Dear John: Another Dad Gave My Son ‘The Talk’ Before I Could
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
I am the father of a thirteen-year-old boy. He recently went on an outing with a friend of his and the friend’s dad. Somehow, it became apparent that I have yet to talk to my son about sex. (There are good reasons for that, but I don’t think they are even relevant to this letter.) So this father took it upon himself to do it for me – then he had the nerve to call me afterwards, explain what he did, and rebuke me for not having done so yet myself! His attitude was more condescending than anything, like he had to explain to me how important it is that boys our sons’ age know about birth control, and he didn’t seem to see the least thing wrong with what he did.
This father doesn’t know me, doesn’t know my family and barely knows my son. I am still in shock not just at what he did but at his attitude about it – like I am the one who has to defend myself. I see him around all the time and really want to let him know how intrusive and out-of-line he was about this entire thing. My wife, fearing my son might end up even more embarrassed than he was during this impromptu talk with a virtual stranger (if that’s possible), wants me to drop it. What’s your opinion?
Dear Still Seething,
I agree that this guy way overstepped in talking to your son about sex, but I think that in focusing on that, you’re missing the really important thing here.
While I don’t agree with his tactics, I do agree that you were overdue to have this talk with your son. You say there are good reasons for that, but I can’t imagine what they are. But now that someone has opened this door for you, you and your wife have to go through it. You have to find out what your son was told and supplement (or even correct) that with whatever you and your wife want your son to know and believe about sexuality. The worst thing you can do now is to continue to avoid the topic.
Whether you talk to this guy about what he did or not is up to you, but I think it’s a side issue. There’s a much more important conversation waiting to be had.
I have been dating a guy for about six months now and I really like him except for one thing – he drinks quite a bit. I was raised with an alcoholic father who was abusive when he drank, so this is a real issue for me. My boyfriend is nothing like that – he’s such a sweet guy and he’s the kind of person who just gets a little sloppy and extra affectionate when he’s had too much to drink, but just seeing how alcohol changes him (even though it’s not in a negative way) brings me back to being a frightened kid. I’ve talked to him about what it was like growing up with an alcoholic father and he’s sympathetic, but I don’t think he sees his drinking as a problem because it doesn’t make him abusive. And it’s not like it’s an every night thing; it’s just more regular than I would like. I hate to ask him to give up drinking because he doesn’t have a lot of fun in his life as it is, and it’s not a problem for him, it’s a problem for me. So maybe I’m the one who should change, e.g., recognize that not everyone who enjoys drinking reacts to it the way my father did? I don’t know. I’m too close to it to think about it rationally, though. Hopefully you can.
Glass Half Full
Dear Glass Half Full,
I’m sure you know that drinking doesn’t have to turn someone into a sadistic monster in order to be a problem. What happens when your lovable lug loses his license because of a DUI? What happens when he misses work because he’s hung over? There’s one line in your letter that sums up your lack of perspective on this: “I hate to ask him to give up drinking because he doesn’t have a lot of fun in his life as it is.” If drinking is how your boyfriend tolerates a life of drudgery, he has a serious problem that has nothing to do with your upbringing by an alcoholic.
I think the issues you raise, for both you and him, are serious and complicated enough to be explored with a couples therapist if you’re serious about staying together.
I am a single mother of a teenage son. Recently I found a lot of pornographic websites my son has visited on our home computer and this is not the first time this has happened. I have seen these sites and I was very, very shocked at what kind of stuff is so easily available to kids. I have tried using software to block these sites, but my son is very good with computers and somehow got to them anyway. I feel so helpless because my boy’s father is not involved with his life at all and I feel like he needs a man in his life to teach him that this is wrong. It breaks my heart to think of him watching this trash, but I don’t know how to get him to stop. And as a teenager, I am the last person he wants to hear from.
Dear Distraught Mom,
It’s probably not realistic for you to expect to completely block your son’s access to pornography. It’s just so readily available that even if you went so far as to get rid of your computer, he could watch it at a friend’s house. So I think what parents today have to do, whether they’re single or not, is assume their kids will be exposed to porn and talk to them about it. (This goes for girls as well as boys. While boys are more likely to be frequent consumers of porn than girls, all kids can benefit from having open, honest discussions about sexuality with their parents.)
What will you talk about? Well, you refer to the sites on your computer as “trash.” You can start by explaining why you think they’re trash. Or why you think they degrade women. Or men. You seem to feel passionately about this, so tell him why you feel this way.
The important thing isn’t so much the specifics of what you say; it’s letting your son know you’re aware of what he’s up to, you care about his welfare, and you’re willing to have a difficult conversation with him if it’s in his best interest. This talk just lets him know you care. Sure, it would be great if he had a man in his life he could talk to about sex, but he doesn’t. What he does have is you. A little (or even a lot) of embarrassment on both your parts is a small price to pay to show him that Mom is not going to simply look the other way when parenting gets uncomfortable.
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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