It was a clear fall day, and I was ready to give “the talk” to my 11-year-old son. Like most dads, this was a moment I looked forward to, and dreaded.
How would I begin to raise the issue, gauge my son’s reaction, give him enough information but not too much? My wife was not too sure this was the right time to explain the “birds and the bees” to her “baby.” But I knew he was hearing things in school and Boy Scout campouts, and I wanted to be the first to pass on the facts about this great human mystery of love, sex and reproduction.
We went to the park, tossed the baseball for some father-son bonding. He had gained height, weight and muscle over the summer, and I told him that he was throwing harder than ever. Arms tired, we walked through the woods to a stream and sat on the solid cement crossing, watching the water flow beneath as we had done many times before. I had planned this perfectly, telling him at different times over the past week that we would have “that talk” I had promised. The moment had come and I was pretty pleased with myself that all seemed to go well. I talked about God’s design for creation and mankind, placed the physical sexual act within the larger context of love and marriage, and ended by saying what a joyful miracle it was to see the birth of my first son – the boy I was now talking to. He shrugged a lot as I spoke, nodded his head, smiled and frowned, said at one point (I forget when) “Are you sure about that?” – and seemed satisfied to get on with his life of sports, books, food, videos and teasing his little brother.
Phew, that’s done! Yet I was struck with a sudden uneasiness that I would need to have a second talk. I wasn’t worried over further discussions about love and sex now that the topic had been broached. What concerned me was that at some point I would have to tell him about what science has thrust upon us. We had just had the “sex talk,” but soon I would need to give the “asexual talk” about other reproduction methods, and why they are wrong. Suddenly the brave new world came crashing into our family life in a very personal way. I was 21 when Louise Brown was born, and I knew all about IVF, test-tube babies and other ART forms (artificial reproductive technologies), having even written about the medical and moral implications. But the issue was more theoretical than real for me since I knew I’d never use the technology.
It wasn’t until that talk with my son by the stream when I realized that the new ART world had leapt the moat of our Catholic castle and crashed the walls of our family life, and I felt betrayed.
Now the question is, when should we have that second talk?
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.