Some of the best memories I have of my Dad are the times when we started something with excitement, got half-way in, and then didn’t know whether we could salvage it from disaster. There was that woefully under-powered go-cart we built, named the “Chug,” assembled from a scavenged motor, a plank stolen from the basement shelves, and wheels bought at the hardware store. We were stumped when it came to rigging up the steering mechanism, and the assembly stopped. I was eleven, and an eager helper, but the engineering was way over my head. One night we were seated at dinner when my Dad jumped to his feet, shouted: “I know how we can do it!” and bolted down the basement stairs. I was on his heals, still swallowing my chicken casserole. There, with shafts, axles, and chunks of steel the basic geometry of our steering dilemma was solved. The next day we went to the welder for a few precision bends of the steel spindles, and progress resumed.
It is perhaps a given that Dads are adults with some life experience to solve problems. Like my Dad, we come at problems with knowledge and experience. For him it was mechanical acumen; for you it might be software skills, or sporting prowess. This knowledge and experience is a good thing, but it often finds us wearing an all-too-familiar hat. It’s the hat of the Judge. As men in the marketplace we are trained to come up with answers, to analyze, evaluate, and find solutions. That’s the Judge in us. It’s a good thing. It’s a necessary part of living and working. But if we grow too accustomed to this familiar hat, we become Ward Cleaver esconced in his study, and we can miss out on opportunities to bond with our children through the shared adventure of the unknown and the unexplored.
I want to encourage you to don the Explorer’s hat, the one with the propeller on it. Go somewhere with your child that you have never been before. Not Disneyland where every experience is scripted. Head for the garage, or a bike ride, or an Army surplus store. Do something off the page. Try a new project without a safety net. Build a fort without plans, using only what you can scrounge from construction dumpsters. Explore without a GPS or a map. Lever your cell phone at home. This is called play. It’s making it up as you go along. For your child, it’s the chance to be with you, neck-deep in something unexplored and brand new. The discoveries are new to both of you, and the adrenalin is free.
If we are always the answer man, or the competent one, or the engineer who ties down every detail before he begins, we exclude the excitement of mutual intrigue and problem solving. This is not Dad dumbing down. It’s Dad entering in. It’s Dad jumping into a different experience with both feet and dog-paddling around until you discover a way out. Your son or daughter will register those moments of shared “aha!” and record them for life.
SOUND OFF: When was the last time your kids saw you sleep on a project or a problem you couldn’t solve immediately?