Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How Will You Handle "The Talk"?

Many people who have read my first novel, The Justin Gates Chronicles -- California Nightmare, have commented on the compromising and often hilarious situations my young protagonist, Justin Gates, and his friends get themselves into during their headlong rush into adulthood. Most of the readers who have commented, have asked the question, in one form or another, "Do young men really think about sex all the time?" Of course, as the majority of my male readers will admit if they are being honest and remember their own teen years, "YEAH!" It is built into the male DNA, just like Justin and his teenage friends, and occupies their thoughts, fantasies and dreams for a good portion of most days and nights.

In the book I have tried to present the female prospective on this subject fairly. Being male I had to use my own observations and experience to do this, but I think it is an accurate depiction of the teenage opposite gender reaction from back in the day. Namely, girls are interested in sex too. Not, perhaps, with the same frantic drive as boys and probably in a more romantic, interpersonal context, but still curious and intrigued by what physical interaction might be like with that hot guy in fourth period Civics class who smiled at her from across the room. In the book, the girls Justin encounters were maybe a little more aggressive than most, but that was my experience when I was fifteen/sixteen years old, and it led to some intriguing situations. Let's examine this a bit further, specifically how parents deal with this topic of teen sex.

Recently my wife and I discovered a program on Netflix which we missed when it was an NBC series called Parenthood. It is a wonderful, true-to-life family drama with just the right amounts of interpersonal realism, conflicts, comedy, challenges and everything that faces the modern day family from infants to grandparents. All the characters are strong and engaging and the scripts are loaded with believable stories of everyday life.

In Season 4 there is one storyline which posed the dilemma faced by just about every teenage couple; be it in Justin's world of the 1960's or teen life today in the 2010's. One of the characters, a divorced single mom, has a teenage son who is a senior in high school. The mom has had several affairs searching for the next "Mr. Right" and thinks she may have found him. Mom and son are living with her new fiancé, a school teacher, in his two-bedroom apartment. One day, the fiancé comes home and finds the son in his room in the throes of passion with his teenage girlfriend. The fiancé does not over-react even though the liaison is quickly broken up and the girlfriend discreetly and politely dispatched. The fiancé then enters into that shadowy realm called, "The Talk." Among other things, the boy is cautioned about safe sex and advised that any future activity of that nature should be planned more carefully. The boy asks the fiancé not to tell his mother about the incident. At first the fiancé reluctantly agrees, but later reveals to the mom what he witnessed and the discussion which ensued with her son.

Well, the mom goes berserk, confronts her son, and tells him he should not attempt to engage in that activity again and, certainly not, under any circumstance, in the fiancé’s apartment. The lad is frustrated, embarrassed and a tad angry; all real and appropriate emotions given the circumstances. Later, the mom and the fiancé plan a romantic, out-of-town getaway to a fancy hotel and spa for a long weekend. She is adamant that her son, who is seventeen, should not be allowed to stay, by himself, in the fiancé’s apartment while they are gone and insists that he spend the weekend with his grandparents. The boy protests, pointing out that he is more than capable of taking care of himself alone for the weekend, but the mom is terrified that he will be having his girlfriend over for nefarious activities. She insists he not be allowed to remain in the apartment, despite her fiancé’s support for the boy's position.

Of course, the frustration faced by the son is the same frustration faced by Justin in my book and the same frustration faced by most teenagers over the history of adolescence; namely, where do you go to have safe, private, uninterrupted, romantic encounters with the opposite sex? Most parents, myself included, are not anxious for that moment of passage to happen with their offspring. As the father of two daughters, I wouldn't say that I came to the point of actually investigating convent options for my girls, but the thought did occur. Also, unfortunately or not, in our culture, society does not view boys and girls involved in this activity the same. There is still a stigma attached to the female that the male does not have to suffer. Nevertheless, and despite parent's concerns, the reality is that the time will come, sooner or later. It is as inevitable as losing their first tooth. Most parents just hope it is later and probably most would rather be ignorant of it when it does happen.

