I don’t keep anything pornographic in my house. I’m not a prude, mind you, but I’ve been there and done that as a youngster and simply won’t do that to my kids. I have, however, subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine on and off for several years and keep them stacked up in an abandoned corner of my bedroom amidst the duffel bags that don’t get used much anymore, boxes of old textbooks and other assorted whatnot. I never consider the state of the pile – I just add the latest issue to the stack when I’m finished reading it and move on to other things.
Several months ago, I went to make my bi-weekly addition to the pile when I noticed a past “Hot List” issue with Fergie on the cover had made its way to the top. A simple “Hmm” flashed through my mind and I went about my day. But when I went to add the next issue, there was Fergie staring at my once again, lying neatly on the top of the stack. This happened a couple more times before I figured this must be more than coincidence. So I picked up the issue, went into my teenage son’s room and said, “Son, if you want the magazine, you can have it.” He got a priceless look on his rapidly reddening face and replied, “No, that’s ok.”
We’ve had the chats about girls that all dads get the privilege of having with their sons and they’ve all gone quite well in my opinion. We’ve gone through the Teenage Guys Survival Guide (a way better, more relevant read than the Pat Boone book my dad gave me as a young man) and talked about things like B.O. and dating and that special first kiss. So I wasn’t terribly worried that my son had suddenly turned into a little pervert. In fact, there was a tinge of pride knowing that, after a few years of indifference, he was finally showing some interest in the wonder that is the female body (albeit all sauced up and airbrushed to perfection).
So the magazine stayed in my pile and was forgotten . . . until a couple days ago when my wife spent an afternoon helping my eight-year-old clean up his room . . . where she found it tucked underneath his futon mattress. “Hey! Daaaad?” came her playful cry, a come-hither invitation that seemed misplaced amidst the busyness of our frantic day. I sauntered up the stairs and, seeing the magazine, struck a defensive pose . . . as if I’d been busted. We chuckled about it for a few seconds, my son got a sheepish look on his face, and his little sister, always his biggest advocate in all things potentially troublesome, grabbed the magazine and said, “Let me show you his favorite picture!”
Later that evening, long after his rare moment of embarrassment subsided, we sat down for a chat. Only I had no clue how to have such a chat with an eight-year-old. I began with a simple question . . . “So, why do you like looking at these pictures?” “Well, duh, dad! Why do you think?!” came his blunt reply, accompanied by a gentle smirk that sent both of us reeling. It was a good way to start, I guess. I believe that you should only give your kids as much information as they are capable of processing at any given time in their lives, and so we talked about respecting women and how most women don’t flaunt their bodies like the women in the magazine. He mentioned his teacher, an attractive twenty-something, who he’s had a crush on from day one, and I asked if he thought she’d ever let herself be photographed in her almost-nothingness. He didn’t think so. Then we chatted about why he likes his teacher, about how she is really smart and nice and makes him laugh. I told him it was those things we should look for in a woman, and not spend so much time staring at their features.
What a difficult conversation.
My son is fighting the nerd syndrome. I’ve mentioned elsewhere how smart he is, and I see in him a tendency to want to shy away from letting others in on his little secret. He told me how other kids give him grief when he gets an answer right in class or scores a better-than-average score on a test. Being a nerd is something that doesn’t interest him at all, despite the fact that there’s nothing wrong with actually using your brain, enjoying reading, and doing well in school. So we’re striving for a balance . . . play video games, watch Firefly, memorize all 12,000 Pokémon and all their varied evolutions, but also be active in sports, take a bath every so often, and glance at Fergie on occasion.
Balance. At the tender age of eight. Man, this dad thing is tough . . .