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teaching is a dadly art....

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Now we come to evolutionary dadness part 2: Teaching. This one's a piece of cake. Compared to protection/scariness, this one is a veritable springtime walk through the park tra-la-la-ing cheerful sounds and enjoying the chirping little birdies.

Everyone automatically knows about the evolutionary teaching function of dads, just like everyone knows, subconsciously, about the whole fear/protect me thing. Dads worldwide have a poignant hunger to teach their kids things - how to drive, how to fish, how to do things mommy won't like without getting caught, how to play sports, how to use tools, how to cook, how to spit. The list of things dads have a hankering to teach their kids is endless and the content doesn't really matter.

Dads deprived of contact with their children will mourn the loss of opportunity to teach them things as much or more than they will mourn anything else. Dads who don't have anything to teach get all bummed out and want to teach them something, dammit. Dads who don't even like their kids will nevertheless exert great effort telling them how to do things. The teaching module is the reason why dads will indulge themselves in endless lecturing of bored teenagers, proffer unwanted advice at inopportune times, and regale their youngsters with tedious and lengthy explanations of mundane things even if no one appears interested. It is a compulsion, and it is close to unstoppable. Dads who don't cave in to their teaching instincts are just all fucked up. Even mean dads, ruthless dads, ex-con murderous dads will try, against all odds, to teach their kids something.

Conveniently, and sweetly, on the flip side, kids have an innate longing for a dad to teach them things. Kids who miss out on a teaching dad feel a profound sense of loss. There are little 'teach me dad' receptor cells sprinkled endearingly through most people's bodies and they reach out longingly to any dad-like entity in the vicinity. Even kids with personalities who really suck are desperate to have their dad teach them things. Most people grow out of this eventually if their receptor cells receive enough instruction to satisfy them, but many people don't.

Business people often talk about mentors. In fact, sometimes they won't shut up about them. Mentors are not a necessity in life, but the concept strikes a chord because it goes right to that evolutionary 'teach me dad' center in the human being.

There are reasons for this. They have to do with the way human beings are constructed. From evolution's point of view, human beings are constructed to be adaptable to an astonishing array from circumstances, from alpine villages to Hong Kong, to hunting their way through an ice age, to tail-gating their way through a commuter age. Big cities, isolated farms, hot climates, cold climates, cell phones and PDAs, backpacking through the forest, desert Bedouins, you damn name it and people will adapt to it. Humans are like cockroaches that way, they can live right next to nuclear power plants and many of them will unexpectedly survive. There is talk of trying to send a man to Mars, which pretty much proves that evolution designed people to give a shot to adapting to almost any damn thing including other planets. The only constant humans really have to contend with in environmental terms is each other. Humans don't survive in any numbers without other humans but after that all bets are off.

From evolution's point of view, this creates a certain pressure on the value of experience. Evolution can't design people with instincts that will tell them how to win at video games because it has no way of knowing whether they will be born into a society that values that sort of thing. It can give them an instinct to want to win at anything they might attempt but it can't actually tell them how to in a particular circumstance. It can't pre-design a human with an innate strategy for winning the Tour de France for example.

Hows are instead derived from experience. The person with experience at winning the Tour de France shows someone else. People learn things from each other; they have to, there's no other damn way to do it. From evolution's point of view, human life is all about hows. How is the difference between life and death. How exactly do you a hunt a buffalo? How do you hunt one if it's really cold or really hot. How do you mash up acorns to make a meal. How do you skin an animal, how do you deal with drought in a dusty climate, how do you fix an engine, how do you avoid getting run over by a car, how do you get a college degree. Etc., etc. Hows make all the difference in human life.

Any damn person can figure out that if they are sick, they'd sure as hell like to be well again. That's not the question. The question is does anyone actually know how to make the sick person well again or not.

Back when the human species was even younger than they are now and evolving under intense survival pressure, specific circumstance-driven hows made all the difference. If Joe Early Man figured out how to successfully hunt the particular animals in his area, he lived to tell the tale and have offspring to worry about. If he didn't, well then he didn't.

And when his offspring were hitting that age where it was becoming increasingly important that they pull their own weight, they needed to know exactly how that hunting was done. Evolution couldn't just throw its hands up in the air and say 'well let each generation figure it out for themselves from scratch, that'll be good harrowing fun.' Because too damn many of them will die off in the process, never having figured it out. It's hard to figure out exactly what the best way to do something is; it takes a long time, it takes experience.

In other words, the single most important advantage your evolutionary proto-dad could confer on his kids was the benefit of his experience. How not to get killed by a bear. How not to fall off a ledge into the freezing river and drown. How not to eat poisonous plants and die. How not to surprise a venomous snake. How to tell when bad weather is coming. How to thrust a spear into an enemy. The hows of early human life were never predictable and always important. They were particularly important when it came to dangerous dad-type sports like hunting and killing.

So evolution implanted dads with an obsessive module that commands them to show their kids how to do things. It's as logical as all get-out and still fairly useful.
Meanwhile, the evolutionary proto-tyke is implanted with its own clever module that makes it obsessed with learning how grown-ups do things. And a yearning hunger to be shown how. Now the kid doesn't actually care what it's being shown how to do, in fact, it and evolution both retain a certain skepticism that anything dad knows how to do is all that relevant. For while evolution is mightily impressed by the benefits of experience, it's also of the opinion that things change, and it wants the next generation to retain a certain flexibility to do things differently.

No, what the kid actually wants to learn is how to learn. Evolution knows the proto-tyke is going to have to learn stuff on an ongoing basis and it would like it to get some serious practice under its belt before it has to go bagging its own prey.
So what the child actually wants is experience of learning. To go through the process. Trial and error. Frustration. Attention to detail. Adaptation to unexpected obstacles. Manual dexterity. Patience and failure. Determination. Pressure. Concentration. The experience of finally getting it. Increasing mastery. The value of practice. The value of thinking things through. The value of trying something different when the first try doesn't work. Relaxing. Not understanding. Realizing that things aren't always what they seem and that unexpected methods sometimes produce good results. The principle of consequences. Planning. Pride in results. Satisfaction in something well done. Dealing with the tricks your mind plays on you, like when it tells you to give up when are close to success. When it tells you you're tired but you need to keep going. We are talking about experiencing mastery here folks, and it's important. Sometimes inches count and it's damn helpful to be able to tell when they do and when they don't.

In other words, there's actually a whole bunch of shit that goes into learning how to learn, how to adapt, how to figure out hows that most of us never even think about. It is the actual doing of it, whatever it is, under the watchful eye of someone who already knows how that a child craves. So they can gain precious vital experience in knowing what figuring things out feels like.

Maybe it's just making pancakes. But it's the telling your kid 'okay, now wait until the bubbles start to pop, then you flip. Okay, now look, see you flip too early and they fall apart.' And so on. The human mind is built to absorb process through experience with specifics. If paying attention didn't make any damn difference, then no one would pay attention. It's making pancakes with dad that makes learning how to pay attention seem fun and worthwhile and worthy and cool. Learning how to do things is inherently rewarding and almost every young person experiences a naked desire to show their dad when they have learned something tricky.

They want to do this because having your dad acknowledge your learning is liking getting your discount card punched each time you buy a sandwich until you've finally earned a free one. It's a tangible record of your purchase and it ticks off that you are this much closer to your free sandwich. When dad acknowledges the human brain gets out its puncher and ticks off an accomplishment.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But what if it alls goes horribly wrong?!

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