Thursday, September 01, 2005

Having "The Talk"

Ah... the memories, the history, the cultural significance - everyone knows about The Talk.

What do you have when you have a boy approaching his 10th birthday who is mature beyond his years, physically growing way ahead of his age, starting in a new school where he will be the youngest surrounded by kids from 10 to 13 years old, and is unfortunately as naive as a barn door?

You have "The Talk."

We all know what it is, and most can remember when (or if) they got The Talk from their parents. I wasn't as fortunate. My father died shortly after my 9th birthday, and my mother, a German who never delved into potentially emotional or personal topics, never addressed it that I can remember. And my two older brothers really never found the right occasion to bring it up. So, I learned it first at school. Don't remember from whom or exactly when, but I remember the feeling that I was a little behind the times in that regard.

So, a few months ago my wife and I decided that it was the right time to bring it up with my oldest son (who shall remain nameless here). However, that was about all we agreed on. My wife thought we should talk to him as a "team." I'm not sure why joint-parenting means she can talk to the kids alone, but I apparently always need additional adult supervision, but this time I insisted on a little Father-Son time, and she finally conceded.

For weeks I went over what I would talk about. Give just enough information, but not too much. Do we just state the biological facts? Just talk about reproduction and not the physical "act" of sex? Discuss puberty and bodily change? Touch on morality? Don't want to overwhelm the boy – but heck, I was overwhelming myself!

All that was left was finding the right way to bring up the subject.

Finally I found my segue: the movie The March of the Penguins. How lucky could I get - a G-rated National Geographic film that was about one thing: mating. I have to admit, it was a great and enjoyable film. And, on an extremely positive note, my son also liked the movie and wanted to keep talking about it on the ride home.

So, after we settled down on the couch for a rest from our exhausting movie outing, I took my opening and went for it. I won't bore you with the details of *exactly* what I did say and cover, but suffice it to say that he was an active participant in the conversation... up to the end. It was apparent to me that he "got" everything, yet he just hadn’t made that final connection - or visual - in his head. So, being the sensitive father that I am, I told him bluntly how exhibit 1 got from point A to point B.

Ah, yes... now there's the deer-in-the-headlights look I had been waiting for.

After that brief terror-stricken moment we concluded our talk, and he returned to a normal and active conversation participant. All in all, I think it went very well. He didn't get too much information - just enough to hopefully start a dialog, or at least let him not feel strange talking to us about things he'll start hearing and experiencing in the months and years to come. He also has a new respect for his mom and dad because, as he said, we had to suffer through that horrific experience three times in order to have our three kids (and we'll let him continue to think that for a long time!) And, best of all, he doesn’t appear traumatized - which is a big plus for me since if he was I’d never be able to talk to one of our children alone again.

On one hand I find it almost embarrassingly selfish to think this event ranked as a major concern in my life today, when so many others have true life and death concerns facing them. In comparision, this seems to be a trivial matter. But in an odd way it symbolizes a greater global reality - the continuing loss of naivety and innocence. From the truth about Santa Claus to the realities of racism, injustice, starvation and death, there are many steps along the path of lost innocence. Some are necessary to becoming an adult. Some are realities none of us wish we knew.

Today I'm a little happy, and a little sad - I've just helped my son take one more step along his path.


At 11:06 AM, Blogger Bob P said...

Just wondering if you might be able to reproduce (no pun intended) a transcript of your conversation. Since it sounds like it went well, I'm sure that a lot of parents would appreciate a script, of sorts, for their own inevitable explanation of the birds and bees.

Funny, isn't it, that a generation which supposedly has benefitted from the sexual revolution and a demonstrably more open society, still approaches "the talk" with such trepidation.

Fortunately, with three-and-a-half more years of this Administration and its supporters ahead of us, we won't have to worry much longer. I mean, after an increasing diet of Intelligent Design and "abstinence only" policies, we'll be able to avoid the discussion altogether, and let our kids end up just as surprised as those 64 Ohio teens.


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