Winter of 2037
The girl dumped the boy after an intense relationship that had lasted three years. There is nothing quite like the first jolly good dumping to send a boy into a great depression. Once a happy go lucky life of the party, the boy was now teetering on the brink of depression. He rarely left his room and routinely slept until 3 pm on Sundays. His mother and I on the brink of giving up on him. We started throwing out words like therapist and drug problem. He had given up on his college applications and student senate. The former football captain was glummer than he had ever been. The last straw was when we suspected he might be cutting–Himself and classes. Something had to be done.
One Saturday night, the boy arrived home late. The door squealed a bit as he shut it behind him. The boy entered the living room and sat down on the couch next to me, in the other corner opposite where I was already sitting, watching nothing important on TV. The boy looked inordinately sad for a strapping lad who had recently turned 18.
“Son,” I said, “You like you just found out the Cubs lost game 7 of the World Series. What’s up?”
“I don’t know Dad, let’s not talk about this,” he said.
“Well, at your age it’s gonna be one of about two things. Let’s check. Are you gay?”
“NO, dad, Im not. I’m pretty straight.”
“Well now that’s good to hear. Not that there would be a problem if you were, a least a moral one. But let’s face it, life is gonna get a whole lot more complicated if you’re a fairy. Okay, looks like I’m rambling now. Where were we? Ah yes, the other possibility. Well if you aren’t a closet homosexual, then you are having lady problems. Why don’t you just level with your old man. I know you think I’m old, but trust me, whatever you are going through I have been there…or somewhere in the neighborhood at least.”
The boy’s eyes lost contact with mine when the last words came out of my mouth. His body language crossed up, an unconscious sign of defensiveness. I knew that I had hit the nail on the head. At 18, what other problems are there? He was a quiet boy at home, and I knew little of his romantic life. Did he have a girlfriend? Was he getting any? Did he have any questions about the art of romance? I had no idea.
“It’s…girls. You wouldn’t understand,” the boy finally responded. “You are too old.”
The best thing to do, I have been told by experts, when your boy criticizes you is to listen to him, to accept his criticism with open arms. Quite literally—the more open you can make your body language, the better.
I opened up my arms. I smiled. I uncrossed my legs and slanted them toward his body in the other corner of the couch. I leaned back to convey comfort. Physically I accepted the critique he offered me.
“Yes, you are right,” I said. “I am old now.”
My mind began to wander uncontrollably. In an instant I zoomed into the past, yet was completely lucid in the present moment. The events of my youth rushed past my mind’s eye: women, drunken nights, questionable decisions. Learning experiences, I rationalized. Great ideas at the time. All in the past.
I am old, I thought. Old. The word materialized in a thought that hit my neurons like a bag of bricks, and left me bruised with nothing but a son sitting next to me who was, in his youth, unable to understand the passage of time in its fullness. And me, helpless to speak to him about my youth, to make him understand.
My mind snapped back to the present and I spoke the uncomfortable truth that was begging to be addressed.
“Son, you know that I love your mom, right?”
“Good. I do. There won’t be any like her for me, she is a very special lady.”
“Dad, this is really awkward. Where are you going with this?”
“Well, it’s about to get a little more awkward. Do you think she is the only person I have ever been with?”
“Whoa, Dad. Can we just…not talk about this?”
“Son, there are many, many reasons that I chose to marry your mother. But if you think for a second that I do not have experience to relate to whatever lady situation you might be having, you are simply mistaken. Life isn’t like a fucking Disney movie, kid.”
The boy looked at me but could not, did not hold my gaze for very long. His eyes darted away as his thoughts turned to who knows what.
I leaned back again and thought of the irony. The same things that are most important to us, those thoughts we hold so close to our heart, are the very feelings and events which we are most hesitant to discuss. A frank talk about sex and sexuality for many teenagers is uncommon at best, non-existent at worst. Meanwhile, romantic relationships, above almost all other things, are what the young adult constantly obsesses about. Thoughts about girls are seemingly almost never not on a young man’s mind.
We are left with an important question, I thought: where do we learn about sex in the modern, politically correct climate? Do our young men learn from our catholic priests, who preach abstinence? Or is sex learned in the schools, who skirt over the subject?
Do they cling to what they can learn from peers, who are generally as clueless as they are? Or does the responsibility to teach sex fall on the parents, who are, as I now was, too old and uncool, too removed from today’s youth to give them a valuable lesson?
I was always nervous about talking to my own father about these matters, many years ago. We rarely addressed them and when we did it was reluctant. And my mom? Forget about it. I learned about women and heartbreak from youporn, the frathouse, and trial and error. Life, as they say, is the best teacher.
Which is exactly why I planned ahead. Years and years ago, I had seen this moment coming. When I was in my 20s, I wrote down a few stories for my son. Looking back, it pains me to believe that I was once so immature, but I vowed I would let the work stand as it was originally written, its intellectual honesty preserved for posterity.
I addressed the boy. “Son, you are 18. You can go to war and die for your country. I’m going to pour you a drink. Will you let your old man do that for you?”
“Yea, sure,” he mumbled at a low frequency.
I returned and handed him his scotch on the rocks, easy on the rocks. That is something else you must learn, I thought. A man’s drink. I reached into my pocket and grabbed a rolled up manuscript. I tossed the old thing onto the coffee table in front of him.
“Son, there comes a time in every mans life when he’s got to learn some uncomfortable truths. I’ll be honest: you just got your heart broken, and you probably don’t feel so good right now. I’m going to give you some tough love. You are 18—now is not a time to dwell, it is a time to learn from your mistakes. This is a little something I wrote a while back. I’m not making you read anything, but let’s just say, as your dad I don’t ask a lot of you, and I think you could get something out of this. It’s just a few stories I wrote when I was a just few years older than you are right now.”
The boy picked up the manuscript held together with binder clips.
“Alright Dad,” the boy said. “I’ll take a look. Thanks.”
He opened to page one and began to read.
Let the healing begin. These are The Stories Your Dad Never Told You (updated weekly):
Next week: A letter from the girl who took your Dad’s virginity