My son recently moved into a real house – his first step from apartment living. So, over the last two months I have gotten a few interesting questions. The first came when he was contemplating the added responsibilities that came with a house and a yard, “do you think this is a good idea?” Soon after, there were more basic questions about painting the living room, connecting the washer and replacing an old light fixture. The inquiries started with phrases like, “Have you ever… “How would you…” and usually ended with, “What do you think I should do?”
While I know he consulted Google for technical answers on most of the questions, I sensed a feeling of reassurance that came with asking his dad. Each time he raised a question, I was pleased that he sought my advice and that we could have a conversation. My enduring hope is that by “keeping that conversation going”, if one day more serious issues arise, he will reach out to me then, too.
As a dad, I hope these conversations are the results of many years working to build a relationship based on presence and trust. Why else would he ask me? We all know there are better sources of advice on things like connecting a dryer vent than yours truly. But the years of conversation in car pool line, on the soccer field and while playing catch have led to a willingness to seek my opinion. On more than one occasion, I had to say, “I don’t know…” But, at least I got the question and we had the chance to talk.
Recently I have read too many news articles about young people who have been desperate enough to make life-changing decisions. I was struck by the statement of a college student whose close friend had just taken his own life. He said, “… there are tons of people who would’ve wanted to help him. I just want to know why he felt so alone that he wasn’t able to reach out about something like this.”
I know there are many reasons why young people take their own lives; but, I wonder how many times a victim just needed someone they felt they could trust who would take the time to really listen. I wonder how many other similar tragic acts involving drugs, alcohol, sex and violence could be avoided, if someone was just “there” to hear the question, “what do you think I should do?”
Sometimes there may be illness or circumstance that will lead to the same end despite the best efforts of others. But I want to believe that someday a dad’s relationship will make a difference. As dads, we might not have the answers, but maybe we don’t need all the answers. Maybe we just need to be that one among “the tons of others who wanted to help” that our kids will turn to when they feel all alone. Maybe we can be an option. Maybe we can be that other choice when there seems to be only one.
To become that other option, we have to do the hard work. Over the years, we have to build the relationship. We have to take the time to listen. Often we have to put aside our judgments and simply move on. Always we have to love our kids no matter what. We have to remember that “worse things have happened”; that “the world will not come to an end because of this” and that, “the sun will come out tomorrow”. And to do all this, we have to “be there.”
I want to be that choice if my kids ever feel they have none. No matter what the reason for despair – bad grades, a lost game, a lost love, a lost job, or just a bad day. If they feel alone, I hope they know I will always “be there”. A smile, a hug, a call, a text, whatever it takes. I hope they will just ask, “What do you think I should do?” so we can continue our conversation a while longer.
And while I hope that day never comes, I want to be prepared. So with patience and encouragement, today, I am delighted to answer questions about paint colors, the dryer vent and electrical outlets. In years gone by, I learned to appreciate the never ending and sometimes frustrating inquiries about fireflies, men on the moon, why it rains and when we will be there.
I encourage you to do the same. Be present. Be approachable. Be patient. What do your kids need to talk about? What questions are on their minds? Be available to listen to each question. Appreciate the fact that they have asked. Cherish the chance to answer. Someday, a life may depend on it.