In a world where controversial ‘Hot Topics’ are abuzz, Brian Gawlak finds the teachable moments in trending issues.
Danny Pintauro, the actor who portrayed Jonathan Bower on the 1980’s sitcom “Who’s the Boss?” revealed to Oprah Winfrey this weekend that he is HIV positive. The actor, 39, found out he was HIV positive in 2003. He bravely decided to come forward to help bring awareness to HIV and its ongoing presence in people’s lives.
We hear so little in trending news today about HIV, though it continues to spread worldwide. Why, with all the information available about prevention is HIV/AIDS not a thing of the past? Is it that younger generations are so far removed from the millions of people whose lives were cut short in the pandemic before we knew what HIV was? Is it that younger generations view HIV as a “treatable hassle” like diabetes or something of that nature? Or, is it that we just stopped talking about it as much as we should?
My father was diagnosed with HIV in the mid 1980’s. He was with his life partner who was HIV negative, and found out he had contracted it from an ex-boyfriend of his who had died of AIDS. I grew up hearing horror stories about my father’s friends slowly and painfully dying. At the end of my father’s life, he and his partner had one remaining friend from their youth – one. They had lost an entire generation of friends to AIDS. In a time before prevention was known, in a time before they even knew what was out there – so many people died painful deaths.
My father was lucky and lived a long time after his diagnosis. I remember going to his house and seeing in his bathroom what can only be described as a pharmacy – medication after medication to treat the illness, treat the side effects, treat the side effects of the side effect medications. His life became about pill popping and constantly worrying about his blood, his numbers, and so on.
He died of brain cancer a few years ago, which derived from bladder cancer he had battled for several months. His biological father died very young – but it was a freak illness that did not run in the family. His genes promised longevity as evidenced by his mother still being alive today at 93, even beating kidney cancer. I believe my father died because of all the effects of the drugs he was on for so many years. I believe the very pills that prolonged his life also ultimately contributed to the end.
I have talked with my children about HIV since they were old enough to talk. I have advised them to be aware of other’s blood and to never touch cuts, nosebleeds, and warned them about the outdated act of becoming “blood brothers” (growing up in the 70’s and early 80’s, many people would prick their fingers and exchange blood as a “bonding” thing – something I pray never comes back en vogue again).
My 11-year-old daughter is aware of the basic birds and the bees, and has an age appropriate understanding of HIV and the dangers that come with unprotected sex. As she gets older, my wife and I will share more of the horrific details of my father’s generation, and more age-appropriate details about the importance of safe sex and the use of condoms every single time. The point is not to scare her or my other kids, but to empower them and arm them with life saving information.
If you have not talked with your children about HIV and AIDS – whether they are in kindergarten and you talk about the dangers of blood, or high school/college where you stress the importance of using condoms every single time – today is a good day to have that talk.
Perhaps if we start a dialogue with our kids we won’t hear any more stories like Mr. Pintauro’s and we can end this beast in our lifetimes. I pray for a cure and for all those infected and affected. May the ghosts of yesterday echo their stories so that the generations to come never know their pain.
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Photo: flickr/Jon Rawlinson