In the 2008 American presidential campaign, Barack Obama famously used the Reverend Wright scandal as what he later called a “teachable moment”—a chance to discuss race with the American people. Whatever you think of Obama’s politics or of that scandal, it’s hard not to like that phrase. A “teachable moment?”
It’s rare in politics that anyone learns anything from the events of which they were a part, let alone stop to teach those around them. But it is an essential act of fatherhood. Because everything that happens is an opportunity, a chance to teach your children. The question is, will we seize that chance? Will you take advantage of that opportunity? And are you paying close enough attention on a regular basis to notice when these opportunities arise?
Remember: That political scandal looked all bad for Obama. People were mad. His opponents made claims about things that had been said by Wright and Obama that simply weren’t true. His opponents smelled blood in the water. But Obama was calm enough, principled enough, clever enough to see that he could use this to his advantage. He could flip all that attention into an opportunity to give a speech that people would have to pay attention to. He could use this as a chance to talk about things that were important to him—things, ironically, that were at the heart of why the Reverend Wright thing was a scandal to begin with. It was a brilliant act of political judo—using the weight and the anger of his opponents against them.
And now you, today, with your kids, have to apply that same mentality. The knock on the door at 2am from a police officer bringing your son home, having caught him getting into trouble. The failed math test from your daughter. The condoms in their room. A room they forgot to clean, again. The divorce you’re going through. That nasty remark you heard them make. This pandemic. None of it seems good, but there is something teachable inside each one of those things.
It might not be obvious, and it won’t necessarily be easy, but you have to find it. A teachable moment lost to inattention is an opportunity for growth dashed to the wind.