When I was growing up one of my closer friends suddenly lost his father.
It really rattled me at the time, because his dad was really cool and one of those people who deeply connected with young people.
He did so by being open to them.
I remember one night in high school we sat at an event and while all the other teenagers were doing their thing, he quietly revealed to me a couple of secrets that unfortunately took me a few more decades to incorporate into my life.
Firstly, Pat helped me see that my self comparison to the other “kid’s coolness” had no place in establishing who I was.
In so doing he fearlessly contradicted the social norm of the time, where it was most often all about worrying what others might think.
Yet that was not the most important thing I learned from him that night.
My time with him also taught me something that I wouldn’t recognize as invaluable until I was blessed with children of my own and became very comfortable in my place as an active participant in their audience.
He taught me how transparently being your “cool” self can bridge the generation gap (or actually any gap between two people).
In those days the gap back was much wider.
At that time parents were “cool” on the golf course, and maybe at cocktail parties”.
But almost never in front of their kids.
Put another way when I grew up, there were not very many parents who shared tattoo sessions, edibles or Childish Gambino concerts with their kids.
Lessons learned from the previous generation were often at the root of defiance and protest.
Hugely differing ideologies anchored in fear, materialism and frustration often made the gap between my gen and the one before, appear unbridgeable to both sides.
But Pat chose to ignore that view, as he sat listening to the challenges of a socially awkward teenager, while the other adults were gathered in a corner exchanging insights on the challenges their kids created for them.
I remember, as he listened Pat didn’t trumpet solutions or speak from “on high“.
He identified with me.
Through empathy, he left me feeling less alone in my awkwardness and this was because he made himself approachable.
He did so by describing the lengths to which he went to, attempting to be cool.
I remember him telling me about how he would let his wet jeans dry on him after the wash, so they would be tighter fitting until the subsequent lack of blood flow made him faint.
And as he identified with my awkwardness he gained more credibility as a possible source of influence in my world.
Remember that in those days, parents established and maintained a sort of distance as a way of creating authority.
They did so both mimicking how they had been raised and in response to a world where the youth was rebelling in alarming ways.
In the end Pat’s legacy in my heart will always be, the thrill that I had taking a very active role in the activities my kids chose and even in the lives of their friends as they grew up.
He taught me a powerful lesson by openly expressing his passion for life and though the fragility of his foibles.
He identified with and then leveraged that commonality to see passion in others, so he could then share the benefits of his own experience.
Leaving me with a very key takeaway lesson in the art of connection- in order to bridge any gap one must first start by relating to the landscape on the other side.