Arthur Ashe became the tennis player and civil rights activist he became because of a question. Not a question he asked, but one he was asked.
He was seven years old and sitting in a park watching an accomplished black tennis player named Ron Charity practice his serve in Richmond, Virginia. Ashe’s father was a park supervisor and often left his son to entertain himself while he worked. After about an hour, Ron Charity took a break and walked over to the boy. “Would you like to learn how to play?” he said kindly.
And with that, Ashe and the game of tennis was changed forever. “As casually as that,” Ashe reflected, “my life was transformed.” How many lives have been changed in similar ways? Because an adult took the time to notice the interest of a child, had the patience to introduce them to something, was willing to teach them a skill or a trade?
Of course, we cannot rely on the kindness of strangers (though we can always hope for it). It’s our job as parents to take the time to do this for our kids (and also as Ashe’s father did, put them in a position to get lucky). We have to cultivate that flicker of curiosity into full-blown love affairs, we have to channel their energy into productive pursuits. We have to teach them stuff. Especially stuff they’re too afraid to ask about, or don’t even know to ask about.
That’s our job.