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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
doesn't it? But what if it alls goes horribly wrong?!