Have you ever wished you knew more about your dad’s life…especially before he became your dad?
The best way to learn is to simply ask.
Sometimes, though, it’s not easy to come up with those kinds of questions. That’s why we’ve provided 15 queries below, all aimed at helping to start a dialogue that can be deeply meaningful for both of you.
“Key questions can really help start some amazing and insightful conversations,” says life coach Wayne Parker.
Asking these questions can also form the basis of a written portrait of your dad, something you can eventually share with your own children.
“You may want to consider recording the conversation or at least taking notes,” says Parker. “This may create the foundation of personal history for your father.”
“Research suggests that the most important thing is to make time for conversations like these,” says Christine Carter, PhD, of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. “Father’s Day seems like as good a day as any to start!”
What was your favorite meal as a kid?
One’s sense of smell is very strongly linked with memory, so your dad may well be able to recall the aromas and flavors he experienced at his family’s dinner table. And since sharing food is such a vital part of family life, asking him about the good things he ate as a child may lead him to reminisce about other things as well.
Who was your best friend when you were a boy?
Childhood tends to be the time of life when many of our deepest and longest-lasting friendships are formed. That’s why you should ask your father about his bestie: How did you meet your friend? Did your families know one another? How did you spend your time together? Are you still in touch?
Was there any one family gathering that was especially memorable? Did you learn something important about your family that day?
Many of every family’s best-loved tales come out of celebrations, parties or other gatherings: “Remember the time Cousin Ned won that contest?” “Remember when Aunt Audrey danced up a storm at Jeannie’s wedding?” If your father had a front-row seat for a memorable family occasion, have him tell you what he thought of it and what it taught him about his family.
Is there anything your father or mother used to tell you as a child that you’ve come to appreciate today?
Remember when something that felt at the time like the world’s biggest catastrophe would occur and your parents would tell you, “If this is the worst thing that ever happens, you'll have a happy life”—and then you grew up and realized it was true? Your dad probably hadhisparents say something like that to him. What was it?
Is there something you wished you had asked your parents but never did?
Just as you’re asking your dad about his early life, he may have wanted to ask his father and mother about their childhoods but may not have gotten a chance to do so…for any number of reasons. What would he have liked to learn the most about his parents, and why wasn’t he able to do so?
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Not everyone gets to be a pro athlete or an astronaut, although a lot of children fantasize about these careers. What did your dad want to become when he was a kid? If he was able to pursue that dream occupation, what aspects of it does he like (or liked) the most, and what doesn’t (or didn’t) he like? If he wound up doing something else, why did that happen?
Was there someone older, either a family member or a friend, you looked up to or went to for advice?
It can be easier to make the transition from child to adolescent—and from teenager to adult—if you have a trusted mentor to give you advice and encouragement along the way. Did your dad have someone who played that role in his life? What advice did that person give him that he remembers to this day?
If there were any three people from any time in history you could have dinner with, who would they be?
This question opens a window onto what really matters to your father by asking him about the people he most admires. Why would he like to meet them: To be entertained by the stories they tell? To learn something about what they’ve gained (or did gain) through the experiences they had? To be inspired by their examples?
What world event had the biggest impact on you and why?
All of us are, at least in part, shaped and influenced by the times we live in. How did your father feel about what was happening in the world when he was growing up and becoming a young adult? (Many fathers, especially older ones, spent some time in the military—a whole discussion in itself.) How did those events affect your father’s current outlook on life?
How did you meet Mom?
Most of us want to know how we came to arrive in the world…and that starts with two people meeting. Under what circumstances did your parents meet: Were they schoolmates? Coworkers? Next-door neighbors? What attracted your father to your mother, and was that attraction instantaneous or did it grow over time?
What makes you happy?
One of the advantages of age is that it’s often easier to determine what does and doesn’t make you happy. So ask your father: What is it that gives you joy? Where is your happy place? Did this (whatever it is) always make you happy, or was this something you learned to appreciate over time?
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, and did you learn anything from that experience?
Everyone runs into difficulties and challenges; what matters most is how one responds to them. What was your dad’s most trying experience, and how did he deal with it? Did he have to do so by himself, or was he able to get help? Did it serve as a teaching moment for him, and if so, what did he learn from it?
Tell me one thing I don’t know about you.
As much as we may believe we understand our parents, there are aspects of their lives that we aren’t aware of—especially when it comes to the lives they led before they had us. So have Dad fess up: What is it about you that I don’t know?
Is there something you would have liked to have done that you haven’t done yet?
No one gets to a certain age without at least a few regrets, and your father is probably not an exception. Ask him if there is anything he’d like to have done but hasn’t been able to, and why that hasn't happened (at least not yet). Who knows…you may be in a position to help your dad enjoy his once-in-a-lifetime experience!
How do you want to be remembered?
Most people want to believe they have left some sort of mark in the world, if nowhere else than among their friends and family. How does your dad want to remembered by the people who are dearest to him, either for something he accomplished or for some aspect of who he is as a person? Does he believe he has made a difference in the world in general, and if so, how?
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.