Monday, August 6, 2007

Why I wish I’d Asked

Written by Anthea Rowan from Reluctant Memsahib

My children’s questions – if you closed your eyes and disguised the tones of their voices so that there was absolutely nothing to give away who was saying what other than the words they spoke – are a dead give away anyway.

This is my youngest: ‘Can I make ice lollies?’

This is my beautiful angry-verging-on-womanhood middle daughter, ‘OK, whose got my bloody lipgloss?’

And my son - my eldest - tall, gawky, perpetually hungry, ‘What’s for lunch?’

All children ask questions. They start young. And ask a lot of really stupid, really irritating, really frustratingly difficult-to-answer ones.

What’s that?

It’s a rolling pin.

What’s a rolling pin?

This. The thing in my hand.

Oh. Why is it in your hand?

Because I’m going to roll out this dough and you’re going to cut it into shapes.


So we can make biscuits.


So we’ve got something nice to eat for tea.


But you have to keep trying to answer them don’t you. Even if they can’t see the point of having something nice to eat for tea themselves. Even if you can’t articulate a response that won’t just elicit another Why. Or What.

If you stop answering their questions, they’ll stop asking them and questions are how they navigate their world. Later, asking questions is what makes them nice people to know. Ask a person questions and you demonstrate an interest in them; your questions engage them. Think about people who never ask questions: they’re dull as hell.

Ever wished you hadn’t asked a question? Ever asked a question that changed your life? I have: I asked my husband to marry me. If I hadn’t, somebody else might have done. Or I might have been waiting forever.

Ever regretted not asking questions. Often. There are hundreds I ought to have asked.

Oddly the questions dry up somewhere between adolescence and your thirties. It’s because you think you know everything then. Well you do, don’t you? And by the time you’ve realized you actually know remarkably little and certainly not as much as your parents and grandparents, the opportunity to ask may have gone. Because they have.

There are a million questions I’d like to have asked my dad. He died when I was Know-It-All-Nineteen. And years later, years and years later, I found I needed answers. And they fell into a void. Why did I need answers then? Why? Because, said the kind counselor who listened to me ranting (and asking questions, of course, because recent history, and the knowledge I really didn’t know everything, had reminded me of their value) in our thirties we strive to connect with our parents. So we need answers. Is that what our three year olds are doing? Are their incessant, sometimes unanswerable, questions more than a navigational aid; are they a way to connect with us?

So I ask questions now. I ask my kids, ‘are you OK, you seem quiet?’, “I’m OK, Mum, really. Don’t nag’. And I ask my mum questions. A lot of questions. About her childhood. In India. About my grandmother. About dad.

Some people are like treasure troves. They store gems beneath tightly fitting lids which you need to prize off in order to enjoy their contents. That’s what questions do. They lever lids and draw more than just answers out of people, they yield stories, whole histories, they unwind the very fabric of a person so that you might know them better.

I think that’s why I wish I’d asked dad more questions most.

So that I might have known him better.

And could answer my children’s questions about a grandfather they never met.

Written by Anthea Rowan
Wife, mother, general dogsbody, sometime-writer living in Splendid Isolation in


The Good Woman said...

Beautiful, insightful post.

SingForHim@Real Life said...

Very compelling post! A lot of times, if my children keep asking seemingly obvious questions, I'll ask, "Well, what do you think?" I get some of the most interesting answers from their perspective.

I can sort of understand your wanting to ask your dad questions. Mine is still living, but he is very closed and avoids conversation. I have so much I want to talk to him about. Thanks for making me think this morning.

Lara said...

oh, i know just what you mean. my dad died when i was sixteen, and i have learned much about him since then, from my mom and others who knew him. but there is so much more that i wish i could ask him, because these people can't answer everything. for example, he always called me boomers. i wish i knew why, but no one knows. these are the things that i regret not asking now.

thank you for writing such a beautiful post.

lady macleod said...

just lovely, an enjoyable read. i will say just this, "regret" uses up a lot of energy when you could remember instead all the great things you DO know about your father.

I love the whole "prying the lid off...treasure troves". Brilliant, what a word picture you created, and so true.

Lovely post!

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