Tom Vanderbilt, author of Beginners, shares parenting tips on how to help your kids try new things.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, while himself not a father—and boy, would that have been interesting—wrote that “the struggle of maturity is to recover the seriousness of a child at play.”

A few years ago, I found myself, like many contemporary parents, shuttling my 11-year-old daughter to any number of classes and courses, and then trying to productively kill time while I waited. Though often I just scrolled through Instagram, which I’m pretty sure Nietzsche would not categorize as play.

Except that one day, my daughter and I rolled up to the indoor climbing gym in my neighborhood for her latest new pursuit. I hadn’t climbed anything but stairs in decades. Inside squealed kids in camps amid clusters of tattooed 20-somethings with taut limbs and chalky fingers, staring intently at what looked vaguely like Lucky Charms marshmallow shapes tacked to the wall.

As I had to pay anyway to enter the facility, I grabbed some shoes and a harness, attached myself to an auto-belay, and proudly nailed a 5.8 climb—good for a novice, I thought (5.8 out of ten, right?), until I learned that, in climbing’s peculiar rating system, that was where numbered climbing began (“basically a staircase to the top,” as one climber told me). Still, I was hooked.

No more, I thought, would I sit in my car playing online chess while my daughter had fun new adventures. My new mantra became: If you have to take ’em, join ’em. And so there I was, at her summer surf camp, not filming video of the kids like the other parents but out there, among the kids, on the same learner foamie. When my daughter recently joined a local mountain-biking team, after a few weeks of stewing during practice, I bought my first-ever mountain bike. “I’m going to become a Level 1 coach,” I explained earnestly to my wife, trying to subterfuge my expensive new gear purchase in some self-righteous squid ink.

Courtesy Tom Vanderbilt

I jokingly call my approach “gonzo Suzuki,” after the famous school of music pedagogy in which parents are expected to learn piano or violin alongside their child. But there are, I think, serious payoffs.

For one, your kid gets to see you struggle at something, rather than simply assuming adults already know how to do everything (or avoid what they can’t do). Instead of being another hyperactive helicopter parent who’s never played a day of soccer loudly instructing their kid from the sidelines how to score a goal, you get an empathic experience in trying to learn something. And you get to experience the renewal and optimism that comes from gaining a new skill; sure, you’ve passed your genes along, but that doesn’t mean, as in the case of female octopi or mayflies, that you curl up and die.

And, perhaps most important, I’m cultivating my little wing-woman, an adventure pal whom I can hopefully rope into any number of future escapades. If having a child is sometimes seen as the moment to put away “childish things,” I feel like my own kid is helping keep me young.

This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Men’s Health with the title No One Says You Can’t Have Fun.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at


What do you think?

139 Points
Upvote Downvote


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.