“It was time for The Talk. Only I wasn’t ready. I started giggling and acting like a 13-year-old, deflecting serious inquiries by shouting, “Snu-Snu! Snu-Snu! Snu-Snu!”
I knew something was off. Scruffy, the janitor for Planet Express, was ignoring his spaceship maintenance duties, instead lying on his cot by the boiler, flipping through a magazine, the cover featuring a shot of a busty woman in a purple bra. The name of the magazine: Zero-G Juggs. Uh-oh.
It was the end of a good day, Morgan, my nine-year-old, helped me with those father-son things dads think build character but are deathly boring for a boy: collecting the recycling, stacking wood, carrying tools. We wrestled. We played endless catch. Now, past sunset, we were sunk on the couch, working our way through Season Three of our favorite animated sitcom, “Futurama.” How racy could it get?
The “Futurama” characters, a group of oddballs living in New York in the 31st century and zipping through space on a spaceship named Planet Express, were in trouble again. Fry and Bender had been captured while trying to rescue their friends from giant Amazonian women—OK, sure. Interlopers on a planet devoid of men—got it.
Moments later, the Amazonian women, big-muscled with purple mohawks, wearing high heels and skimpy leopard skins, were strapping the male characters to a cave wall, and the men were yelling out with pleasure, one calling for tighter chains and a spanking. I thought I’d give it a few more minutes. It couldn’t get any worse, right? Plus, it was probably all going over Morgan’s head. He was having fun, no biggie.
Then a scantily-clad Amazonian giant says to a female crew member from Planet Express, “Men strange. You have them on your planet, what they for?” Whispers. “Oh! Snu-Snu!” The men cheer as they are told their punishment will involve exhausting, pelvis-crushing rounds of Snu-Snu.
“Death by what? What’s Snu-Snu?” asked my son, turning to me with a furrowed brow.
Holy moly. The Femputer leader of the Amazonians might as well have declared: “Death by That Thing We Don’t Mention Yet!” or “Death by Doing It!” or just “Death by Sex!”
Morgan was riveted; he knew he was onto something. As his dad, I knew that with his questions, he was also saying, “I’m watching this with my father! Awkward. How do I let on that I know a little bit about what these giant women mean by Snu-Snu without embarrassing my old man? How do I ask for details?”
It was time for me to help him figure stuff out—better he get the real version from me, a thoughtful explanation of sex, as opposed to a bizarrely fragmented one ushered in by a science-fiction cartoon. I now had life-altering explanations to deliver, a pivotal conversation between father-and-son. It was time for The Talk.
Only I wasn’t ready. I started giggling and acting like a 13-year-old, deflecting serious inquiries by shouting, “Snu-Snu! Snu-Snu! Snu-Snu!”
For a week or so I delayed, even as I warned him we were going to have the talk whether he liked it or not. In my mind, I’d imagined this ground we were about to cover was far down the road. Or at least I chose not to think about it enough to recognize that the time was, in fact, ripe. But now, I knew I had to fill in the gaps “Futurama” had left and ensure I was the one that told him the rest, not ill-informed bus mates or impish teens just out of sex-ed classes.
In fifth grade, I learned about the birds and bees from a summer friend while coasting around Weekapaug on our BMX bikes. Whoa, was he way off. I entered puberty with the absolute wrong ideas about the physical mechanics and behavior of girls. Where was “Futurama” when I needed them? This was not to happen to my boy.
The weekend loomed. Morgan would cringe when I brought it up, saying, “No way. I’m not going to listen.” Then he’d run off, half giggling, half screaming in fear. Meanwhile, I formulated approaches, topics, analogies, and metaphors. I was ready.
I took him for a walk at our local reservoir. I thought with the backdrop of nature, the view of the water, the distraction of a possible bear attack, we could muddle through it. I also brought the Nerf football.
It started to rain as soon as I lit up my cigar and chose a path. My son, still groaning and threatening to run, maintained a telling orbit as we walked through the woods. Not too far to be out of earshot, but far enough to seem as if he wasn’t really interested. The football making lazy arcs between him and me as I launched into The Talk.
The walk into the woods was mechanics, ships sailing into the harbor, bagels, and bananas. The walk out of the woods was interpersonal etiquette, love, timing, and chivalry.
I could tell, as we picked our way through bramble and around dripping pine boughs, that he was recording every word, his retention skills at maximum. I realized this might give him an edge on the bus or the playground. Not that he’d shout out his newfound knowledge, but that he was in the know, and when someone said kissing equals pregnancy, he’d know better. I was arming him, and he knew it.
Since The Talk, are things different? Not really. Sex is a comic and odd thing at his age—it might as well be solely practiced on far-flung “Futurama” planets. But when sex becomes less abstract, no longer happening in a distant galaxy but all around him, he knows I’m here if he needs to figure stuff out, as noted in his latest hand-made Father’s Day card. On the list of why he loved me, at number nine: “My dad gave me The Talk while smoking a cigar in the rain.”
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—Photo Campanero Rumbero/Flickr