I have looked up to my dad for as long as I can remember. He seems to know something about everything, he prioritizes his relationship with the Lord, and he was a successful businessman.
What I reflect on most over the years is knowing that if I go to him about something, I know he’s going to listen.
I remember driving in the car with him once a week to wheelchair basketball practice for years, having an entire hour to just talk to him about how my day was, and anything else I wanted. I couldn’t tell you a lot about those conversations, but I can tell you outside of asking questions, he was pretty quiet.
To this day when I go to talk to my dad about something I know he’s going to quietly let me speak, and occasionally, take a sip of his diet coke, and take a long pause before dropping some of his wisdom. Dads tend to be “fix it” kind of guys. If it needs to be fixed, they probably have a tool for it. I share this about my dad for a few reasons.
- In my experience as a counselor, I have come across many dads who meet their child or teen struggles with an extreme reaction of some kind. Often this is in the form of anger, shaming them, or fear and urgency.
These reactions make “emotionally unavailable” dads.
If I know that my dad is going to react by blowing up at me or talking down to me, or any other unhelpful reaction really, I am quickly going to start filtering what I’m willing to share. Thus creating a distance in the relationship.
Most dads want closeness with their child, but I think sometimes the desire to fix gets in the way of that. If you’re scared or angry about what’s being said, your child might be feeling similarly and needs to know that their story is safe with you.
2. Another common thing I run into with dads is before their child has even finished speaking, they are problem-solving in their mind.
Now don’t hear me say that fixing and solving for your child is wrong, in fact, they are quite helpful and necessary at times. But as a parent, it’s also necessary to guide, love, ask questions, and listen.
And odds are, if we are reacting to tough information, it won’t be our best response anyways! Take the time to hear what’s being said, and consider even asking something like “How can I help you in this?”
I was working with a teenager a few years ago, and I remember her saying to me “My parents always want to fix what I’m going through, but sometimes all I want from them is to listen”. Since that day I have heard this same sentiment countless times from teenagers.
I think sometimes very well-meaning dads forget the power of listening to their child and, instead, skip to the problem-solving phase of things.
It’s hard to listen to someone we love during struggles, I get it. But before we can take any action they need to know we care, and they can trust us with vulnerable information. We need to show people by our reactions to their “messy” stuff that they are loved, not judged or shamed.
A very useful tool I ended up using with one family was to have the parents buy a bag of Dum Dums, and every time the daughter had something to talk to the parents about they had to take one out and they had to finish the Dum Dum (without chewing it!) before they could respond.
This forced them to pause, listen, and then proceed with a response that allowed all of them to work together towards a solution.
So Dads, if I could encourage you; be slower to speak, quicker to listen, and quickest to love. Utilize what I call “ the 3 P’s” which are Pause. Process. And then Proceed.
And if all else fails, head to the store and buy those Dum Dums!