How much do you know about the world, dada?

by Wolf Pascoe on December 28, 2010

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For me, one delight of fatherhood is the questions Nick asks. Usually the questions arrive at bedtime, when he’s safely under his blanket.

My favorite came a couple of years ago, when he was six.

“Dada,” he says, “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“I mean…but…” he said, “How can you even imagine nothing?”

I’m sure this is how Einstein got his start.

“That’s a wonderful question, Nick,” I said. “How about when it’s dark and you look up at the sky and there’s so much space between the stars?”

“But space is something.”

There followed a long discussion about the big bang, which did little to settle the mystery but made us both feel closer.

Recently, I was stopped cold by this one:

“Dada, how much do you know about the world?”

Where had it come from? Where should I go with it?

“How do you mean?” I said.

“I mean, from one to a million.”

“Oh. You mean how much do I know about the world on a scale from one to a million?”

“Yes.”

Was my brain about to be stamped with a number? I wasn’t having a great week. I was too tired to think much. I decided to go with what I was feeling in the moment. When in doubt, tell the truth.

“I’d say five.”

“Five out of a million?”

“Yeah.”

In the pale light of his night lamp his face sort of dropped. From this I inferred that he had supposed I would have encompassed a somewhat larger scope.

“The world is a very big place, Nick,” I said in my defense. Was there no credit for humility?

“That’s all right,” he said.

That was the end of it. I went to sleep with the uneasy feeling that the ink was indelible.

The next evening, I told the story to my men’s group.

“Really, it’s the wrong question,” said one. “The right question would be, ‘what are the things you know about?’ Because everyone knows a lot about something.”

Fortified, I went back to Nick the next day and re-visited the subject.

“You know, Nick,” I said, “I suppose there are some things I know quite a lot about.”

A lot more than a five is what I meant.

“What things?”

“Well, medicine. I know about that. Men. Plays. I know a lot about those things. Everyone knows a lot about something.”

“Oh,” was all he said.

For the second time, that was the end of it. He didn’t ask me to hazard a new number. I resigned myself to being a five in his eyes. But last week fate provided another chance: I noticed that a hundred people had visited this blog in one day.

“Jeez,” I said. “I just had a hundred hits!”

I found out later that the traffic was the result of a generous recommendation posted by another dad blogger. (Thank you, Clark Kent’s Lunchbox.)

Nick, who takes an occasional interest in the blog, overheard my exclamation.

“A hundred people?” he said. “That’s a lot.”

Not a lot for some blogs, though a lot for me. A prodigious lot more than five. But I didn’t say that.

I said, “Sure is.”

. . .

How much do you know about the world? Have you ever worried that your kid, or any kid, was disappointed in you? I’d love you to add your comment below. I (nearly) always write a response here.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan December 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Wonderful post! You turned what was a private moment into something charming, wondrous, and poignant. I feel it’s inevitable to disappoint our children and to be chagrined and ashamed when we do, because we all struggle with the achievable goal of being “good enough” parents until, one hopes, the young beings in our care are able to transfer their projections to the greater essences parenting (not quite the right word) us all.

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Wolf Pascoe December 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Beautiful words. I hope the post is worthy of this comment, Dan.

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David December 28, 2010 at 5:51 pm

“Was there no credit for humility?” I laughed when I read this. What a great line! I guess it’s like patience in that it’s its own reward.

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Wolf Pascoe December 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Yes. I suppose you lose humility points when you ask for them.

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Charles Bernstein December 29, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Beautiful window, not only into a private father-son exchange, but into the internal father-mind struggle. Neither of these shuttered realms normally get shared. Both are of deep and lasting value to us all. Thanks for letting us peer in.

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Wolf Pascoe December 30, 2010 at 12:34 am

The father-mind struggle!
Yes.

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Raffi December 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm

“the older I get, the smarter my father gets”it includes honesty and humility

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Wolf Pascoe December 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Amen, Raffi.

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Clark Kent's Lunchbox January 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm

This exchange made me smile. Kids are smart about that bedtime stalling tactic. They can get very philosophical all of a sudden.

Happy New Year.

(Thanks for the shout-out)

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Wolf Pascoe January 1, 2011 at 5:56 pm

All of a sudden, they gets everything. Philosophical. Historical. Tragical-Comical-Pastoral … It’s a mystery where it all comes from.

And happy new year to you.

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