The small figure moved through the kitchen with quiet intentions, but the coordination of a five-year-old coupled with the desire to sneak some candy did not combine to produce a stealthy approach. My nephew is one of the cutest kids ever, and his sly smile won over his aunt who softly asked if his parents had given him permission for a snack. She gave in with the “make that one the last one before dinner” reprieve, and he was on his way.
Listening to any adult interact with a younger child you will hear “the voice”. It’s a voice that teachers and mothers have largely mastered, and my Mom still can switch into one at any given second. Some people save it for their pets, which sometimes deviates into complete “baby talk”. Others use the voice when speaking to someone much older than themselves. That version typically has a much louder volume, but a similar tone. Similarly, often when starting a romantic relationship, people can soften their tones with their new partner. A soothing tone can help someone feel cared about and open the space to a positive learning experience.
When we are trying to teach or care for each other, we often soften our vocal tones and word choices. Celebrating Father’s Day today with my children, I reflected on my communication with them, the lessons I have learned from them, and the lessons I want them to take from me. As they have become teenagers, I don’t use the soft voice very often. I use the raised voice way more than the soft, encouraging voice. That made me sad.
I have heard the adage that new learners react better to encouragement, and experts react more to stiff criticism, and maybe I’m feeling urgency in preparing my children for being on their own. Maybe in my mind I want to make sure that they are ready to be independent and resilient in a challenging world. I can be particularly hard on my son.
I speak to my son in the same voice that I speak to myself inside my head. I want him to be thoughtful, strong, compassionate, and hard-working. Those are the things I strive to be as well. During my fishing outing this week, I only had a few hours on the water. The ongoing narrative in my head at the onset was a rolling list of the things I wanted to improve with my casting, line control, and drift control. My mental tone was harsh. Through a combination of landing a couple fish, some deep breathing, and taking in the feel of being on the river, my inner voice softened. Then I cast better, kept line off the water, and started to land even more fish.
Often when I share stories in conversations with friends, I refer to the moments where harsh tones were used. They seem juicer, more interesting, or I think they make me appear strong and unwavering. The times a friend or I rose to a challenge, where we met the foe on the field or court or ring and prevailed. When we won the game, caught the fish, or vanquished the foe.
After a hike with my kids this afternoon, I hugged them tightly. My son said, “Thank you for being the best Dad ever.” My daughter said, “You really are.” I got teary holding them and I had flashbacks of them as five-year-olds and younger. Those words softened my tone and touched my heart.
Great philosopher Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said, “I realized being a father is the greatest job I have ever had and the greatest job I will ever have.”
My children teach me so much every moment I spend with them. Spending time with nieces and nephews is also a great reminder of the compassionate space of learning and growing. I won’t hear someone speak in “the voice” again without appreciating their caring and the reminder to speak to others and myself in a tone that shows I care.
Happy Father’s Day and Keep Mending