Updated: Jul 16
Discussions about the facts of life can lead to awkward, and humorous, misunderstandings
A lot of parents observe that their children’s attention spans are annoyingly short, no doubt influenced by the digital cacophony of autoplay and clickbait with which all of us are now surrounded. I had a little fun with this characteristic of modern life during a recent discussion with my older son, Ethan.
Each summer we visit my sister-in-law, her husband, and my nephew who live on a farm several states to our west. Ethan and Aidan love playing with their cousin, seeing how all of the farm machinery works, and helping out with some of the chores. Most of all, they like interacting with the animals, which have included, at various times, cows, pigs, chickens, and goats. Most Americans today, myself included, are uninformed about where a lot of their food comes from, so I appreciate the education that they receive during our visits.
I distinctly recall the precisely two conversations that I ever had with my own parents about sex.
However, during and after the trip home, my wife and I typically field questions about how the baby animals are born, why male and female animals are kept apart at times, etc. And increasingly these have led to questions, particularly from Ethan, about where babies come from.
I distinctly recall the precisely two conversations that I ever had with my own parents about sex. The first was my father’s birds and bees seminar, which was held, appropriately, in our front yard flower bed. Prior to that conversation, I thought I had a pretty good idea about the reproductive process. I’d just finished fifth grade at a fine Catholic elementary school where risque jokes were often shared during recess, along with an occasional copy of a gentleman’s magazine pilfered from an older brother’s nightstand. As part of a student-initiated cooperative learning exercise, one guy flipped the pages while another kept lookout, hoping that the prefects were too busy gossiping to notice twenty boys huddled in the middle of the playground. However, at the end of my father’s lecture, I felt pretty confused, and had to consult a copy of Gray’s Anatomy from our family room bookshelf to clear things up.
I tried to give him age-appropriate answers and explanations, to which he listened, wide-eyed, for several minutes.
The other conversation I had about sex occurred over a family dinner. My father apparently had just watched an evening news report about the AIDS epidemic and was so alarmed that he called an emergency family meeting. If I recall correctly, this was shortly before my twentieth birthday, which would make my brothers around eighteen and sixteen, so, to put it bluntly, the cat was out of the bag. Still, my father kept insisting that my mother, who was way more Catholic than almost anyone except the Pope, lead the conversation.
“I really think that this is your department, Dear,” I remember her warning him.
After he again urged her to instill her guidance upon us, my mother took a deep breath, and addressed the table.
“Boys, about sex . . . don’t do it.”
That ended the conversation. So I strived to find a middle ground between confusion and mere admonishment on which to answer my son’s questions about human reproduction. I tried to give him age-appropriate answers and explanations, to which he listened, wide-eyed, for several minutes. When Ethan fell silent, I asked him if anything we’d talked about confused or bothered him.
“Well, I think I just threw up in my mouth,” he shrugged.
I felt satisfied that my fatherly duties had been fulfilled when Ethan’s Youtube synapses started firing and he threw a random question at me.
“Dad, did you get a scholarship to go to college?”
Without missing a beat, I replied.
“Well, they don’t give out scholarships for the things we’ve been talking about, but let me tell you, if they did—
“Dad, ewww!” he exclaimed. “I meant like for grades and stuff.”
“Oh, sorry. I misunderstood,” I snickered.
“I think I just threw up in my mouth again,” he complained.