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Father’s Day Quest: Unravel the Mystery of Dad

Our father can be a mystery. They usually don’t talk as much as our mother.They may not Share their feelings straight away. Many fathers, especially older generations, communicate with their children through their wives. And even if they share their thoughts and opinions, there may be differences between generations that present communication challenges.

Deborah Tannen is a professor of linguistics in Georgetown and the author of 11 books on communication, including “You Can’t Understand”, one of the original books on communication between men and women. Her recent memoir, “Find My Father: His Long Century Journey from Warsaw, World War I and My Quest,” describes her relationship with her father and his life and his quest. Explore her quest to learn about his life after he left.

We talked to Dr. Tanen about the importance and challenges of understanding his father’s life. Here is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

How does our father’s story shape us?

Dr. Tanen: When they are in the past, they are who our father is, how he is who he is, and how he influences us who we are Helps you understand.

There are many types of stories that our father tells. My dad really liked talking about his past, his childhood in another country. I don’t think every father likes to do so. Some fathers like to give advice and consider it their main responsibility. Therefore, their story may be a cautionary one. It can be more frustrating.

Why is it so difficult to understand our father?

Many say that fathers don’t speak much. Men are more likely to make connections through activities and doing things together. Women tend to make connections through talk. So many fathers don’t feel that their relationship is lacking as long as they spend time with their children.

And, ironically, when a father wants to talk, he doesn’t want to hear it. Because the world in which his story was born is foreign to us. There is an almost stereotypical story we think of a father’s story that begins with “When I was your age …”. We react on our knees because we think it will look like this: I grew up spoiled. “

Also, fathers and children belong to different generations. Many things that one takes for granted may not make sense for the other. The very idea that fathers and children should have emotional conversations about their lives is very transgenerational.

Why is it important to try to understand our father?

The better you understand your father, the better you understand yourself. The advice and concerns expressed by the father may be mysterious and meaningless. But it’s not too frustrating to understand the world in which our father was born and the family in which our father was born.

Deborah Tannen and her father were at their home in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Tannen was 97 years old around 2006.


Photo:

Tanen Naomi

Do fathers and daughters have a unique relationship?

Yes, many do. Fathers and daughters are often less competitive than fathers and sons. Also, many men find it easier to talk to women than men. And, in many cases, the daughter idealizes her father, so of course it’s more fun to talk to someone who hasn’t criticized you.

How about your father and son?

There is this image of a father and son throwing baseball back and forth. We come to the idea that many boys and men make connections by doing things together. They may be less likely to sit and talk like daughters and fathers. Many men find it easy to talk to women because they are so comfortable talking to them that they can start a conversation. If you have a father and a son, you may not be good at speaking personally. They may be comfortable to inform, talk about sports, talk about cars.

How can I find out about my father while he is alive?

A deliberate plan may be needed to discuss your dad’s past, his family, and his feelings for things. The less you talk like that, the harder it is to try to do it. But that may mean that you need to set it up to plan it.

Men often find it easier to talk when doing something. It may be easier to talk if you are in a car that does not see each other or if you are working together. He doesn’t have to look at you.

Ask specific questions. For many men, their sense of duty focuses on supporting the family, the work they do, so start with work. So ask about the jobs they did at different times in their lives, the people they worked with, or the families associated with their jobs.

How can I find out more about my deceased father?

When many die, they pass through their parents and find documents, notes, letters, and souvenirs. If you are interested, don’t miss the opportunity.

Talk to someone who knows him, such as a friend or brother. Listen to him when he was young. You can also read about where and when your father grew up. Many fathers have experienced wars and historical events.

Then talk to your own brother and get his view. Fathers with multiple children are different from their respective fathers.

What should I do if I have a problem with my father-child relationship?

It depends on how tense the relationship is. It’s important not to ask questions that are rewarding or complaining. So ask: how was it when you were a kid? How did it grow when you did it? What was your first job? How did you decide to do the final job?

You want to be careful that it doesn’t sound like a cross-examination. You can say: “I realized I didn’t know about this part of your life. I really want to know.”

Are there any questions you shouldn’t ask?

It will be a very subtle dance. It depends on how much you want to know and how much he wants to share. He may not know how much he wants to share until he sees how you react.

There is always the danger of learning that you are upset. The most dramatic is the secret life. Or an opinion that you find unpleasant. In recent years, many parents and children have agreed not to talk about politics because they never see each other. You may have to prepare to let go of things.

What if my dad isn’t good at speaking?

Please write it. My dad found it much easier to describe himself in writing. I wrote a play based on his childhood in Poland and read it to my parents. When I was done, my mother threw her arms around me and cried. My father changed the subject. I was seriously injured. The next day he handed me a letter about how impressed he was and said that the reason he changed the subject was because he was afraid to be overcome by emotions.

If you decide to write, start with a compliment: thank you for him, praise you. Next, I’ll explain what I want to know more about him. Please tell me something concrete.

You may be surprised that a father who doesn’t talk about himself may be happy to hear about his past and life.

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein elizabeth.bernstein@wsj.com Or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram’s EBernstein WSJ

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Father’s Day Quest: Unravel the Mystery of Dad

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