Pro Tip: Get Curious

September 15, 2010 in Fatherhood Insights  

Pro Tip: Get Curious

A few weeks back I was golfing with a friend of mine. We got teamed up with another two-some, a father/son combo. The kid was about 15, and it took about 2 minutes to realize exactly where these two were in their relationship.

The kid was exactly like any other 15 year old you’ve met: he’d rather be somewhere else with his friends. He made this known in just about every response he had for his dad… which was usually, “I don’t know,” or some other mumbled indifference.

Suffice it to say, it made for a long 9 holes (this dad rarely gets in a full 18). But, somewhere between hole 5 and 7 I had an epiphany.

The Story Is Always The Same

This father/son relationship looked just like the one I had with my dad when I was 15. It felt so predictable and mundane, like there was no chance either of them was going to be surprised by anything in their time together, like the dad was always going to know what’s best, and the kid was always going to push the limits, and that’s how it was going to be… forever.

I mean, this is exactly what every movie about adolescence starts with: the disconnect between a 15 year old and his father. The kid doesn’t want to take any advice or well-meaning insights from the dad, and the dad is always going to be frustrated by the kid’s stubbornness.

You know this situation… If you’re a dad or a son, you know what this is like.

I think it’s because us dads don’t know how to get down off our wisdom and experience and be with our kids having an eye-to-eye conversation.

Just about all the conversations I had with my dad at this time of life felt like he was looking down at me telling me what I should be doing. And he didn’t mean to come off that way. He just wasn’t good at getting down on the ground with me.

But we can lose our kids here. If it’s non-stop top down communication, dads looking down at kids telling them how to do things, you will absolutely alienate your child from you. As dads we’ve got to break that mold, we’ve got to touch base with our kids.

Touching Base

So, how do we do that? How do we break out of the top down communication and open up an eye-to-eye kind of talk? Here’s how: curiosity.

I know, it sounds stupid, juvenile, like some Peter Pan type of thing. But it’s not.

You want to know what the dad never did during that golf game? He never once asked an honest question of his son. He always gave him advice on his swing, or said something like, “Andy likes soccer, don’t you, Andy.” But he never once asked something like, “what are the bands you’re listening to nowadays?”

How To Curiosity

Listen, it’s a simple thing, curiosity. It’s a behavior you can put on.

Curiosity almost always comes in the form of questions. “What are the kids listening to these days?” “Do you even like being on the golf team?” Or, my favorite starter: “so, what are you geeking out about right now?”

In fact, true story: I asked the kid that question on the golf course and his face immediately transformed as he pondered the answer; he literally looked totally different. It was the first real life I saw in the kid as he started to tell me about the guitar he’s putting together. He buys the pieces, puts them together, does the electronics, etc… he loves it.

The difference between the mundane, predictable and the engaged, eye-to-eye conversation was like night and day. It totally struck me.

So, curiosity often comes in the form of a question, but not always. One day I was stuck at home with my 8 month old Aiden when I, for the first time, got down on my knees with him and followed him around. He was great at crawling and he would bulldog around the couch and turn around to see if I was following him. When he saw me, he flipped out and barked a laugh and kept crawling.

We did this for about 5 minutes. That’s it. That’s all my knees could take! But it was cool… I felt engaged with my son, like it was give and take and he understood it; totally different than me dragging my feet around the house waiting for nap time.

… All because I got down on my knees and crawled around like him. Curiosity.

FORE!

By the time the golf game was over, I had a new goal for my life as a dad. For me, pretty much the best dream I can dream is this: when my son is 15 I can ask him, “so, what are you geeking out about right now?” and he simply looks up into the corner of his eyes to think about answering the question sincerely.

That’s it… I don’t really care about the answer, just the act of him receiving my question as a real question, a sincere, curious inquiry and not some excuse to push some advice on him… that would be enough for me to realize I haven’t mucked this whole thing up.

So try to bring a little curiosity into your world today. Get down on your knees with your kids. Get into your wives shoes (don’t stay there too long, though… that could get dangerous).

Cheers!

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

courtney September 15, 2010 at 10:46 pm

I know this to be true. I don’t have a teenager yet, but a four year old has a similar response. When he is not getting enough of what he needs, direct attention and engagement, he becomes frantic, overly chatty and hyper. Most of this seems like an attention grab, and let’s be honest, he’s four so it actually is. But when I fire the synapse in my brain a couple times and finally ask him a direct question about his favorite animal, superhero or cartoon, his whole body stops, he turns towards me and his face lights up. A two minute conversation leaves him fulfilled, a little more calm and totally in love with me and much more willing to listen to me when it’s time for behavioral management. The hardest part is stepping outside of the stressful moment to remember how little effort can go into making him feel awesome.

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Exhausdad September 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Excelent advice! Thanks for the Pro Tip, keep ’em coming!

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Eric Miller September 22, 2010 at 4:55 am

Great post! I am trying to learn this every day and some days do better than others. Funny story – I came home one day from work to find my 11 year squatting over something in the driveway with a bunch of my tools. Much to my surprise they had found a chipmunk that had been (let’s just say) knocked off by the neighbor’s cat and they wanted to know what was inside. After a momentary pause that probably seemed like an eternity to my son, I realized that he was curious and it was possibly the sign of a doctor or surgeon in the making, so I told him we would do an autopsy. So I greeted the rest of the family, threw on some grungy clothes and snuck outside to help my son do a full dissection where we tried to identify major structures and parts (you get the idea). My hope and prayer is that I can continue to learn about these wonderful people that are in my life and to help them become wonderful, beautiful adults that are full of life.

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Chase September 22, 2010 at 7:31 am

Oh snap, Eric!! That’s some *SERIOUS* curiosity curating! You’re a brave man!

… and now i’m dying to see pictures of the action! :)

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Eric Miller September 22, 2010 at 8:13 am

No photos – I was afraid they would get leaked to some news outlet with a horrific caption like “Curiosity killed the… chipmunk?!”

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Chase September 22, 2010 at 8:23 am

BOOM! “Oh no he di-in’t!”

Well, now the whole world is a little poorer for lack of these photos. Hope you’re happy, Eric.

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Kamen Gordon June 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm

With this, I am all in. Isaac is 21 months and I have been thinking a lot about how “all of this” will pan out with him and our infant daughter Isabelle. One thing has been steady. I want to constantly interact with enthusiasm and interest in “things” with them. Like Sid the Science Kid, but in real life. I want to engage real thought. Open a door with my children and let them lead. I certainly don’t have everything figured out for myself, so who am I to say what’s what in every situation.

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