Birds Do It. Bees Do it. Do I Have To?
We Interrupt this Program for an Important Message.
The sound of gunfire has subsided, replaced by the whirr of the speedboat engine. The colossal crab has vanquished the giant tarantula, and the mad scientist has been electrocuted by his own mutant lizard. Dr. Quest pilots the boat to give his trusty bodyguard Race Bannon a well-deserved break. The mood is jovial, thanks to girlfriend Jezebel Jade, who helped rescue everyone from Terror Island. She makes a cute remark, and Race leans in for a kiss. In the backseat, his teenage charges Jonny and Hadji wince in disgust.
That’s when my dad makes his move. Sitting on the couch beside me, he asks, “Does that make you feel funny, Joseph?”
It’s a bright Saturday afternoon, and I’ve spent all morning watching cartoons. It’s time to get out and go for a bike ride. Or do something else — anything but this.
But Dad has other ideas. Now that I’m 11 years old, it appears it’s time we had the conversation. And my favorite TV show has provided an opening. “Your pal Jonny Quest is making faces now, but he’ll probably be chasing girls soon enough. Just like you will.”
How does he know? I wonder. Dad goes on to ruminate how HE didn’t get that much of a chance because he went to an all-boys high school. Apparently he spent most of his time hanging out with the guys. Is that where he learned this stuff? Years later, I would wonder how someone with such a slim dating history could be such an expert on relationships. But I digress, and so does he…
Eventually we get back to the topic at hand. He starts with the general thesis: Men and women come together to make babies. They bring their bodies closer — “It’s like dancing. Rubbing up against each other.” He goes on, but I am seriously distracted by this new information. How exactly could I make a girl pregnant by dancing with her? Does he mean like slow dancing or like the Twist, or what? What about all the old folks I see dancing at parties? Is this why people get upset about the Beatles and Elvis? How do you keep this from happening ALL OF THE TIME?
It takes me a moment to catch up with Dad’s discourse, but he’s already moved onto the mechanics. He points to the lamp in the corner of the room. “Pull the cord out of the wall. See that? That’s what we call a male plug, and the holes in the wall are female sockets. Get the picture?” I said “Yes” as convincingly as I could manage — but I would spend a long time afterward trying to visualize exactly what he was talking about.
I don’t recall any proper terminology being used during our little chat. No words like penis or vagina were ever spoken by any member of my family at any time to my knowledge. The acceptable term for male genitalia was “peter,” as dictated by my mom’s mother and ONLY used if absolutely necessary. I’d caught a glimpse of Dad’s uncircumcised self and he explained that mine was better shorn. Okay, if you say so. But I still didn’t have a clear understanding of how our parts corresponded to electrical appliances.
I hadn’t seen a naked woman at this point. The one time I accidentally caught my mother in the bathtub, she yanked the curtain closed so fast it nearly tore the rings off. (I saw nothing but her embarrassment.) Later on, after discovering a hidden stash of Dad's Playboy magazines, I met Miss Gwen Wong, an Asian model of striking proportions in green Argyle socks and pigtails. Shocked, I closed the book so fast it nearly tore the staples right off the centerfold. (But I eventually screwed up the courage to resume my research.)
Back on the porch, Dad was approaching the climax. I was clearly in the right place at the wrong time, because he reached behind me to pull The Big Book of Biology off of the slim shelf. Our home has lots of books, and lots of shelves. What are the chances having a full-color, illustrated cross section of a pregnant woman’s belly within arm’s reach? EEEE-yuch! The technical tidbits that followed could not penetrate my silent panic.
Dad finished the conversation by helpfully asking “Any questions?” I had lots, far more than I did fifteen minutes ago, but they would have to wait. Right now I just longed for the safety of Terror Island.
A few decades later, I finally got around to asking Dad some other, unanswered questions. Did he remember the conversation? No, not really. How did it go when you had the conversation with my brothers? His reply was news to me.
“Oh, I never talked to them. I left it up to you. You were the oldest, I figured you’d spread the word.”
Now he tells me. Where's that trusty bodyguard when I need him?
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