Fatherhood and Rites of Passage: 8/13/2021

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There was an announcement this week on IndieHackers about a new podcast starting up called The Indie Dads Podcast. As a father of four children, it immediately resonated with me. 

I’ve always enjoyed tinkering on projects in my free time - everything from writing books, publishing this newsletter, to now working on a new web application. The interesting thing about this podcast is that it got me to think about my relationship with my kids and what it means to be a parent who likes to build things. 

When I was growing up, I would spend hours in the garage watching my father work on small engines, build furniture, work on our cars, etc. He always seemed to have some project going on. I would rummage through the shelves of the garage and dig through the draws of his workbench, admiring all the tools he had collected. I remember thinking “I would love to have all this stuff and maybe a workshop of my own one day.” My grandmother used to call it “piddling around.” And as I think about it now, I would long for a place of my own to sit and “piddle.” 

I also remember thinking that it felt like a rite of passage for me to be able to independently work on my first truck - replacing fuel filters, changing the oil, fixing a flat tire, and doing whatever type of maintenance was required to keep it going at the time. All along the way, my dad was there to watch and give me guidance until I was able to finally do it on my own. 

Fast forward to today, rather than tinkering with engine parts or doing some form of woodworking in the garage, I have a small desk with my laptop on it where our kids will walk by and see lines of code spilling down the screen or the pages of a manuscript that I’m working on. If they walk by at just the right time they might see something that piques their curiosity enough to stop and ask what I’m doing. I always enjoy it when I have a chance to show them a new project or show off a tool that I’m using to build an application or write a book with.

Just last week I got to teach my son about version control and how to work with GitHub repositories. After a few minutes of showing him the basics, he immediately asked if I would set him up a “repo” to play around with. And it’s these types of moments that make you realize that they are paying more attention than you think. 

I guess the key is that, as a parent, it’s important to find those things that resonate with your child and use them as a mechanism for teaching them how to stand on their own. Guided responsibility and independence will hopefully set them up for future success in whatever they choose to do in life.

I believe it’s important that children have some rite of passage of their own as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. Many cultures have had such initiations built into their way of life for thousands of years. You don’t see it in American culture so much anymore. It’s there in small pockets, but I’m concerned that we’ve lost the art of initiation as a whole. 

I would suspect that, as with most generations, the tools and interests of the culture will change. It’s no secret that American culture is steeped in technology. Practically everything we do is governed by the microchip. This is not a value judgment on technology, but the simple recognition that the trajectory of our culture is one that will be immersed in the digital world. 

Seeing my kid’s interest in technology and how they are interested when they see me writing code for some project, reminds me of getting pulled in when I would see my dad working in the garage and want to learn how to do what he does. The tools and techniques are different, but the process of apprenticeship and initiation is the same. Whereas my rite of passage was learning how to fix and work on my truck, maybe today’s initiation into adulthood is learning how to push code changes to a git repository and merge pull requests.

Field Notes from the week: