys consulting on this…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IGGULDEN: Absolutely. Well, I'm sure you know there are certain things you can't put in. I mean, for example, when we were doing the chapter on knots, we wanted to do the most famous knot of all, which is the hangman's noose.
CONAN: The hangman's knot. Yeah, they're great, yeah.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah, exactly. And we made a really nice lucky one. And, of course, I needed to test it, so I put it around my neck. And, you know, I thought this looks great. And then, I pulled the wrong rope to loosen it, so it tightened. And I said to my brother, I pulled the wrong rope, and he pulled the wrong rope again. So we had a proper little moment in the shed. You know, it was - it was…
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So that's why you don't have a chapter called blowing stuff up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IGGULDEN: Which, well - certain things. You don't want to call it a suicidal book for boys. I mean, this is about skills and crafts. The reason we, sort of, called it a dangerous book is partly because it's looking back to that time when danger wasn't a dirty word and parents weren't absolutely terrified, as far as I can tell, even of trees these days in case someone falls out of it, breaks an arm, which is something I did.
But also, I mean, there are some of the things in there - bows and arrows, or carpentry or, you know, you name it - glowing crystals. There's all sorts of issues they need to be a bit careful with. But as I say partly, or even mainly, it's the attitude. I mean, so many parents are so frightened nowadays of keeping their - of letting their kids out a little that they do think they're safer if they put them inside with a Playstation. Of course, the sad irony of this is that they're not safer at all. They end up either - they can go one of two ways: either pasty, sort of, fat and white and useless, which we don't want, or they can start taking really serious risks on their own and end up on train tracks.
We don't want this either way. You need to allow boys, in particular - again, more than girls - to take a few risks on their own because it's hardwired into them. If you're not sure about it, just take a 6-month-year-old boy on a swing and push him hard and he will start giggling and laughing and everything else because it is hardwired into the boy to enjoy a bit of risk.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Mark Anthony Neal, I wonder, why do you think this book has proved to be so popular?
Prof. NEAL: I think, clearly, it's the moment that were in now, where folks are feeling disconnected from family. And then the narratives you hear all the time are about, you know, the erosion of - at least here in the United States - the American family. And a lot of it goes back to our anxieties about, you know, how we're raising our boys. And I think, you know, a book that speaks to directly, you know, to the relationship between fathers and sons is just something going to resonate in a very popular way.
CONAN: Mark Anthony Neal…
Mr. IGGULDEN: I also think - I also think some of us are aware that we're not doing that well with boys in the schools.
Mr. IGGULDEN: And if you start thinking, well, I suppose boys could've become more stupid over the last 30 years, but it's not very likely. The odds are…
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: It's pretty stupid to begin with.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Well, oh come on. You see, that kind of comment - you can't make that kind of comment.
CONAN: Yes I can. I'm a boy.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah. But, I mean, really, boys get too many images now. The boys are a bit thick and girls are the ones who get out and, you know, achieve their goals. It's the exact opposite of the old sexism. I mean, that makes it just as bad because if you fight these gender boards or gender battles in the classroom, it's these kids that lose.
CONAN: I used to hang out with boys and some of them were not so bright anyway.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IGGULDEN: That's fair enough. That's fair enough.
CONAN: Con Iggulden is the co-author of "The Dangerous Book for Boys." Also with us, Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African-American studies at Duke. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get Steve on the line, Steve calling us from Charlotte, North Carolina.
STEVE (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead.
STEVE: Hey, well, I was a geeky kid and here's how my father taught me to sail. He was a great outdoorsman. He built a very small sailboat and we both got in it. We went out in the Miami Bay and sailed back and forth for about 20 minutes. And he said, you got it? So he took me back in and I went out and sailed back and forth. Trouble was, the wind changed. It was an offshore wind and he didn't teach me how to tack.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEVE: So I spent the next hour sailing back and forth. And in the end, I was crying and waving to the adults on the beach. And they, you know, they were waving back at me like I was having wonderful time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEVE: And I got back in. I finally figured it out on my own because I was geek. I finally got back into the shore. And he came up and said, you know, how was it? Oh, it was fine. And to this day, I don't know if he knew that or not. In other words, I don't know if he knew I'd have to figure that out. And it was just so funny.
