The sidewalk home is a swim upstream. It is full of kids and parents, all of them headed toward school in a race against the bell. We nod and exchange the usual pleasantries, each of us deep in our respective conversations—theirs a give and go of parental wisdom, mine one-sided silence beneath a flow of traffic and songbirds always singing. The families fade behind me into a sunlit schoolyard, and I, having already left my youngest in a ritual of hugs and laughter, maneuver against the grain. I nod, smile, step around oblivious obstacles in brand new backpacks, and walk until I am home again, my hand still warm from when a small boy held it.
He is 10. The extra digit added back in February, seemingly out of nowhere, and fresh into 5th grade, the pinnacle of elementary school. He is full of why and wonder.
Our walk to school is the best part of my day. That is partly due to the fact that he is the instigator of the hand-holding, not out of need or security, but rather the want of affection. Truth be told, when it comes to need I am the guilty one, and I don’t care to hide it. Every morning he takes my hand as we leave the door, and I cannot help but ponder if it will be the last time that he does so. Kids don’t hold hands forever.
The conversations are quick with him, much faster than they have ever been with his brother. In fact, they are fluid, more of a continuation than a beginning, his words only paused by bed and breakfast, mine rushing in whenever his breaths will allow it. We talk about everything, and we do it often.
The afternoon routine is more of the same, only a greeting where goodbyes were given, and a lot less shade to speak of. Instead we speak of other things.
“How was your day?” I always ask, and then, depending on the events thereof, he will either respond with detail or brevity. In the case of the latter I may prod a bit, asking other questions until I find the one he didn’t know he was waiting for, or he’ll take the initiative and shift the dialogue to a tale of his choosing.
The conversations tend to follow this simple pattern: Ask, listen, think, love, respond and repeat. Granted, most of the topics are light enough, and, to be completely honest, they often don’t matter—that is, they are fleeting moments in the scheme of things, made important only in the sharing of them—words once uttered left to linger in the ether, the pollen leavings of linguistics in bloom.
And yet, they are each a block in the bonds we are building. Every one of our conversations makes it all the easier to speak on the big things that we must talk about: alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, and so forth and so on. Each a segue to and from empathy, understanding, and the choices we all make. These are the conversations of need and security. This is the want of affection.
It is important to talk early to our children about the things nobody wants to talk about, and to do it often; however, we don’t need to start there. Cultivating a culture of conversation is but a matter of repetition. Find the time, somewhere between the weather and the everything, to talk to kids about responsibility and the lessons we are living. It starts as easily as “How was your day?” and wanders home from there—the obstacles just a thing to walk around.
Hold hands whenever possible.
This post is in partnership with Responsibility.org and the #TalkEarly campaign. Our collective mission is to eliminate drunk driving and speak to kids about underage drinking; also to promote responsible decision-making regarding the consumption of alcohol. It is a good cause, and while I am compensated as a #TalkEarly Ambassador, my opinions remain my own.
Please learn more about Responsibility.org and #TalkEarly by connecting on social media:
Whit Honea is the co-founder of Dads 4 Change, the Social Media Director and Community Manager of Dad 2.0 Summit as well as a Senior Account Executive at the conference’s parent company: XY Media Group. Deemed “the activist dad” by UpWorthy (and one of the “funniest dads on Twitter” by Mashable), he is a regular contributor to The Modern Dads Podcast and the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book—a family guide to empathy.