As he sat there, staring sullenly at the floor and wrestling with his frustrations, I cradled him in my heart. He wanted to communicate as sincerely as I, but neither of us was having much success.
I felt that if I could just hug or hold him again—the way I did when he was small—maybe he would know of my love and concern. But at sixteen, my son was embarrassed by affectionate displays, especially from his father.
“I’ll never make it,” he moaned. “You expect too much, and I’m just not good enough.”
“That’s not true,” I said. My voice rose as I thought back on my adolescent insecurities. “Why, when I was your age …”
“Dad, you don’t understand,” he interrupted. “I don’t think you’ll ever understand!”
Of course I understood! My heart ached with important things I wanted to tell him—lessons I yearned to teach him. He wasn’t being fair. After all, I wasn’t that old. And it wasn’t that long ago that I had been in his place.
How many times had I sincerely told him about my own frustrations as a teenager? How many good scriptures had I quoted him? How often had I sat him down and given him good, sound advice from my own experience?
If he would just hear me out, he would realize I knew what I was talking about. But I couldn’t get through to him because I couldn’t get him to listen to me.
As he stood abruptly and prepared to leave, I called him back.
“Son, why don’t you ever listen?” I asked.
For the first time during our heated exchange, he looked directly at me. His look startled me, but not nearly as much as his reply.
“Dad, all I ever do is listen to you. My question is, why don’t you ever listen to me?”
At first, his question surprised and upset me. Even if I had expected him to do all the listening, was that so wrong? After all, I was his father.
As I sat there, I suddenly realized that what my son had said was true. I had been talking and preaching to him when I should have been listening. I had attempted to help him by shouting criticism from my lofty perch. My concern for him was proper, but my outward demonstration of that concern was improper.
During the next few days, I realized I had been proud of the wisdom I wished to share, but I had not learned the importance of listening. I had unintentionally been telling my son that my experience and ideas were more important than his. I cringed at my insensitivity.
My son wasn’t the only person I had not heard. I had also failed to listen to the Lord’s anointed, who have counseled parents to “spend a great deal of time listening, not just telling. This listening should be done with an open mind and heart. When children feel they can talk freely about their feelings, problems, and successes, wonderful relationships develop between parents and children” (Elder Ben B. Banks, Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 29).
I realized I couldn’t hope to understand my son if I continued to look at him strictly from my point of view. And I couldn’t comprehend his perspective without truly listening to him as well as to the Spirit—with my ears and my heart.
I saw clearly that listening is a key. It is analogous to the hugs we give our young children. It is one of the ways we show affection for those who are embarrassed to be hugged or who feel too old to be cradled in our arms. By listening, we also show respect and love.
After considerable thought and repentance, I tried again.
“Do you have time for a talk?” I asked my son. “I’d like another chance.”
“Do we have to, Dad? I know you mean well, but I’d really rather not.”
“I’d like to change roles this time,” I said. “How about if you talk and I listen? I understand your skepticism, but I’ll offer advice only if you ask for it.”
His smile was a welcome contrast to the look he had given me a few days earlier. For a change, I really listened. I had to bite my lip a few times, but I learned more about my son during a half hour of listening than I had learned during several years of lecturing.
That conversation was the first of many heart-to-heart talks. I think we can share just about anything now. We don’t always agree. But by listening, we have come to understand one another and to avoid some of the pitfalls that marked our earlier conversations.
A willingness to communicate, Paul says, is part of “a good foundation against the time to come” (1 Tim. 6:18–19). Listening with our ears and our hearts may not be easy, but it is always essential—especially for family members who need a hug.