Dad – Hero-to-Villain & the Challenge of Communication
It is 6 degrees in Hobart, Tasmania and about 8 degrees off being properly cold. There is no snow. The wind is on leave. It is dark though. The rich indigo of the night and the stillness makes it a near-perfect evening to gaze on Articulated Intersect, the incredible light show that makes it the most public of the various installations around Hobart, that make up the winter festival.
There are six groups of three almighty columns of light that pierce deep into the sky. Imagine an insect that has beams of light for legs. Flick him onto his back and in an effort to right himself, he thrashes his beam-like legs around.
Now, multiply that effect by a gazillion on a night without any input from the moon. In fact, Articulated Intersect (Ha! Sounds like insect!) is not controlled by the whipping movement of an oversized bug. Instead, the darting, awkward movements are controlled by spectators on the ground.
Described as a “beam of light”, they hardly sound spectacular. It is the great scale and stilted movement that set them up to be worth a look. Such a balmy evening entices the locals and visitors out of hibernation to be gobsmacked by the dazzling brightness.
I was prompted to take my first glimpse when my daughter exclaimed, “CHECK THAT OUT!” Sure enough, the shaft of light was accentuated by the depth of the darkness and the dinnertime mist. As we walked toward our car after a maths session at the uni for my eldest, it was apparent that the source of the light was not far away. “CHECK THAT OUT” went quickly from being a statement to a question. “Can we go down there, Dad… PLEASE?”
My daughters were excitedly skipping around. Their cheery “please” softened me enough to offer, “Sure, we can go down there, but only quickly.” In this context, “there” meant the nearby wharf area. In my eight-word reply, my brain registered that I had just told the girls,
“We will drive down there, do one or two laps in the car.
Keep in mind that we are all tired at the end of the week, it is dinnertime so my tired-hungry combo is likely to kick in, we won’t bother getting out because it is cold; if we get homework done early on the weekend, we can come back Sunday evening for a wander around with our healthy homemade salad wraps and Sunday will be better for smaller crowds, and a soft hand-in-hand stroll will be an idyllic weekend wind-down.”
By contrast, what my daughters heard was:
“AWESOME… we get to run around the docks and pilot the lights, and because we are having fun, we will be able to soften Dad up for fish and chips on the docks, and we can stay out late because it is Friday.”
As the car crept through the milling traffic, the luminosity and dazzle of the lights became a lot more apparent. The excitement in the girls could have filled one of the World Cup soccer stadiums. Crowds of rugged-up spectators ambled in the direction of the great glow.
In the car, the girls babbled with anticipation. And then softened as the lights dimmed into a subtle glow in the rear-vision mirror. My daughters realised in an instant that my concept of “checking out show” was the full opposite of what they had in mind. In a moment, my awesome status had been rescinded. I was hero-to-villain, just like that.
“Dad! You need to communicate better!” I was instructed firmly. The instinct part of my brain offered, “It is the listening that is the problem here.” Thankfully, it stayed a silent thought.
I naively asked, “Did you really think that we would walk around when it is dinnertime, it is dark, cold, and I have a be-in-bed-early-on-Friday rule?”
“Yes! You said so,” they said simultaneously. Quite apparently they believed that I had set them up for a huge disappointment. I am still tuning into their conviction that fun and excitement should trump hunger, reason, tiredness and Dad’s rules.
The experience has given me a couple of realisations:
I need to be incredibly vigilant and, in turn, very literal when communication has the potential to be messed around by the mix of tiredness, hunger and my own want for the cosy-warm surround of my home.
Ironically, I am a trainer, but still fall very short sometimes in communicating. When I mess it up, I don’t fall short in my expectation of a gracious, polite reply, especially from my children just as they ought to anticipate an apology.
I still stand by my ‘get-the-jobs-done-first’ rule. There are a few exceptions to my statute of ticking off homework and housework before all the fun stuff, but not many.
There is a great temptation in packing my dad-and-daughter weekend out with DVDs, popcorn, late nights and chocolate, but I vowed that I would not be a one-dimensional Disney-dad.
Being a dad is rich and exciting and emotionally tricky and fun and filled with the most complicated and simple responsibility! I thrive in the challenge of trying to get it right.
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