The reason it waits
until dad has acknowledged this is interesting. It's because it doesn't
actually know if it has completed the process until dad says 'yeah,
good job.' The reason it doesn't actually know is because learning
is damn tricky. You can be all excited and say 'Look I've learned
to ride a bicycle!' when in reality you haven't and are going to
fall off in about three seconds. Learning important hows is full of
false successes. You may think you're a bigshot buffalo hunter because
you wanged the brute in the shoulder. Your dad, however, is going to
explain to you in just a moment that you never ever shoot a buffalo
just once in the shoulder and expect to go home happy. What you do instead
is make damn sure you shoot it again and in the right place this time
or you're going to have a very angry buffalo and a few dead folks to
Your brain doesn't
actually know whether or not you've succeeded until your dad, with his
vast experience, tells you that you have. You can be averaging three
homers per game in Little League and if your sourpuss dad refuses
to get excited and focuses only on what you need to improve, your poor
brain will sincerely believe it has not accomplished a damn thing yet
and is still in the midst of the bewildering learning process. This
mechanism puts little child brains rather astonishingly at the mercy
of dad brains in terms of assessing results. And dad brains, as we have
already seen, are incredibly complicated.
Some of you should
know this by personal experience. Some of you, if you represent a
fair cross-sampling of humanity, should be, to this very day, still
waiting for the goddamn 'good job' from dad that will tell your
brain whether you have finished some stupid task or not. It can be fairly
excruciating for a brain to be put on hold for long periods of time,
like let's say your whole life, by a dad who will never fucking admit
that you learned whatever you learned or accomplished whatever you accomplished.
Some people feel
this quite acutely, like an ache. And it's not surprising, given
that any normal brain would much prefer to actually know whether or
not it's fucking figured out how to figure things out yet. It's like
being on trial for fifty years - you just want someone to render a damn
verdict for chrissake! Sometimes it feels like your real life hasn't
even damn started until you get this important question answered.
is one half of the reason for the universal human desperate desire
for dad's approval. It's just a frequently wrenching misfortune
visited upon a species primed by evolution to have dads. It's an evolutionary
The other half of
the desire for approval is caused by love - an even more painful and
complicated topic we'll take up later.
recap and organize what we've learned about teaching and learning. When
the process goes right from dad's point of view, he gets to relieve
himself of some of the burden of his experience, which is something
of a relief. He also gets to experience the satisfaction of seeing his
kid learn how to learn, get better at getting better, and eventually
go on to learn and do things he had no idea could be done. Lastly and
not leastly, it's fun and actually quite calming, if done right, to
escape to the garage and build a birdhouse with a 7 year old.
It's no wonder Ward Cleaver, one of your classic teaching dads, was
always so calm. It's quite centering to sit down and figure things out
with the Beav. Many dads, if they had their way, would spend more time
doing this kind of thing. Playing catch. Or poker. With their kid. It's
a hell of a lot better than doing half that grown up shit that being
a grown up often entails. In the midst of a true teach-a-thon time slows,
stops, reorients itself and flows through the dad brain a soothing and
restorative manner. He is doing what he was meant to do and that has
a tendency to feel good.
the kid's point of view, if it all goes right, he gets to experience
the entire process of learning in the helpful and soothing presence
of the competent, calm chemicals of his competent, calm dad. As a result,
he develops, over time, an unshakeable confidence in his ability to
figure things out. He may or may not pick up any useful skills along
the way - it may not prove that relevant later whether one knows
how to make an excellent spaceman Halloween costume out of tinfoil and
bed sheets or how to make a lizard vomit. On the other hand, it
may be prove very useful to know how to fix a flat tire or design
lighting systems for large-arena rock concerts. You never know what
dads will teach and it doesn't matter.
What matters is
that you have happy memories of immersing yourself in learning. That
you get forced to be centered and grounded enough to get yourself through
the otherwise intimidating process of going from not knowing to knowing.
