Fatherhood continues to amaze, delight and enrich me. I just went to a sex education class with my 11 year-old son, and yes, I was secretly dreading it.
My wife signed us up. She was almost giddy from the program’s great reviews she’d heard through her ever-flowing moms’ grapevine. “Everyone says it’s the best… you’ll love it,” she exclaimed.
I wasn’t so sure. The reality of a graphic immersion into the world of human sexuality with my offspring without the props of a punch line or locker room towel snap was a bit off putting.
Yet daddy duty called, and as a father who strives to be aware and there, I certainly endorsed the concept of a truthful discussion about the challenges of puberty, sexuality, reproduction and the like.
Driving… slowly… to the appointment with my son, who now rides in the front passenger seat next to me, I wondered why I felt so apprehensive. A memory of my own father’s dilemma about this subject made me smile with some understanding.
You see, my dad, while a college professor and exhaustively loquacious on most subjects, played hooky when it came to discussing sex with me.
When I was in my early teen years, long after I’d learned the playground buzz of the birds and bees and even taken some experimental sprints at some of the “bases,” my dad said he wanted to show me something. He led me upstairs into his bedroom, opened the top drawer of his dresser, and lifted up a pile of handkerchiefs to reveal a box of condoms.
I still remember the brand: Ramses. I guess the manufacturer of Ramses wanted a heroic image from antiquity to compete with Trojans. But since the Egyptian king Ramses reportedly fathered 160 children, it’s little wonder why this brand has been discontinued.
Anyway, my dad said, “Here are the safes. I’m going to tell you what Dr. Jones told his kids.” Dr. Jones (not the real name of my dad’s colleague professor) had a brood of rough and tumble boys.
“If you get a girl pregnant,” my dad continued, “don’t bother coming home.” With that, he left the room. That was it. That was his drive-by, hit-and-run, scare tactic method of sex education. And “safes,” don’t you love that term? Never heard it used before or since.
I watched as fathers and their sons entered the auditorium for the evening’s edification. Each pair sat side by side, talking to one another in hushed voices, as if waiting for a funeral to commence. I quelled my tension by trying to place myself in my son’s situation. Surely he must be feeling weirder than I about being dragged to yet another event “that’s good for him.” I was careful not to squirm.
The lesson began, and I learned the true value of a good ice breaker. Having sat through innumerable meetings in which well-intentioned facilitators asked everyone to “go around the room and say something about themselves,” I had my doubts.
But our sex education teacher asked all the men to give a different synonym, however crude, for the penis. And he went around the room, right up and into the faces of all the dads, and politely but firmly demanded that we come up with an answer… a different name each time.
It was hysterical. There were almost no repeats from about 60 dads. Cultural and geographic differences unearthed endless variety. Everyone, all the kids and dads, were laughing and loosening up, releasing fear and anxiety, and sharing in the common bodily bond of masculinity.
From there it was a breeze. On the way home, my son asked me a couple clarifying questions, and I was struck both by how basic are the knowledge needs of tweens and by how casually I was able to answer him. He was more like my buddy when I shared my information. I was not hung up by embarrassment or thoughts about what a proper dad might say. I just told him the truth in my own salty terms.
My son listened intently, then said, “I get it.”
And I got it. This sex education class transformed taboo into prosaic. It was the learning ladder that assisted our leap over a tricky hurdle. We connected more as fellow males rather than as father and son. And I’m confident this unspoken yet powerful linkage will help us confront future issues more forthrightly and solve them more readily. My fingers are crossed that this is true.
I’m glad I didn’t flunk out on my chance to go to sex ed class with my son. Oh, and to answer that question left dangling there… the synonym I offered rhymes with “wants.”
Lin Filppu (@MidLifeDad)
This column first appeared in the Huffington Post Parents section http://www.huffingtonpost.com/len-filppu/sweating-a-sex-education-_b_1129325.html