Problems and questions: a Father’s Day post
I am teaching my daughter how to solve problems. Math problems.
I find or think up challenging math problems for her (she is a third grader), and, to make them more fun, I rewrite them to include mention of her friends and family, favorite characters, and favorite things. We work through them together before bedtime. It’s fun, and we both get a lot out of it.
I always close our math session by asking her a question. The questions I ask are meant to spark introspection and, I hope, foster self-worth: What is something you like about yourself? What is something you like to do? What is something are you good at? What are some things people you like have in common?
The questions I want her to ask in life—when learning new things, when engaging with people, and when confronting political forces in the world—are the big, probing kind: What is this all about? Why is it important? What does that even mean? How do you know?
These are simple questions, but they carry a lot of weight when asked earnestly, and also when asked recursively to get to the bottom of something. They are at the forefront of my mind all the time (especially how do you know?) because I believe they are at the heart of thoughtful inquiry. (They may also be at the heart of skepticism or even a healthy distrust, but that is something for me to unpack later.)
As a father, I have no idea how to teach her to ask these questions. How do you teach someone to not be afraid to ask these questions? How do you teach someone to not get upset at the answers? How do you teach someone to deal with indifference, rejection, or even malice? I don’t know. I can only ask her big questions enough times for her to get used to them.
As she grows older and more confident, the other big questions I want her to ask are: What can I do? and Why not me? Those questions are even harder to ask, harder to answer, and I certainly don’t have the right answers to them. Part of the my journey through fatherhood is to try to figure them out.