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Earlier this week, my 12-year-old son told me he was a little nervous about asking a girl in his class if she wanted to go out, and he wanted my advice.

My rather doltish response: "Um, where are you going to go?"

To which I got a semi-playful eye-roll. Understand, my son and I have an extraordinary relationship. We talk. We spend serious time together. We do things. We learn from each other -- and I sometimes wonder who has the better end of the deal. (But that's another story.)

Anyway, he answered my question, saying that "going out" was just what kids call it these days. I guess "going steady" is anathema to him (and, like, everyone he knows). Or maybe that comes later. I don't know. What I do know is that my 12-year-old rides bikes, not cars, and the notion of going out is a little weird to me. I mean, he's 12. Still, I tried to walk him through this because I knew it was one of those Big Questions. This mattered to him because she matters to him.

At that moment, the question he wanted to asked her -- "Do you want to go out with me?" -- felt like the most important question in the world. And it was -- for both of us.

I think that's the point. Our kids' questions aren't always going to seem huge to us -- but they should, because to them they're everything. I hear so many parents complain that they don't understand their kids, what their kids are into, how they speak (or think). My guess is that if we listen more, we'll hear more. We should hear the questions for what they are (that is, from our kids' point of view): searches for non-judgmental, solid advice.

After all, these are worth-their-weight-in-gold opportunities for bonding with our kids. Listening is super-glue.

Did I help him at all? I tried to get him to think about this problem another way, to lessen its life-or-death weightiness. I suggested he just talk to her; they're already pals, so that wouldn't be tough at all. Talk about what? he asked. Movies, I said. School. Summer plans. Whatever. And at some point, when he'd almost forgotten it, he'd slip the Big Question in somewhere. He agreed to think about this...and maybe even try it.

It's been a few days, and he hasn't quite mustered that courage yet. But he will -- if not with this girl, then with another. I was very awkward with girls when I was his age (hell, when I was 20!), but I think I know enough now to help him out. At least, I hope so.

As he gets a little older, I pray he comes to me for stuff like this all the time, looking for intelligent (or at least thoughtful) answers to his Big Questions.

But then, isn't that what every dad wants?

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