Sex Ed 101: The Father/Son Talk

peanuts birds and bees

Time Magazine, Nov. 24, 1986

Our son, Travis, must have been around 12 when I was reminded by Ann that it was well past the time that I had to fulfill one of the most difficult of fatherly duties – a “father-to-son talk”  about sex.  I’m not sure why I was so terrified, but it took all of my courage to broach the subject with him.

My anxiety about “the talk” probably has something to do with the time my father had such a talk with me when I was about Travis’s age.  I’ll never forget the conversation we had those 65 years ago.

51 ford white

1951 Ford similar to our family car.

He was driving me to a junior high band practice across town in our 1951 Ford. My father, who seldom chatted with me about much of anything (except, maybe, about how to set the hook when you felt a tug on your fishing pole) suddenly blurted out something like “What do you know about sex?”

Somewhat taken aback, I asked what he meant by that.  He stammered a bit and then said, “You know, like what happens in the Red Light District.”  I have to admit, I had no clue about sex, with the exception of some lurid tidbits I picked up from Bobby Saldona, the trumpet player who sat next to me in band.  And about the “Red Light District?”  – I absolutely had no clue.

When I told him I had no idea what a Red Light District was, he just kept driving, looking straight ahead, his hands gripping the wheel more tightly than needed, and after a pause, said, “Ask your mom about it.”  Not another word passed between us the rest of the trip. In fact, not another word about sex passed between us ever again.

reproductive system

This could have be one of the diagrams from the 5th grade film

And, because I never had the nerve to broach the topic with my mom, my understanding of this mysterious – and seemingly taboo behavior –  came from two sources of information:  a mystifying film shown to the boys in my 5th-grade class with abstract diagrams of little spheres and polliwogs maneuvering in Pac-Man-like style.  And, of course, there was the murky and lurid imagery provided by Bobby Saldona.

Nisan wagon 1987

Our Nissan Stanza.  Both of our kids considered it to be the most dorky-looking car ever produced.

So jump forward some 30 years and instead of being in a 1951 Ford, I was driving Travis to a soccer practice in our 1984 Nissan Stanza wagon.  My mission to have the “talk” was on the line and I was frantically looking for an opening.   Travis was sulkily looking out the side window, hoping none of his friends would recognize him in our “dorky” Stanza.  My palms were sweating as I held the wheel.  I finally got up my nerve and broke the silence to ask –  as calmly as I could muster – if he knew about sex or had any questions about it. My pulse was elevated as I braced for the answer.

He seemed surprisingly blasé and told me he was cool and had no questions.  I’m not sure if he detected the flood of relief that came over me.  Not another word about this passed between us for the rest of the trip – or at any time.

In retrospect, although the father/son talks I described may seem anticlimactic – in neither case was much useful information exchanged in terms of sexual knowledge – just thinking about the parallels between my father’s and my own performances has brought a deeper appreciation and feeling of indebtedness for my dad’s influence on me. If nothing else, the phrase, like father like son, seems quite appropriate.

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