I took my car to a local garage the other day because it had been making a strange squeaking noise when I stepped on the brakes. My first thought was that I needed new shocks, but because I literally have no knowledge of cars, I took it to an expert so he could listen to the noise and diagnose the problem.
Truthfully, I hate dealing with car problems. It’s not exactly my area of expertise so I always feel a bit out of my element with things like this. Yet that’s why I give myself bonus points for courageously stepping up to the plate despite my discomfort.
So on this particular day as I walked into the garage, I sought to describe the unusual noise to the shop owner. However, he didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to explain so he suggested that we drive around the block where we could both listen for the problematic sound. I was confident that I’d be validated for what I’d been hearing.
But to no avail (which seems to be the way it goes, right?!).
It was then that the guy strongly (and in a way that I felt was more bold than the conversation merited) communicated to me that he couldn’t help me unless I gave him more specific information at a later date to let him know exactly what I was hearing.
I assure you that I fully comprehended his need for more specific data in order to identify the problem, but that wasn’t really the hardest part for me. It was that he talked down to me with a belittling and demeaning tone, making me feel like I was an idiot for not knowing how to exactly explain my dilemma to him.
Can I be honest and say that this is one of the things that sometimes doesn’t make sense to me about men. I am authentically and respectfully asking if you could shed some light on this for me. I don’t quite understand why there seems to be a need to talk louder and stronger in order to make a point when the person being talked to clearly isn’t tracking with the content.
As I discovered with this guy (the one whose bedside manner was obviously better suited to inanimate objects than humans), he seemed to enjoy powerfully communicating his position while implying that if I didn’t speak “car” then I needn’t return until I had mastered this foreign language since that’s all that he spoke.
The reality is that I love learning new things. In fact, I feel empowered when I walk into areas of incompetence because I’m presented with an opportunity to grow as a result of facing my fears while expanding my knowledge base. And I am enthusiastically willing to learn something new if someone will take the time to explain things to me…with kindness and respect.
The problem I had during this interaction was that he displayed neither of these qualities. And I really didn’t have any other words in my vocabulary to describe the noise other than what I told him. I wasn’t trying to be difficult or sound stupid. I gave him the best explanation I had.
But to him it wasn’t good enough.
He told me that if I came back, two things needed to happen:
1. I had to be way more specific with a better way of letting him know what the problem was, or...
2. It would need to get a lot worse before I actually had a legitimate problem.
I couldn’t quite determine in that moment whether I felt more disrespected, shamed, or angry. And though I feared that I would incite his wrath if I asked any other inane questions or didn’t say things in a way that he respected or understood (since he was clearly escalating in intensity), I decided that I simply had to speak up. I was literally coaching myself, giving myself a pep talk, because I knew that if I didn’t say something, I would disrespect myself.
So I mustered up my courage, looked at him square in his eyes, and met his intensity with these words:
I’m not an idiot. I just don’t speak car! As a matter of fact, I have letters after my name, letters which would prove to some that I am not stupid and that I can actually describe complex scenarios in my respective field. We just have different areas of expertise. I did explain this to you the best I could. You and I just speak different languages and I gave you what I have.”
But I wasn’t finished.
I continued by telling him about the Mars/Venus thing and chose to assert myself even though I was in his world where he held the power. Despite feeling a bit bullied, I didn’t want to leave knowing I hadn’t used my voice. So despite lacking confidence while I spoke, I was happy that he backed down a little bit once I told him that “car” wasn’t my native tongue. It was then that the thought occurred to me that he was treating me with less dignity and honor than the brakes he installs on VW’s.
Dads, I share this story to remind you that, like me, your daughters don’t speak “car.”
It’s important to remember that she has knowledge about things that you don’t, and vice versa. Don’t put her down for not pacing with you fast enough or failing to track with topics that aren’t her forte. If you want to understand what she is saying then you’ll have to come her way (since you’re the adult and as her dad, the leadership role falls to you) because even on the best of days, she might not have any better words than what comes out of her mouth to explain to you what’s squeaking, creaking, or breaking inside her.
Give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s doing the best she can to explain, in her own words, the complexity of her world.
If you let kindness, patience, and gentleness be your guide, they will go a long way towards letting her know that you value, respect, and honor her. And the way you treat her will not only set the foundation for how she respects herself, but it will serve as a model for the way she interacts with others and expects to be treated in return.
After all, when you really think about it, it’s less about getting the car fixed and more about the journey that you take together in the process of getting it fixed, don’t you think?
So why not make it your goal today to take a step toward learning to speak your daughter’s native language (in her own unique dialect). Once you’ve done that, she’ll be more open to learning to speak “car” with you as her teacher. I’d call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?