Mansplainers! Stop boring your fellow adults. Try dadsplaining instead | Joel Snape

Where does the urge to mansplain come from? Hold on, please don’t rush straight to the comments to tell me; I’ve got my own theory. I think it’s about one part male privilege to five parts something more primal: a vestigial survival urge that we learn at school.

In the world of the small, awkward boy, knowing stuff is currency: grownups are impressed when you can explain the workings of a trimaran; other youths show grudging respect if you can display an in-depth knowledge of Warhammer 40k lore. This feeling never entirely leaves us, so we go out into the world stepping on endless metaphorical rakes as we mistake polite lack of interest for rapt attention. Some of us grow out of this, have it gently bullied out of us by romantic partners or learn to sense when it’s not wanted. Others never quite kick the habit and spend their lives missing stifled yawns or lecturing astrophysicists about their own fields of expertise.

I know this, because I am a (partly) reformed mansplainer. And, fellow mansplainers, I have found something better.

Dadsplaining, or the art of gently explaining things to your offspring, is one of life’s great joys. Small children are the perfect audience for the dedicated explainer of things – endlessly interested in the world, with virtually zero filter for what will be useful in later life. They are a delightful challenge for your abilities: as Albert Einstein apocryphally once said, if you can’t explain something to a five-year-old, you don’t really understand it yourself. There is also no ambiguity about whether they have lost interest; if they don’t actively yell: “Boring!” when you go overboard, they will roll their eyes and walk off, or perhaps kick you in the shins.

All this comes with a layer of responsibility. Sometimes it reminds you of the world’s injustices, such as when you have to start from the first principles of capitalism to explain why everyone can’t simply take whatever they want from the shops. At other moments, it exposes gaps in your knowledge and you have to admit that you don’t know how an engine works. No matter how tempting it is, you can’t make stuff up. Your only options, when you run into a brick wall, are to look it up together or to resort to the classic: “I don’t know, buddy, what do you think?”

To the dedicated dadsplainer, though, there is nothing sweeter than the sound of a child asking how the sun works, or whether fish have houses. Even the staccato: “Why?” that toddlers learn to pepper you with at the age of four or five becomes a gentle, lilting refrain. My six-year-old has learned, in that ruthless way that six-year-olds do, to exploit this, my greatest weakness. If his bedtime story is over but he is not ready to sleep, he just asks me how evolution works again; off I go like a clockwork monkey. (He knows what an achilles heel is, as I have already run him through all the PG-rated bits of the Trojan war.)

I am not telling you to have a child just so you can use a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles screening to deliver an impromptu lecture on Renaissance painters. What I am saying is that it’s worth considering whether there is a more receptive audience for your hard-won knowledge than the people you are boring with it. A nephew you could babysit, perhaps; a friend’s child you could distract to give them a moment’s peace; or an unruly toddler at a wedding? I will tell you, free of charge, that I am not sure how many moments of true happiness I have experienced in my life, but that holding a pudgy little hand as I walk through a park, merrily explaining the importance of proper chronometry to 18th-century shipping, is definitely among them.

I will also tell you, since I am in a dadsplaining mood, that there is a limit. However thrilling you find the challenge, and however much they demand it, you absolutely shouldn’t try to livesplain every event in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire to your overexuberant child. It’s a short hop from the Bay of Pigs to mutual assured destruction, after all – and there are some things you won’t want to have to explain to their mum.

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