We fathers take deep pride in our ability to be fixers. Our pride can get hurt when we don’t get to bring our expertise into play.
But almost every time I played Mr. Fix-It in conversation with my daughters, they were frustrated and I got burned.
When Mavis was 14, she quit ballet, after taking it for eight years. She’s a physically active kid and soon missed having something athletic like ballet to do. One night, she came into our bedroom confused and crying, going round and round about the whole thing, citing reasons why every idea she’d had for a new sport or physical activity wouldn’t work for her schedule and tastes.
I reached over to the nightstand and pulled out the Yellow Pages. “Remember we suggested tae kwon do a few weeks ago? I’ll look up some tae kwon do clubs for you to check out.”
Mavis was pissed. The look she gave me was about the nastiest she’d ever sent my way. In sharp anger, she told me: "I didn't come in here to have you solve my problem or try to get me to stop feeling bad. I don't care if you don’t like it when I’m feeling bad, that's your problem."
Clearly, when I jumped in with lists and phone numbers, she felt that I was discounting and disrespecting what was going on with and in her. And she was right; I was uncomfortable when she felt bad – I don’t want her to hurt!
I was taken aback by the intensity of her reaction; after all, wasn’t it a good idea to call some places? But I think she’d accumulated the annoyance she felt the last dozen or so times I’d donned my Mr. Handyman garb without her invitation. Needless to say, we didn’t use the Yellow Pages that night.
Eventually, Mavis and Nia learned more cordial (but still firm) ways to tell me to knock off my fix-it-first instinct: “I don’t want a solution, Dad. I just need to vent.”
A few years later, it occurred to me that in our conversations I could ask them what they wanted me to do. It’s not complicated; I say, “Do you want my advice or ideas? Or do you want me to just listen?”
They tell me what they want from me. When I ask what they want, they are much more open to any advice I eventually give.
The bottom line is, you don’t have to give up completely on being Mr. Fix-it; just delay it a bit.
Adapted from Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter by Joe Kelly. © 2002, all rights reserved.