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in: A Man's Life, Fatherhood, Relationships & Family, Sunday Firesides

June 15, 2019

Sunday Firesides: Ad-Lib Fatherhood

When you picture being a parent, you often imagine yourself sitting your kid down for a heart-to-heart talk — about the meaning of mortality, being a good person, the birds and the bees, and whatever other subjects they need to be equipped for life.

The reality, however, is that while it may be appropriate to have serious, in-depth talks with your children sometimes, these kinds of “lectures” aren’t especially effective for imparting wisdom. Too much information to be assimilated; too direct; too awkward.

A better approach, is what I like to call “ad-lib fatherhood.”

Instead of sharing important principles and ideas in big chunks, you slip little nuggets of knowledge into your regular conversations. You do that naturally, by patiently substituting the short, content-less responses you typically give to your kids’ questions — “Because I said so”; “It’s too hard to explain” — with slightly more expansive answers.

“Why don’t we get a new car?” “Because there’s a difference between needs and wants, and a new car is just a want.”

“Why do we have to go to church?” “You know how you have to go the gym and work out to keep your physical body in shape? Going to church keeps your spiritual ‘body’ from getting flabby.”

“Why do you hate technology?” (Asked after overhearing a rant about social media!) “I don’t hate technology, but it’s important to be the master of it, rather than its slave.”

While ad-lib fatherhood is a more indirect approach to imparting your values, it’s a more effective one. The small pearls of wisdom you casually embed in exchanges with your children are easily absorbed, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, shape their character. 

When it comes to the birds and the bees, and everything else, the best kind of fatherhood doesn’t offer a single “talk,” but engages in an ongoing conversation.