The Battle for Cool

What motivates a child? I wish I knew. Nothing in this world can be taught by a teacher (or parent). Culture may be imbibed by sub-conscious observation. But rigorous intellectual work (or sport or art) is always self-driven. There is no way one can nag somebody into becoming an ace pianist. (If anything, it is a sure-fire way to turn people away from piano.) That much, I knew. Still, I worried. Youtube videos and manga comics could not be a great way to live out your teen years.

Any activity introduced by me to Vishal was considered uncool by him, simply by virtue of it’s provenance. What then if he switched off from math, just because I gave him a few math riddles? Even if basically talented in some art, and I know he is indeed a talented kid, he may decide not to practice that art; after all, if dad talked about it, then it must be an uncool thing.

And so I decided that I first have to earn coolness. I knew this is an uphill, if not near-impossible task. After all, which father is cool to his son?

I devised a new mantra, “quantity, not quality, time,” and tested it. I resolved to be around and accessible, but in an agenda-less fashion. He should not see my presence as foreboding lectures on math: That equates “dad” to “nuisance.” Yet as I dialed down my guidance, he, too, retreated into silence.

Thinking hard, I next gave up on items that I had decided (unilaterally, I realize) were a “good use of a kid’s time.” There were two in this category: music and swimming. I realized I kept trying to light an interest in these only because I did not have easy access to them as a kid myself. From his perspective he must’ve found my obsession with music and swimming befuddling, especially given his lack of manifest talent in either.

Switching back to being proactive, I attempted to reach out to him through activities that he naturally engaged in. He liked to watch cricket and movies, and play video games. Maybe, I thought, I should do these with him. Hey maybe then video gaming will become uncool, since dad plays it too! I found out rather quickly that you cannot easily fake being a video-game aficionado. The one time I played Minecraft with him he asked me to get out of the room, and get out of the multi-player arena as well. So much for that idea.

Eventually my work and other commitments caught up with me and I drifted away for a few months.

When I came back, I was surprised to find that he had taught himself a few tunes on the keyboard. He had done this by looking at youtube videos of piano players. He was always fascinated with watching basketball matches, but I now found him to have an above-average interest in actually playing the game. He even took me to the court, showed me some moves, and found it necessary to ask, “Have you played basketball before?” No, I hadn’t. In fact I am terrible at any game that involves sending a ball to a target. It turns out NBA2K16 for PlayStation2 may have motivated him towards sport more than anything dad said. In a brief fit of bonhomie, we went to the swimming pool together. Not particularly athletic, he was nonetheless able to show off his recently-learnt freestyle. “Not bad, Vishal,” I said, “that was impressive. How come?” His explanation was simple: “I wasn’t old enough the last time around.”

So is that what it is? Hands-off, laissez-faire? The battle for cool ain’t a battle at all. As far as parenting is concerned, less is more. Have a good time and see where, if at all, it takes you. Worry never added a single hour to anybody’s life.