Visiting the dentist has all the appeal of cleaning my daughters’ long, clagged hair out of the shower drain. I visit annually because it is the right thing to do. Each visit follows a predictable pattern. I arrive early at the clinic. I eagerly anticipate being able to read a National Geographic (I have allergies to sitting still doing nothing and like learning things) and ultimately am disappointed by the tattered remnants of car magazines and won’t resort to the inane content of Woman’s Day or New Idea. Ten minutes on, I get summoned to the chair, my chompers are checked and I get to spit a vile-tasting rinse into the sink.

This time around held a curious twist and an enlightening experience.

Super Gift

In the waiting room was a chirpy young boy I picked as being about twelve, who held an easy affection with his dad. At an age when some kids peel away from their parents, this boy leaned affectionately into Dad. He leafed through car magazines and chirpily rattled off the most obscure facts about an array of supercars. His factual patter was even in tone throughout his Lamborghini Aventador versus Bugatti Veyron monologue. The fast-paced facts were a bit tough to catch when ‘d’ and ‘b’ and ‘k’ were all pronounced with similar sounds. There was a soft, gentle Rain Man manner about him.

On returning the boy to the waiting room after the consult, the dentist spoke brightly of the boy. In particular, I eavesdropped as the dentist praised the boy’s “special abilities”. My own fleeting assessment was that his ‘abilities’ were more likely to be diagnosed by school bullies as an opening for some special attention. On the flip side of the boy, the kindly dentist had highlighted some gifts that most people would miss because being different tends to cause onlookers to navigate a wider berth.

Waiting room onlookers making a first impression of the child were likely to miss this boy’s great gift of recall. The dentist, however, picked it up in their conversation during the teeth-tending session.

I began to process the depth of the wisdom given by the dentist. He had revealed a remarkable other side to his patient.

Learning Patience

The dentist encounter prompted me to contemplate what might be on the other side of my rush to cut off arguments with my daughters. I softened my heart to reflect on an earlier argument that ended with my daughter rumbling that I don’t listen.

I replayed my interception of her terse words, trying to insist on being spoken to calmly, only to have the barney escalate with me being reminded again that I wasn’t respecting my daughter’s desire to be heard.

Later, over a bedtime conversation, I promised my daughters that I would hear them out. I emphasised that listening did not mean agreeing — “I will listen to you tell me every day that you need a pet dog and I will remind you every day why I don’t believe it is going to happen.”

On the flip side of my stubborn insistence on speaking calmly was a discovery that my daughter didn’t have to raise her voice to be heard if I gave her the listening space to make it to the end of every sentence. It seems obvious now that the reveal of my super-power ability to listen could create the space for my sweet daughter to speak calmly and confidently.

Sweet Sharing

Now, the girls are back in their mum’s care, so I rang in tonight to remind them that I love them. Typically I have to settle on a pre-teen conversation made up exclusively of “yes”, “no”, “dunno” and “not much.”

Yet, tonight my daughter led a conversation about being dumped off her boogie board and kept it running with the details of having a wave wash over her. That same boogie board experience would normally be summarised as “not much.” I enjoyed hearing the chatty account of my daughter’s holiday that she offered instead of having to try to extract it. I am encouraged to keep working at listening intently.

I am grateful for my dentist visit lesson and the charming lad with his supercar fixation. I thrive on making new parenting discoveries. As my daughters grow, I expect I will need to continue to discover and reveal new superpowers to be a great dad to teenage daughters. I look forward to honing my patience to superpower proportions.


Photo by Karolina Grabowska.

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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