In my original post on The 12 Days of Fatherhood, I suggested that, for the fifth day, we provide not five golden rings, but instead, this:
Ask your children what they did that day, but then listen as though it was the most important thing you have ever heard. Ask questions, show interest, and just listen deeply.
…and that’s exactly what I did. As soon as the children were getting ready to eat their dinner, I sat down with them and asked each of them, in turn, to tell me about their day. Normally, when I say, “How was your day,” they respond with, “Meh, okay.” Then I usually ask, “What did you do,” to which they answer, “Oh, stuff…”
Somehow, buried within the way that I asked them tonight, was mindful intent. Instead of going through the motions, they were able to tell that I truly wanted to know about what they did today.
What they did in return shocked me.
They told me.
In glorious detail and storytelling fashion, they took turns recounting the events of their days, right down to what assignments they worked on, who they played with, and what they liked or didn’t like. I ended up with more information about today’s series of events for my children than I think I ever have cumulatively in their young lives.
Also of interest, as they told their stories, I noticed a serene calm wash over their normally hyperactive selves. Instead of jumping around, interrupting one another, and competing for attention, they simply sat and listened while the other would talk, still and calm.
Another observation is that they began to exhibit what we call in nonverbal communication studies, interactional synchrony. This is a fancy way of stating that we mirrored one another’s gestures, body postures, and facial expressions, which is a behavior that signals positive sentiment toward interaction.
From my end, I found it difficult. My attention span wanted to wander. I wanted to go check my email or find something to eat or even just pace around the room for some unknown reason. However, I kept reminding myself, what would my memory of this conversation be like in the future if, god forbid, I lost them tomorrow?
Reminding ourselves of the fleeting nature of our own mortality is not necessarily being morose. Sometimes it is the jolt we need to function as a mindfully present, intentional human being.
Now is all we have, so enjoy it and savor every word.