Now, to be clear, I am talking about consensual sex here; both parties ready and willing. No pressure either way. Anything else is not acceptable under any circumstances. I am also, for this discussion, disregarding the various state laws governing this activity which range from reasonable and prudent to ridiculous. But, given that, the question remains. Would you rather your child experience love for the first time during a sweaty, nervous encounter in the backseat of an old Chevy on some dark dirt road in the local wildlife park, past curfew, or in a comfortable apartment on clean sheets with Josh Groban music playing softly in the background, their safety assured? I know these are two extremes but bear with me. Should the mom in Parenthood have acknowledged her son had come of age, had had sex and was going to continue to have sex with his girlfriend? Should she have taken this opportunity to attempt to set some boundaries, establish some agreed upon guidelines and have her son understand the consequences of his actions and those for breaking the rules? Or was her reaction justified; taking the hard stand even if it frustrated his attempts to have the sex for which he and his girlfriend agreed they both were ready?

How did your parents handle this with you? How did you -- or will you -- handle this with your children? Best to be prepared for "The Talk" because, like it or not, it will come. 

For some interesting and often hilarious stories about coming-of-age, be sure to pick up a copy of the first two books in "The Justin Gates Chronicles" trilogy - California Nightmare and Texas Daydream.  They are available at and Barnes & in both paperback and digital formats.  I hope you enjoy them both.  Comments?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is Your Glass Half-Full or Half Empty?

Happy New Year!

As we enter another year, change is all around us.  A new President, a new administration, a Republican-controlled Congress in both Houses, the possibility of a new, more conservative Supreme Court has Americans of all persuasions feeling hopeful or hateful, rejoicing or rejected, delighted or distraught, exhilarated or exhausted. 

Regardless of which of these extremes you identify with, my only suggestion to you is to just try to be positive. I have always been a positive person.  Nothing keeps me down for long.  Sometimes, as my wife occasionally points out, this can cause me to miss the harsh reality, but most of the time it just keeps me focused on the amazing possibilities of life.

On a return flight from Reno to Dallas in mid-December several years ago, I was flying over a section of the desert southwest about 100 miles west of the “four corners” region (where Arizona, new Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet) on a crystal clear evening.  The region is full of mountains, hills and flat topped bluffs with sheer walls descending sharply to meandering rivers, streams and dry creek beds.  Not a sign of humans could be seen.  

The sun was low in the west and highlighted the striations in deep purples, milk chocolate browns, rusty reds, dusky yellows on the hills and cast long, dark shadows to the east.  It was so astoundingly beautiful that I was moved to say a little prayer to thank god for making such a gorgeous place for his children to live.  My “amen” was interrupted by a woman in the row behind me asking her husband, who was sitting at the window, “What’s out there?”  His response was, “Nothing but desolation”.  Desolation?!

What makes one person look at such a panorama and see nothing and another to see a timeless sculpture crafted by the hand of God?  It is more than just the concept, “is-the-glass-half-full-or-half-empty”.  Sometimes that can be influenced by the contents of the glass.  Is it Heineken or hemlock?  No, this was more than that.  This was more profound.

On the moment I made a resolution for the coming year to take the time to see the beauty in all things, to “smell the roses” a little more often, to appreciate and give thanks for all of the many blessings God has given me and my family.  

Despite troubles some see coming in the White House (we won’t go there) and troubles in countries other than our own, Americans are experiencing the most prolonged economic stagnation in our lifetime. Despite low inflation, artificially low interest rates and the prospect of a 20,000 Dow stock market average (half-full glass), unemployment remains stuck and workers are leaving the workforce in droves, health care and education costs are going through the roof and inequality on so many levels is still there and growing (half empty glass).  

On the other hand, thinking positively, huge strides are being made in science, space exploration and in medicine with the prospect for a cure for some of humankind’s most dreaded diseases within our lifetime.  And, most important, we have each other, as well as God’s promise of salvation through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.  We have many challenges, as a nation and as human beings, as we plunge into 2017, but, in my opinion, the glass isn’t even half full, it is overflowing.

To paraphrase "the most interesting man in the world" of Dos Equis XX advertising fame, "Stay positive, my friends".