Just wait until you can have a conversation with your children.”

This little pearl has been dangled over me for years by friends who started having families far earlier than me. I was 35 when Loreleigh was born, 41 for Ayden. Talking with young kids hasn’t necessarily been a conversation all these years so much as it was an interview.

How was your day at school? “Fine.”

What’d you do? “Stuff.”

Is your friend in town this weekend? “I dunno.”

Did you clean your room? “Uhhhhh, yeahhhh?”

This works both ways, of course. The kids will tell you they haven’t historically gotten a lot out of me in the past, either.

Dad, can I eat macaroni and cheese for breakfast? “No.”

Dad, can we see the late movie on a school night? “No.”

Dad, the toilet is clogged again! “Super. Thanks.”

But ever so slowly, we are stumbling into … if not conversations, certainly dialogues. With Loreleigh just a few months from going off to college, we’ve been talking more about hopes and dreams vs. how the real world operates. We talk of human relationships — what makes people tick, why people act certain ways one day and then something different the next.

Like many a father and son, Ayden and I are bonding over power equipment. Last fall, I broke him in on the gas-powered hedge trimmer. This spring, it’s been the lawn mower, the string trimmer and — last weekend — the pressure washer. Because what good is having a strapping pre-teen boy at home if he’s not gonna do some yard work, am I right?

There’s something inherently bonding when two men share a common goal of completing manual labor. It’s a symbiotic relationship: The actions of one spur the actions of the other, which then leads to a new set of joint movements. Because if not, someone’s gonna get a finger chopped off or get a 3,000 psi stream of water in their back.

It’s been less about parent and child and more about partners engaged in shared tasks. So it wasn’t as much telling Ayden what to do as sharing the work with him, demonstrating technique, answering his questions.

Parenting is at first more about teaching than talking. We teach them to eat, to crawl, to walk, to not hide the TV remotes, to not walk out of the house naked.

Then one day we’re teaching them how to hit a ball, how to apply an ice pack when that ball hits someone else, how to write a decent sentence, how to make macaroni and cheese.

And before you know it, you’re teaching them how to drive, how to fill out a job application, how to run the lawn mower.

And then slowly but surely, that teaching grows less didactic and more conversational. Sometimes they ask how you handled matters of the heart, how you handled that first break-up, what your first job was like … what it was like in the good ol’ days.

“Don’t be judgmental with what they say,” friends say. “You’ll scare them away. They want to talk.”

The inner lecturer struggles with that, but that person needs now to cede ground to the new role: therapist.

Yeah, it’s talk therapy — for both of us. It’s still about teaching, but the preaching is now New Testament style, rather than issuing commandments from on high.

Many of you have broken this plain and know the crops of this land, the harvests you can reap. Me, I’m still watching things grow. The crop looks good.

Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or john@thepilot.com.

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