Tomas Moniz takes a cinematic look at a father, three kids, the evil media, and the perils of sex education.
Voice-over (imagine the baritone of Morgan Freeman): I always thought this would be easy. I humored myself with assurances that I wouldn’t handle the subject like my parents did, that I would be a beacon, a guide, dare I say, a confidant for my children.
Ah, the bullshit we tell ourselves when we’re rocking babies about how we will parent in the future. Let me tell you right off what the moral of this story will be: humility.
Scene 1: I’m driving in my car with my thirteen-year-old son. I discovered a few days earlier he’d acquired some pornographic material. I know what you’re thinking. What’s the big deal about some adult magazines tucked up under a mattress? Oh, how I long for those good ol’ days. You see, thanks to the Internet, instead of finding a dirty magazine, I discovered 45-second clips of hard-core group sex on my computer desktop.
It’s time for The Talk, which I’ve had many times before, so this should be easy.
“Hey, I found some…stuff…on your computer I think we need to talk about.”
“Really? What?” he asks.
More awkward silence.
He continues, “Do we have to talk about it?”
Cue cheesy music.
As I pull over, I mumble something like, “Well, if you’re gonna look at it, I guess we need to talk about it.”
I‘ll spare you the gory discomfort but let me tell you, joking about sex with him when he was ten was nothing like having the first real conversation with him at 13 about the seriousness and responsibilities of sexuality.
Flashback: I’m standing with my father in the garage. It’s dusk. I’m about fourteen or fifteen. I rarely have time with him alone anymore because he’s a busy man. He’s a silent man, but I know he loves me, I know he tries. He doesn’t look me in the eyes. He called me out here because he caught me the other night getting down like only teenagers can in the horrifically uncomfortable backseat of my ‘76 Toyota Corolla.
This is my turn to hear The Talk.
“Listen,” he tells me, and waits, the pause pregnant with anticipation.
He says, “Keep your willy in your pants. I’m serious.” Then he walks away. And I’m serious—that’s the extent of our birds and bees conversation.
Of course, soon his advice becomes my way of joking with my girlfriend about getting it on. “It’s time to release the willy.” It’s funny until at the age of eighteen she becomes pregnant.
Non-sequitur flash forward: Sitting in a movie theater with my son, waiting to watch Aladdin, I see a preview for a new movie about a boy and his special friend, Free Willy. I gag on my popcorn.
Scene 2: After having a difficult discussion about drug use with my fourteen-year-old daughter, I jokingly ask her, “Well anything else we should talk about, like are you having sex?”
I’d joked around with her about a sex from around age four, but am not really prepared for her response.
“No, Dad. I mean, I’ve made out with a few hot boys—that’s all.”
I stare blankly at her.
In a moment that highlights the generational differences between my teenage years when you had to have a girl/boyfriend to free willy, my daughter speaks for a generation that feels more empowered to be sexually active without having to have a significant other. The wisdom is shocking.
I stutter something like, “I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend…”
Picking up on my mental conundrum, she explains, “There are boys you want to be your boyfriend and then there are hot boys you just wanna kiss.”
Still stuck somewhere in the 1950s, I ask, “But don’t you want your boyfriend to be hot?”
“Yes, but sometimes you just want to kiss a hot boy. Can you leave my room now?”
Voice-over: The third time really is the charm. I understand that now. From the sheer horror at the need to talk with my son about masturbation and pornography, to the disorientation of generational changes with my middle child, to finally the self-reflection, the epiphany of, “Oh! I’ve been here before,” with my youngest. Some people may not need three children to see the light; unfortunately, I did. Of course, my cynicism almost makes me blow it again. And here’s where I blame the evil media. I hate all this faux female bisexuality (it’s almost never male) that has became a pop culture trend; it’s all over YouTube videos, hip-hop songs, and Facebook groups.
Scene 3: When my youngest daughter informs me that she’s joining the Gay Straight Alliance at her middle school, I almost miss it. When I was twelve, I was still playing with tractors and thought my willy was indeed a whale.
“Uh huh,” I mumble while trying to decide what the hell to make for dinner for two daughters who never want the same thing.
But after a second, her words reach me. I remember my father, the dark garage, the silences. I stop what I am doing, and I look at her. I tell her how proud I am of her. I ask her questions, and I just listen.
A few weeks later, I listen again as she shares with me her frustration that even people who are members of the alliance use the word gay derogatorily.
And later still, I apologize to her when she overhears me joking with a neighbor about a friend of ours who is a self-proclaimed fag hag. I see her face; I know immediately she only hears me saying the word fag.
Scene 4: We are watching the movie La Mission—three teenage girls and me. At first they wanted to see Hot Tub Time Machine. To be honest, I did as well, but I knew that it’s not often we get to see movies that bring up issues critically. It’s true though that even bad movies are opportunities to discuss the way things are fucked up—sexual violence, gender rigidity, racism—but tonight I wanted to go the high road. We’re in the dark, and it’s the scene in which the father is refusing to listen, to know about, to acknowledge his gay son’s desires. It’s the familial version of don’t ask, don’t tell. We’re in the dark, and my daughter reaches to grab my hand; she leans into me and says, “I can’t believe there are still people like him.”
It’s then that I am thankful for the privilege of being a part of communities in which the homophobia I remember as a teenager seems surreal, like Hollywood exaggeration to my teenage daughters.
Voice-over: I rented The Life and Times of Harvey Milk and planned on watching it with my kids, but now they’re so busy that they just wanted to watch the funny parts. “Funny?” you might ask. They simply love the scenes of street life in the Castro. They comment on the clothes and hair-dos, laugh at the Castro street parade footage, the dancing. But as the story shifts to the spontaneous memorial that moved down Market Street after Harvey Milk was killed, they watch silently. I see their sadness, feel their disbelief. They soon leave and return to their rooms. I don’t have to say anything. They know.
When I tell them about the event I’ll be reading at a few weeks later, to celebrate San Francisco’s first annual Harvey Milk Day, they smile and one adds, “That’s cool, but just don’t embarrass me, ok?”
It’s come to this. Even though I don’t have to explain things anymore, and even though I am so clearly the last person they want to confide in about anything sexual, I still ask questions. And they still hate it.
I still ask if they are having drugs and doing sex. They just roll their eyes and look utterly offended. My mantra now to them is low and slow; I’ve stolen the line from La Mission. I tell them in my best vato accent to have fun but keep it low and slow.
I think it’s better than telling them about willies and freedom.