I have three children. Henry is 11, Scotty is 9 and Keeley is 5. Scotty is turning 10 this month. For some reason, this birthday has me thinking a lot about how quickly my kids are growing up. I had always heard the phrase "They grow up so fast" but am truly starting to appreciate the truth in that old cliché. I had a similar crisis when my oldest son turned 10. I became borderline melodramatic about this milestone in our family.
"More than half our time with him is gone," I'd said to my wife one day. "I haven't taught him how to fly fish, or hunt or throw a great spiral pass."
"You can't do any of those things," she replied. "Besides, if he doesn't study harder and get his grades up, he'll never be able to afford to move out of our house, so don't worry. He'll still be living here when he's 40." As you can tell, she is the hard-headed realist in the family.
Being the father of a pre-teen boy means that it's time for certain time-honored rites of passage. I recently had the "facts of life" talk with my oldest son, Henry. He's been showing an interest in girls, at least according to the browser history on our home computer, and is showing all the telltale signs of entering puberty - blemishes, a growth spurt and the unmistakable look in his eyes that he's starting to suspect that I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time.
I probably should have done it some time ago, but I've been avoiding it. I kept hoping that my wife would get frustrated with my delay and do it herself. Kind of like the way I screwed up the dishwasher enough times that eventually I was forbidden from doing dishes.
Unfortunately, my wife dug in her heels. As a result, I've spent the last several weeks steeling myself for this discussion. I have spent 20 years making fun of the way my Dad told me the facts of life. One Sunday night, my Dad walked into my bedroom and said, "You're probably starting to wonder about where babies come from." I responded with stunned silence because, honestly, I really hadn't thought much about it. Pulling out a book, "What's Happening to Me?" Dad said, "Here's a book that explains it all. Let me know if you have any questions." He promptly stood up and walked out.
Since then, I have heard of fathers whose approach to this discussion was even more brief. One guy I know, who shall remain nameless since he is a relative, was asked by his father at age 13, "You know about makin' the bacon, right?" So, all things considered, Dad's approach was pretty enlightened.
Thirty years later, facing that conversation as a father, I started to see the merit of Dad's plan. So, I found myself in the children's book section of our local bookstore asking the nice white-haired woman who runs the section, "Ahem, do you have any, um, books . . . I need to talk to my son about, um, the facts of life and was, ahem, um, wondering ..." Mercifully, she interrupted me, "I have just what you need," and walked me over to the pre-teen section where I found "What's Going on Down There?", the 2011 equivalent of the book my Dad gave me 30 years ago. While I thought the material was a little in depth (a chapter on STD's illustrated with cartoons, really?), I wasn't going to go into the talk unarmed, so I bought it.
That afternoon, my stomach in knots, I called Henry into our bedroom. "Hey, buddy, I know you're starting to get curious about girls, so I wanted to talk to you about some things."
He eyed me suspiciously. I carried on, "When they get older, boys and girls do things together and I just want to tell you about these things and answer any questions that you might have..."
At this point, Henry interjected, "Yeah, uh-huh, this is really awkward, Dad."
"Yeah, buddy, it's awkward for me, too, but it's important that we talk about this. Do you know where babies come from?"
"Yeah, we learned it in health class. This is awkward."
"OK, well, do you have any questions?"
"No. Can we stop talking about this now?"
"OK," I said, suddenly channeling my Dad from 1980. "Well, here's a book that explains it all. Let me know if you have any questions."
Needless to say, there have been no questions since. They grow up so fast.
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