Father Figuring: Choice of Words

How we express ourselves matters
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Image courtesy of Glenda/Shutterstock.com

My 10-year-old daughter, Jessie, doesn’t seem to understand the simplest of phrases. She is a strong reader and a good writer, so she obviously has command of the English language. That’s why I’m baffled by her inability to comprehend clear sentences such as: 

“Jessie, make your bed.”

“Clean up your room, Jessie.” 

“You have 10 minutes to get ready before it’s time to leave.” 

Doesn’t Jessie understand the language I speak? Of course she does, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent who utters the above requests — often.

But, I wonder, why is it that my words don’t have the intended effect? 

During a recent game of basketball in the driveway, I used the word “B-ball.” Jessie’s eyes squinted like someone had just scratched a chalkboard with his or her fingernails.


Apparently, there are times when the words from my mouth don’t settle well on Jessie’s ears. She tells me it’s so “15th century,” “kind of annoying” and “a little bit embarrassing.”

I know I’m an older dad, but “15th century”? I’ve thought about confining her in the “dungeon” of her messy room until she manages to clean it, but I never stated it.

Perhaps I could say, “Oh, tween daughter, when your clothes disembark from your body, please have them make their way to the hamper in an orderly fashion to await their date with our high‑efficiency, front-loading washing machine.” Is that 21st‑century language?

Or, as I stand by the door awaiting the pleasure of Jessie’s company on the drive to school, I could inquire, “Wherefore art thou, daughter?” Now I’m talking 15th century (or at least the 1500s)!

My attempt at humor would likely not impress Jessie. Yet, on a serious note, I don’t want to have a communication gap with my daughter, and I certainly don’t want my language to embarrass her — especially in front of her friends. So, I’m thankful Jessie expressed her true thoughts. I want her to share her feelings with her mom and me in a respectful tone. Keeping an open path of communication between us will only become more important over the coming years.

The key point I have learned from Jessie’s comments is that my choice of words matters. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I express myself, and if there are ways I can do it better. I like to be funny and make people laugh. Perhaps I go too far sometimes, talk too much, or even repeat requests (“Clean your room”) or thoughts (“She was just my little baby”) too many times. And I know that when I’m stressed, I transmit it to others by talking too much and too fast. So, I’m going to try to be more intentional with my language, though I realize that every word, phrase or sentence I speak will not please everyone.

I’m reminded of the time I concluded a column with, “I kissed my sleeping angel on the forehead.”

 “Dad, I don’t like sleeping angel.” 

My mouth dropped. What’s wrong with sleeping angel? It’s hard for a dad to keep up with the sensibilities of a young daughter, even if he tries. At least I didn’t say “princess.”


Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and author of “MoMENts: A Dad Holds On,” available on Amazon. Learn more about him at patrickhempfing.com.


Categories: Family, Lifestyle, Parenting