Father Doesn't Always Know Best: Why We All Win by Listening
“Wisdom comes with age,” my mother wryly remarked once, “but sometimes age comes alone.”
You don’t live to be 94 without recognizing that longevity doesn’t necessarily equate wisdom in all things. To her last breath, Mom expressed gratitude for her children, grandchildren, pastor, physician, and friends – all younger than she – for the things they taught her in her later years. Mom was one of the smartest women I know, yet she had the humility to acknowledge that the generations following her had knowledge, expertise, and life experiences different from her own.
The summer after we had our first child nearly 40 years ago, Mike and I were meeting with a life insurance agent who had just turned 60 about taking out a policy. As we chatted, our agent related an experience he had just had with his own father, 91.
They were doing some spring planting together when the older man began to put up beanpoles in straight lines. The son intervened, suggesting that stacking them tepee-style was better. A disagreement arose.
"Dad," the younger man finally said, sighing, "this is my garden, and I want to use the tepees."
The father threw down his hoe and stomped off toward the house.
"You kids!" he snorted over his shoulder. "Turn sixty and you think you know everything!"
Google “parent-child instruction” or “advice between the generations” and you’ll find thousands of links to articles instructing parents how to train and raise up their children, or ponderous lists of advice that older people impart to the young. It’s as it should be – the longer we live, the more life lessons we have to pass along.
But why does it stick in our craw when the tables are turned, and we need to admit that the younger generation might have something to teach us instead?
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on the final drafts of my second book due to release next March. Honestly, when I submitted the manuscript a few months ago I thought it was in pretty good shape. I was amazed when Bonne, a senior editor with decades of experience, tactfully pointed out redundancies, errors of omission, and quotations needing further citation. I accepted her expert advice with deep gratitude.
“Done!” I thought with satisfaction when I returned the manuscript with changes accepted.
Until the copy-editing process began.
The editorial director wisely assigned two much younger editors, also highly trained, to comb the manuscript one final time before the book goes into production. When their queries were sent to me, I was taken aback.
“The copy editors didn’t get all my jokes!” I wailed to Bonne. “They're questioning things you and I have already been over. Readers will know what I meant!”
Yeah, readers of a certain age maybe. But after I fell off my high horse and dusted off my arrogant author’s butt, I realized they were right. If certain statements sounded misleading to these younger editors, they would to many readers as well.
(Total aside: I refused to delete the old southern expression, “I’m gonna snatch you bald-headed!” My one act of rebellion.)
I’m posting this today from a large writers’ conference* near Asheville where I’m spending five days – and significant funds – taking classes.
“Why are you here?” someone asked me at dinner last night, not unkindly. “You’ve published one book and already have a contract on a second.”
I’m here because I’ve lived long enough to recognize there is far more I don’t know than that which I do. Same reason I started graduate school at 59 rather than 22. I had finally learned that I did not have all the answers, so I had better start asking more questions.
I’m here because most of the conference faculty members are younger than I am, and they have expertise I’ll benefit from.
I’m here because I never, ever want to stop learning. And maybe I’ll learn some new things that will help someone else along the way. (to be continued next week)