23: Thanks for Letting Me Fail

23: Thanks for Letting Me Fail

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Thanks for Letting Me Fail

Few things are more satisfying than
seeing your children have teenagers of their own.

~Doug Larson

Whether you’ve got kids or not, everyone has watched another parent and thought, “Okay, I wouldn’t do it that way.” It all seems easy until you actually have to do it yourself. For me, the hardest thing about being a father is watching my kids fail without interfering.

This is a tough one. I thought I’d just give them the space, watch them struggle, watch them cry and get frustrated, then I’d give them some magical tip and they’d succeed. Ta-daaaa! No problem. I didn’t realize that my heart would break for them while I watched. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t always have the magical tip. I didn’t realize that sometimes they wouldn’t even want it; that they actually might want to do it wrong.

Now that I’m experiencing this, I’ve been thinking back to when I was a kid. I would tell my dad about my hair-brained ideas, and he would just smile and say, “Hmmm, sounds interesting. Let me know how it turns out.” If I was really struggling with something, he would ask me a bunch of questions, and usually I would come up with my own answer.

How did he resist the urge to talk me out of stuff, to help me before I failed? It must have been painful to watch, because I tried a lot of stuff, and I failed at a lot of it. And yet, Dad was always there for me, the ultimate coach and supporter. He never tried to talk me out of things, or coach me in the right direction unless I asked. He gave me the room to screw up on my own. Maybe one of the best things he did for me as a father was to have the strength to stand by and watch me fail — to let me figure it out on my own.

It has occurred to me that this was a huge factor in the fact that, for the most part, I don’t fear failure. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like failure, but the risk of it never stops me from doing anything. I have had a life rich with travel, adventure, and widely varying experiences and friendships, most of which can be attributed to going out and trying things that somebody should have told me would fail. It was a gift my dad gave me — the confidence to screw up on my own, to attempt anything and see what happens.

I want to give that same gift to my kids. When they’re coloring outside the lines, putting tape on crooked, or trying to jam the Barbie shoe on the wrong foot. Kids are in a perpetual state of learning, so that means they’re screwing up constantly.

Today at cross-country ski training, Cassidy, my seven-year-old, was falling repeatedly trying to get up a hill. I kept taking a step forward, closer, closer . . . thinking, “Okay I’ll help her . . . no I better not. Okay, now I’ll help her . . . no, let her do it!” Then, finally, she figured out a way to crawl up, and it looked silly and she giggled loudly as she did it, full of excitement that she had conquered that hill. It wasn’t good skiing form, but mission accomplished, and my lip still hurts from biting it.

I have a lot of work to do on watching the failures with a smile. Maybe I’ll come up with some plan, some way to deal with it. Maybe someone I know already has some good ideas. Maybe I’ll bounce them off my dad.

He’ll probably say, “Hmmm, sounds interesting. Let me know how it turns out.”

~Tim Brewster

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