CONAN: And where was this?
STEVE: Miami Bay.
CONAN: So the next stop was what? Lisbon?
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEVE: I thought I was going to be out there forever. But it was something I'll just never forget.
CONAN: And, A. Him encouraging you. And, B. You figuring it out for yourself.
STEVE: Oh yeah.
CONAN: I bet you know how to tack to this day.
STEVE: Yeah, I do. And, you know, like I said, I think he probably knew what an offshore wind was and he was not going to go out and save me. He was just going to let me figure it out and sail, but we never talked about it. This is like this understood thing.
Mr. IGGULDEN: I like that - the understood issues. Yes, that's nice.
CONAN: Yeah. Thanks very much.
STEVE: All right, thank you.
CONAN: Sail safely. Here's an e-mail we have from Julia in San Antonio, Texas. Fathers and mothers need to teach boys to respect girls and women as well as himself and each other, and how to express and deal with their feelings in healthy, positive ways. And I have to say there's even a chapter in "The Dangerous Book for Boys" about girls.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Absolutely. I mean, they spend probably more of their time thinking about girls than just about anything else after a certain age, so it absolutely had to be in there. But again, I didn't want to do something with loads of in-jokes for adults. I just wanted to write some pretty good advice, but I did it with a light touch.
I mean, for example, I said that if you see a girl carrying a heavy object, go over to it, engage her in conversation whilst surreptitiously checking the weight of the object. If you can lift it, by all means, go ahead and help her out. If you can't lift it, try sitting on it and engaging her in more conversations.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. IGGULDEN: Like it was good advice.
CONAN: What do you think, Mark Anthony Neal? Will that work with your kids?
Prof. NEAL: I'm not sure.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. NEAL: The thing that I will say, you know, in response to the e-mail, you know, having two daughters, I know I absolutely - thinking about how the - you know, to navigate the world with two young daughters has made me think about, you know, the things that I would change if I had to raise a boy. You know, I'd actually like to think that raising girls will help me - if one day I do have a boy - to be a better father to a son.
Simply, in terms of broadening, you know, my son's horizons about his emotions, you know, about his feelings, about the things that he - that he can do in the world that we get past this very rigid notions of what, you know, masculinity is.
CONAN: Conn Iggulden, do you have children?
Mr. IGGULDEN: I have a son, two daughters, and one more on the way.
CONAN: Well, are you afraid they're going to read this book?
Mr. IGGULDEN: No. I mean, I'm quite thrilled about it. I'm hoping that - I know you mentioned, I think, a daring book for girls. I know there are some more girls' books coming out. And there have been loads of girls' books around, but that's great. I mean, I have two daughters. I'm very pleased for them to be reading this kind of thing. My son makes the water bomb and the paper aeroplane, but that's about all he can do at the moment. He's only 6. So I know, you know, that's where you, sort of, get into the book if you're that young.
I'm very pleased for them to be reading about this. You know, the really nice thing about this, I think, you know and I know that if I tried this 15 years ago, we'd have had some pretty nasty phone calls by now. The nice thing is that people are saying, yep, you know what, there's nothing too bad about this. Boys are different than girls. They're interested in different things. You know, thanks very much. We'll make things with our boys. We care about our sons. We care about how they do in school. And yeah, thanks very much. No fuss, no burning effigies of me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Well, Happy Father's Day to you both, then.
Mr. IGGULDEN: Thank you.
Prof. NEAL: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Mark Anthony Neal at Duke University and Conn Iggulden, co-author of "The Dangerous Book for Boys." When we come back, Tony Blair's parting shot at the media. And Dan Rather explains what tarted up means. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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