This is obviously not stuff you can get from books, the experiential
aspect and that's what makes having a teaching dad fun. It feels like
something. It feels like doing something right. And important. And confidence-building.
And security-enhancing. It feels like getting safer and wiser and calmer
and more experienced. For many people, the memories they have of
performing some activity with their dad, fishing or gardening, or
hauling trash out to the landfill, are some of the most pleasant memories
Unless of course
they aren't. And indeed sometimes they aren't. Sometimes the process
gets fouled up.
Some dads are not
very good teachers. Sometimes they are not very good teachers because
they never actually became very good learners. They simply don't have
the physiological experience of going through the entire learning process
with all its ups and downs and therefore can't convey it. Sometimes
their own brains are still on hold and consequently they can't judge
themselves whether something's been learned or accomplished. A classic
example is Screaming Tyrannical Coach Dad. Screaming Tyrannical
Tennis Coach Dad or Screaming Tyrannical Gymnastics Coach Dad or Screaming
Tyrannical Football Coach Dad or Screams and Is Tyrannical About Everything
Usually From The Sidelines Dad.
Dads exhibit that flaw so fatal to many an endeavor, panic. Screaming
Tyrannical Tennis Coach Dad doesn't actually know whether his superstar
teenage athlete actually knows how to play tennis because his brain,
undoubtedly 'good-job' deprived in its own youth, doesn't know how to
judge when something's been accomplished or not. So it always feels
Dads who are thoroughly
familiar with the learning process know that when their tennis prodigy
can't get his first serve in for the life of him for three months that
this is part of a plateauing process common to many endeavors and that
if the kid hangs in there he'll soon experience a growth spurt in which
his first serve will take a sudden unexpected leap forward in quality.
Panicked dads don't know anything about shit like this because they
are too nervous to understand learning and so they will scream incessantly
throughout the three month period in a frenzy of despair that
their kid doesn't know how to play tennis. Their tennis prodigy may
experience the growth spurt anyway, or uptight from being yelled at,
he may find himself unwittingly forced into mediocrity by a dad with
no experience at seeing how things pan out during a learning curve.
It is damn annoying
to have a dad like this. Panicky people are reliably annoying anyway,
and this quality is only exacerbated when they are not only panicky
but important. Sometimes panicky dads are so annoying they are useful.
Annoying things, like spurs, sometimes get you to go faster. Unfortunately,
they also fuck up your brain. A dad who couldn't teach properly will
make it difficult for you to learn properly. And you will henceforth
be unable to adequately judge the results of your efforts.
This is such a common result of inadequate teaching dads worldwide that
there are even fancy names for it - like Imposter Syndrome. There
are millions of people wandering the earth accomplishing numerous things
such as getting law degrees, running their own businesses, heading major
corporations, and researching the cure for cancer who have absolutely
no fucking idea whether they are accomplishing anything or not. People
tell them, yeah, you're great, that's excellent, way to go on the
cure for cancer thing, and they feel like damn imposters. They don't
feel like they've accomplished anything. They have no idea what accomplishing
anything feels like. They have no way to judge their own results.
Often they can judge other people's results because hoh it turns out
to be actually quite easy, someone wins a marathon that's an accomplishment.
But they have no idea whether working their way through college or winning
the Nobel Prize qualifies in their case.
It's because they're
missing the internal mechanism that tells their brain, this is it, this
is what completing the mastery process feels like. Relax! You've done
it. This is how it works. Mastery isn't lifelong mastery, the brain
that's learned how to learn will tell you. It isn't knowing a particular
thing. Instead it's having confidence that when you don't know what
the hell is going on or what the next step might be, you will figure
it out. Because you know how to figure things out. Things have cycles
and curves and twists and turns and the brain with confidence in itself
knows that by experience and hangs with it. Sometimes you are sitting
there trying to figure out the special theory of relativity and it's
just not coming to you. And then lo and behold three months later
you have a breakthrough and there you are, Albert Einstein.
so what do you
do if you're an imposter who can never tell if they've accomplished