A trend started when we brought the boy home from the hospital, after his birth. I noticed it right away. The first couple who saw us coming off the elevator in our building asked us. They are a lovely couple and always have been. I respect them and admire them. But they started this trend in my mind, launching me into an experience that’s left me motivated to change how the world asks questions when interacting with parents, particularly fathers.
Their question—and everyone else’s question—was something like, “How are you?” They were looking at my wife. They never looked at me. And it started.
When people would ask me, after the birth or after the three weeks I took off from the church, they would always want to know about the boy and about Dawn. Now, I appreciated this. I did. But it’s always left me wondering if people have the curious tools to ask about me, about the father in the picture. That would be me. Before you think I’m completely self-serving and needy, consider how important it is to ask the how you’re doing question to a mother. Why wouldn’t it be so valuable to raise with a father? Would a person really think a newborn is needy right before asking about that baby?
So, here goes:
- How are you? This is basic. This opens up many possibilities. It takes little effort. Most people have already asked it, as I mentioned, and only need to modify it so that the guy feels included.
- Have you slept? This, again, is basic, but it’s one of the most caring questions you can ask a father. He’ll think you love you, even if you’re meeting him for the second time. He’ll walk away with good thoughts of you.
- How do you do it? More people, more non-parents should ask this. It’ll make them appear empathetic. Or smart. Parenting is difficult. I can’t understand how single moms do it. I can’t wrap my brain around how a single dad would either. It takes too many people to screw up at this. I can’t imagine how I could mess up all by myself at parenting. A variation of the question above is, how do you all do it? How do you make it happen is also a variant.
- How is your marriage? How is your relationship with the child’s mother? This question takes some history with the father to raise. But since parenting, no, since children change everything, we need help paying attention to everything outside of the kid(s). We miss the essentials of life outside of the kid during those early years. And sometimes that leads to erosion in our relationships as a couple.
- Who are you talking to? Dads need therapy or spiritual direction or great, life-giving habits or really good friends or a combination of all of these. We need people we can tell what our experiences are, good or bad. They shouldn’t just be spouses, if you have a spouse. Get a friend. Use that friend. The way you would a prescription from your favorite doctor, faithfully and consistently. It’s good for you.
- Are you spending time with the kid? Fathers need to spend time with their children. We need more time than most of us are practically able to give. This question pushes us to think about where the time goes, whether the kid is a newborn or a teenager or a full-grown adult. This looks different for me and my father. Our time is spent mostly on the phone. I don’t rush him, though he’s too sensitive to time when he calls me. With my son, it may look like refusing to overlook him. It may mean sitting in the floor and rolling the wheel on that dump truck. And doing it again and again and again.
- Are you getting time away? Sometimes I feel like my kid gets tired of me. I get tired of him. Uh, all the time. Then I leave. I do something else. It’s not selfish. In fact, the most helpful thing I can do for that boy is leave my house. Now, I’m coming back; that’s probably the second most helpful thing I can do for him and for his mother. But for a guy like me—who needs to get away from people in order to replenish, to re-engage, etc—leaving is vital. And it pushes me raise how much I am there when I’m there. Am I with him? Am I thinking about him? Do I notice the way he rolls his eyes and laughs during breakfast every morning? Did I see him raising his arms to me as I washed those dishes before one of the grandmothers arrived in the morning? Or was I spending my thought time elsewhere? Leaving enables me to return well.
- Can I help? Be forewarned that this question may lead to kissing and hugging and undying thanks from the father. We need help and if it’s offered, there’s very little to prevent us from heartily accepting that help. Of course, we aren’t going to leave our kids in the care of people we (father and mother) don’t trust. But beyond that, we’d love to have you!
- Taking care of yourself? Most people assume this is a mom question. And that’s true. But dads need this. My schedule has generally been more flexible than my wife’s since the boy. So, I’ve done the things that needed to be done around the fringes. But I work full time in a church as a pastor, teach a class at a seminary, write curricula when contracted to do so, and like to take a drink of water every now and then. All of these things that I do are my decisions to make. But I love that people tell me to care for me. I need that. Or I’m no good to the wife, the child, or anyone else. This relates to question 7, but it’s an expanded question because the answer includes whether we’re attending to physical health, emotional health, spiritual health and mental health.
- What are you learning? Fathers learn all kinds of things. We don’t notice it most times, but when we’re asked, it makes us consider. Along with that, I think we should keep some record of what we’re learning. My blogging is part of that for me. My periodic posts about what my boy is teaching me or how I see things differently are ways for me to capture those answers. A variation of this question is, are you growing? Or, how are you growing? How are you different?