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The One Thing Every Father Should Admit To His Teenagers Before They ‘Leave The Nest’

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My dad, a sales engineer and business owner by profession, was also one of the best fix-it-around-the-house guys. Ever. At least in his oldest son’s eyes. And for every reason, not the least of which was his intense Finnish temperament, I simply assumed I’d never have his skills.

“Your father’s a genius,” my mother would say. And begrudgingly, I accepted it; though I as a kid I often found it annoying when he laughingly joked, “daddy’s a genius” on days he was especially happy with his fixes.

It wasn’t that he didn’t try to teach me; he did. I just didn’t much want to listen. My two younger brothers didn’t either.

Turns out my twin 19-year-old sons, and their older brother, who’s on his way to his first post-college apartment, have similar leanings towards fixit know-how. “YouTube, dad.” Yep.

Thus I’m a little surprised I’ve become a freakin’ fix-it wizard myself.

Though as an owner of a log home for 28 years, one that’s grown larger as my sons have grown huger, I’ve had no choice. It would have fallen down if I had not.

And, while each new task means something has failed, it’s always satisfying when I repair it. Or in the case of new enhancements, invent it. And yes, I use YouTube too.

“The Secret”

One day I was walking through the living room and saw one of my sons looking perplexed, so I asked what was going on.

He told me some older Turtle Bay headphones he loved didn’t have the adapter needed to work his new Xbox. “There’s got to be a way dad, right?” as he looked to me for validation of his thinking.

It wasn’t that he didn’t try to teach me; he did. I just didn’t much want to listen.

Well, knowing he’s a really smart young man, about 17 at the time, I said, “Michael, it’s time to let you in on one of the secrets us so-called grown ups don’t often teach our kids.”

“You know, when I was a boy I saw my dad work around the house and just assumed he’d learned all the tricks and techniques he used from others. But in later years as I worked around our home, I’ve come to realize, no, he was not trained to do all those things  —  he must have improvised a lot of it.”

“That is, he made it up as he went along!”

“And that’s what all adults do — we study the challenge, and look, I mean really look at each part of the problem to try and understand its mechanics. Then, using our best judgment and resources at hand, we act to create the best solution in our power. We make it up as we go along.”

I’ve come to think this Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious is one of the most important things we can say to our young adult children. I mean actually tell them, and not assume they know it or will find out on their own. And the sooner, the better.

It frees them to think innovatively.

It gives them license to solve problems, as they believe they should be solved.

And most importantly, it frees them to rely on themselves.

I’ve come to think this Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious is one of the most important things we can say to our young adult children.

To be independent.

A half hour later I walked into the room and sure enough, Mike had figured out a solution.

His face reflected pride in his accomplishment. And while it wasn’t world peace, I couldn’t have been prouder.

Beyond the Nest

As I’ve faced the thought of pushing my last two sons (twins) out of the nest to college in a couple months, I netted at the conclusion parenting is about not telling our children what to do, certainly not as young adults.

It’s about preparing them to succeed by giving them the framework to take action — on their own accord. Teaching them great study skills, which my wife did, is a primary example.

Then you let go: empowering them to figure out things themselves, succeed or fail.

That is, you drop them at their freshman dorm rooms and don’t make their bed. You leave, and let them, at peace with the likelihood the bed won’t be made for a semester or they take their sheets home to be laundered, whichever comes first.

As I’m reminded from a recent re-read (40 years later) of Hesse’s Siddhartha, we can’t live our kid’s lives for them.

But we can empower and license them to take steps that build self-esteem, and enhance their lives, and that of the community in which they live.

Let them puzzle, struggle, and revel in the joy of challenge and accomplishment  —  without hovering about, literally or figuratively, ready to protect them when the slightest thing goes astray.

Let them live their lives.

And when you see them prosper on their own you can say of yourself, while annoying your kids as is your (other) job, “Daddy’s (or Mommy’s) a genius.”

Amazingly enough, somewhere in their 20s, they may well come to agree. And from their own apartment.

After 40 years in advertising, design and digital marketing agencies, Tom is now a freelance writer and caregiver for older adults. He’s recently created the world’s first rigid inflatable camper using the lessons he’s taught his sons. He calls it his “goofy yacht.”

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