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.
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.
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).