Father Knows Least

“Dad, why is the sky blue?” asked our daughter Fern, who’s in preschool.


The question is such a cliché that I first suspected her mom of putting her up to it. My wife probably assumes (correctly) that I made up an answer to that very inquiry years ago.


In any case, I was thrilled to have a chance to convey my age-appropriate – yet scientifically correct – response. (The phrase “light is like colored finger paints” had a starring role.) But Fern preempted me. “Oh, wait, I know,” she said. “The sky is made of blue plastic IKEA plates.” Without waiting for a reply, she ran off to tend to her ever-growing bug collection.


Being a dad is like being mentally run over by a truck, every single day. I’ve always known that my daughter would eventually outthink me, but I didn’t expect her to do so by age 4.


Fern has arrived at the phase where she answers every question in the same breath as she asks it. “What’s a spatula? Oh, that’s someone taking something out of a drawer.” Or she’ll wonder, “What kind of bird is that? Oh, it’s jumping, so it’s a squirrel bird!”


“It’s not a squirrel bird,” I want to shout. “It’s a sparrow!” Of course, I curb my natural impulse to correct, and scold myself for it. I should be proud of my daughter’s imagination! When she has a question, she makes up an answer, and isn’t that exactly what being a 4-year-old scientist is all about?


Still, I can’t help being a bit peeved. Fern comes up with her own answers and, apart from nearly always being wrong, she’s taking over my job.


Way back when my wife and I were planning this bumpy family adventure, I always pictured that my role would be “the explainer.” I used to lead kids on nature hikes, and I love nothing more than to point out a rock or a plant and explain it to within an inch of its life. In my imagination, I would parent the same way I taught: by imparting as many arcane bits of knowledge as I could cram into words.


But Fern is far too independent to care much for my wordy explanations. Last week, she let me get most of the way through the concept of the waxing moon before shutting me down with a simple, “Yes, I already know that.” Isn’t age 4 a little early to be channeling your future teenaged self?


What’s a fact-loving stay-at-home dad to do? I want to be my daughter’s instructor, but I’m chiefly called on as lost-shoe-finder and art-supply-refiller. My only remaining role, it seems, is to document her every moment.


Or be her audience – I’m good at that. Fern was reading the newspaper the other day, and I suggested that I could explain the articles to her. At 4, she recognizes about six written words, but she nonetheless proceeded to recite to me what each article was about, giving me a frosty look every time I tried to pitch in.


Just when I was despairing of ever being able to teach my ambitious child anything, she finished her newspaper and hopped off her stool, whacking her head solidly into a door frame.


I’ve been through this scene a dozen times, so I instantly perceived that she needed about 30 seconds of fussing, then a hug and quick kiss on the top of the head.


How did I know what to do? Well, from all that observation, naturally. So what if Fern already knows all the answers? Life is more than just questions and answers. I help my daughter cope with traumas and troubles exactly because I don’t try to teach her through them anymore. After all, my job right now isn’t to explain to Fern why the sky is blue, but to sit and gaze at it with her, watching her puzzle out the question and invent her own answer.


Even if she’s wrong.


Read Graham Charles’ blog at Doodaddy.net.
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