As a father, you’re faced with many challenges. From figuring out how to save for college to learning to share all your old toys; each is an opportunity for a learning experience.
One of the most special challenges you’ll come across is introducing your children to your passions and hobbies. Sure, you’re not supposed to force your kids into anything – but we can all agree it’s a helluva lot easier to relate to them and spend some quality time over a shared interest.
Some of us are lucky in that regard. Call it nature or nurture, but some kids just seem to take naturally to their parents’ favorite pastimes. Others, well…aren’t. And sometimes we have to learn this the hard way.
Kids and Car Shows Aren’t Exactly A Natural Fit
I’ve always enjoyed attending car shows. I get to be around like-minded enthusiasts and study dozens of rare and unique vehicles up close.
However, not everyone shares this (sometimes crippling) curiosity. Slowly walking around a parking lot for hours under the blistering Florida sun isn’t the way some people like to spend their hard-earned weekends.
This holds doubly true for young children. But that’s not their fault. Walking, not touching anything, and discussing the finer points of flat-crank V8s just aren’t a part of their social repertoire yet. And frankly, it shouldn’t be. What they DO want to do though, is hang out with their mom or dad.
It’s up to us to figure out how to make the experience fun for all. Unfortunately, it took me a little trial and error to get it right.
My Son’s First (And Nearly Last) Car Show
Around the time he was 4 or 5, my oldest son started to notice that some weekends were different than others. Every once in awhile, I’d be up early on a Saturday morning, getting dressed and eagerly rushing out the door. The mystery of it was probably the largest draw for him – where was I going? Why did I seem an extra bit happier? Would I share whatever it was with him?
I finally decided to bring him along with me to a small local event. Seeing as it was more of a starting point for a road rally than a true car show, I figured it wouldn’t last long, making it an ideal first experience for him.
But that was about as far as I’d thought it out. My real focus would be on my work – I’d be photographing what I could for a client that was a partial sponsor of the rally. I assumed my son would tag along by my side, let me take my pictures, and occasionally ask a couple questions here and there, giving me the perfect opportunity to educate him a little about cars.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to any experienced parent that absolutely none of that actually happened.
Within the first ten minutes he was bored and ready to go back home to his books, video games, and mom.
It was hot. I took big steps, which forced him into a near run to keep up. And he couldn’t care less about the differences between forged 18-inch wheels and cast 20-inch ones. But he obliged me as much as a 4-year-old could be expected to. We left after 45 minutes, and the requests to join me on my early weekend morning excursions, ceased.
Car Show 2: How I Made The Sequel Better
This was my fault, of course. I’d approached the whole thing with him as an accessory to my experience rather than making him an active part of it.
Fortunately, a year or so after this initial kerfuffle, I was presented with the chance to make it right. I’d signed on with a different client to once again to cover a large show hosted by a local dealership. The day of, I was charged with occupying my son, as my wife was out of the house. Informed of my plans, he wasted no time in making it apparent that he wanted no part in them.
I needed to figure out how to make this excursion fun for him.
Struck by a rare bit of genius, I grabbed a loose piece of paper from the printer and a discarded Crayola marker, and made a list.
But not just any list.
It was a scavenger hunt.
I quickly jotted down common sights you’d find at nearly any car show – a lifted truck, a car with blacked out wheels, a flame paint job, etc. 10 – 12 in all.
I brought the paper over and read through each one with him. I explained that this time around, I wouldn’t be able to complete my job without his help. He was to spy as many of these things as he could; and when he did, I’d snap a picture of them, and we’d cross it off the list together.
He was in. More than that, he couldn’t wait to get over to the dealership.
As soon as we arrived, he did his best to leave me in his dust. With each example he found and I crossed off, his excitement ballooned. The cars themselves were an afterthought – he was glowing with a sense of accomplishment and value. He’d been presented with a challenge – and he wasn’t going to lose.
He was happy to run around that show for as long as we needed to be there. And ironically, I was the one tagging along next to him.
Since then, he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to ask to accompany me to other car shows. And I certainly haven’t forced any on him. But I think we’ve both reached an understanding – and recently he’s even started asking me car related questions on his own.
Now, I’m the first to admit I don’t and haven’t read many (any) parenting books, but I somehow managed to stumble ass-first into one of the most important lessons I assume is included in every one of them (or should be, at least):
You can’t expect your kids to enjoy the same things in the same ways that you do. But if you respect them as individuals with their own personalities and motivations, and play to their strengths, chances are you’ll both come to enjoy those things in a brand-new way.
In the interest of saving some of you from making the same mistake I did the first go-round, I’ve gone ahead and recreated that scavenger hunt – and provided a blank template – and made them available for you to download.
I hope they help you and your kids find some extra enjoyment out of your own shared passions.