Adam Gilad talked to his teenage son about condoms, consent, and his sex life. Much to his surprise, his son heard him.
When I was 15 I met a beautiful older woman – 16 – at a youth group weekend. She was from fabulously rich Greenwich, Connecticut family and would eventually end up on the cover of 17 Magazine.
Like a budding gentleman, I accompanied her home from NYC on the train following a date in the big city and stayed over at her mansion. My Dad picked me up in the morning. On the drive back to our humbler suburb, he wanted to talk about what it means to have a relationship. He began awkwardly, “you know, son, girls are for more than just hugging and kissing…”
Didn’t I know it! I had discovered wonderful body parts the night before. Mysterious and pliant ones. Shape shifters. Flesh formations that seemed to talk back to me, and in languages I was only just beginning to decipher.
My innocent patch of suburban backyard had just become a strange and fascinating universe.
Now, 30 years later, here I stood in my hallway, sizing up the lanky 16-year old runway model who seemed to be my 15 year old son’s new girlfriend.
These were no longer innocent times. Kids see porn. Porn normalizes all kinds of sexual activity the very description of which would have horrified me back then. Plus, in a world of AIDS, syphilis resurgent and a whole giddy secret smorgasbord of cancer-inducing HPVs, sex had become more of a minefield. As more than one comic has commented, “girls, if you can find a guy with only herpes – grab him!”
So now it was my turn to sit down with my son.
Like most savvy teens these days, he was pretty cocky. He knew “cool.” In fact, I had recently been informed that the only reason people thought I was cool was because of him. The music to which he exposed me. The terms I picked up from his banter. His references. His insights and judgments. Without him, in his view, surely I’d be a golf-shorts-wearing, John Mayer-sappy, colorful-sweatered Dad who said things like “gosh, golly,” and “well, Jiminy! I’ll be darned.”
So at dinner that night, I said to him, “Look. You’re at an age when you’re probably going to start having sex soon of some kind. There are three things that you’ve got to know.”
He seemed interested, so I just continued. “One – if your dick goes near anything in or on her body that is wet – condom. No exceptions. There are all kinds of diseases.”
He nodded dutifully. I mean, Duh, right? Who didn’t know that? I wasn’t sure if was shaking me off or agreeing.
“Two – chances are that if you have full-on sex with a girl – it will probably have a greater impact on her emotionally than on you – so be careful with their feelings.”
Again, the dutiful nod, although this one was tinged with – “yeah – maybe. But I get that you’ve got to say that, Dad.”
“Three – if she’s drunk or stoned – it’s rape.”
This one seemed to sink in. I drove it home.
“Even if it seems cool and she’s into it – if she’s drunk or stoned, she’s not in her right mind and she might make a decision that she wouldn’t make if she was sober. So it’s rape. Pure and simple. Not to be done.”
Afterwards, I wondered if I sounded exactly like that hee-haw, J. Crew square I imagined I was through his eyes. After all, what teenage boy grows up among the sleek and stylish teenage girls of Los Angeles and doesn’t drink and get high with them? What teen doesn’t hook up at parties?
I wondered if my words would have any impact. I gave a tall order.
But she was a tall blonde.
My answer came a few nights later when I overheard him on the phone with her (and yes, I just happened to be pressed up against the wall outside his bedroom, ear cocked to the slightly open door. Total coincidence).
It was clear what was going on. She was drunk calling him and inviting him over for sex. What would have been beyond an impossible fantasy back in the day for me was being rolled out for him, no strings attached.
But he wasn’t biting. Surprisingly, he didn’t make a road-runner blur for the front gate and out into the night. In fact, he was talking to her with a steady and, to me, a very new and mature voice. “You’re drunk,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right.”
This was simply the proudest moment I have ever had as a father.
Not only did I admire his courage at standing on principle leaning into the headwinds of the great goddess’s sweetest, most potent and time-tested temptation, but I was astonished that he had actually heard me. And was repeating back my words, verbatim.
Our bodies yearn for each other. Especially when young.
Yet we live in a time when college sexual assault, date rape, domestic violence and #yesallwomen fill our headlines and wrack our consciousness. It feels epidemic. The shadow side of sex darkens our horizons. It sickens us because if men cannot make women feel safe and be safe, if we as men cannot protect women from sexual assault – then we have forfeited a core and classic definition of masculine honor and purpose.
But there is good news…
Boys listen. They make not make the faces of someone who’s listening while you talk to them. They may look bored or all-knowing or pestered or give you the big “duh!” look – but they are listening.
Our better angels reside in our sons. We – without shame, without hesitation, without threat and without condescension – just need to continue to call those better angels forth.
And believe me, when they speak from the mouths of our sons and take form before our eyes, they are a marvel to behold.
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You can see more of Adam’s writing at AdamGilad.com
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