What a Father Learned From His Adult Daughter
When we collaborated on a book, we each had a lot to learn—from each other.
Posted Jun 13, 2013
In honor of Father's Day, today's post is written by an actual father—guest blogger, journalist, and author Marc Silver.
My older daughter and I have a new kind of relationship this Father’s Day. We’re co-authors (of a new book for teens coping with a parent’s cancer).
Everybody wants to know: What’s it like to write a book with your daughter? How did you do it? Did you get mad at each other? Did you fight? Who was in charge?
First off, we have a history of bossing each other around. Maya, age three, holding arms in the air in anticipation of being lifted aloft: “Uppy, uppy, uppy.” I was a patsy dad, unable to resist. Me to Maya: Go brush your teeth and floss. Maya (lying): I already did.
Clearly, we needed to develop new ways to communicate. Here’s what I’d tell any parent who wants to collaborate with their kid – on a book, on a batch of cookies, on a recreational activity.
Accept it: Your child knows more than you do about a lot of things.
Or to put it another way, Father does not always know best.
I thought we would collaborate by writing word documents, attaching them to emails, and then downloading them, editing them, and re-attaching them to emails. And I figured we’d have to spend a couple weeks together, which would not be easy since Maya lives in Colorado and I’m a Marylander.
Maya said, “Dad, we have to use Google Docs.” I grumbled the way slightly older people do when they have to learn a new computer thing. But Maya helped me out, and I soon became a convert. We shared our notes, we created documents that we could share as well, and we only messed up once. It turns out that if two people open the same document and each edit it, the first person to check the document in will see the edits preserved (that was Maya) and the runner-up will lose all his work (that was me). And that taught us a valuable lesson for all kinds of future collaborations: Always tell each other what you’re doing.
Don’t pull rank.
Maya made changes in the manuscript that I wasn’t crazy about – breaking the narrative chapters I wrote into bite-size sections, combining two chapters that I wasn’t sure went together. At first I thought she was wrong. And then I thought, well, maybe she has a point, especially because she is a lot closer in age to our teen audience than I am. So I trusted her instincts. And when she changed my writing, I kept in mind the advice of a former editor: The words you like most are the first ones you should let go of.” Maya later told me she was amazed at my compliance: “He’s actually listening to me!” So sometimes it does pay off to be a patsy dad. And also, she was usually right.
If you do decide to push back, be gentle.
I read Maya’s contributions to a chapter on “Cancer 101” and wondered where she got all that interesting stuff. It turned out she found it on a web site. Part of me wanted to call her up and holler: YOU CAN’T TRUST THE WEB! Then I realized: It’s the way her generation works. And I figured that yelling wouldn’t help. So I sent a calm e-mail, and we started over. And this time, Maya admits she learned something from me about how to find trusted sources—and what sources not to trust.
Trust your child.
Sometimes I would be working all weekend and Maya would have some writing to do as well, and she’d call on Sunday and tell me she’d just returned from a weekend-long ice climbing festival. And I’d swallow hard and repress all my parental urges to say, “You were CLIMBING ICE when you should have been WRITING WORDS.” But I just figured that somehow she’d get it done because she was a responsible adult and maybe my wife and I had raised her right. And you know what, she did.
Not only can you learn from your adult child, but your know-it-all child can learn from you.
Maya recently confessed that our collaboration had been educational for her. Our year of working together, she told me, taught her “It’s not always my way or the highway.”
Best Father’s Day present ever!
Marc is the coauthor (with his daughter, Maya) of My Parent Has Cancer and it Really Sucks, and the author of Breast Cancer Husband.