Kevin on Puberty, Zygotes, and the Catholic Church


The oldest boy is going to be 13 this year. He hasn’t hit The Change yet as far as I can tell, and as the product years of many years of Catholic socio-emotional sexophobic repression, I may never actually know. Definitive confirmation would require direct asking, which is something we’re trained by the church specifically not to do. This is the same organization that brought you the concepts of “impure thought” and “the occasion of sin.” Immorality begins at the conception of the idea. There are prophylactics in place, of course. I like to think of confession as a spiritual “morning-after pill,” if you will, preventing the zygote of corruption from hatching into the blastocyst of wicked deed, but somehow I doubt the metaphor will make it into the official church brochures.

As the embarrassed father unable to ask, I’ll have to wait for the signs to appear before I know for sure that my son (the oldest of three) is in the sweaty grip of manhood. Hopefully the signs will be facial hair and a lowered voice and not him rutting up against the furniture. The second one is awkward for visitors.

I want to be there for my son, of course, during this confusing time of transition. I don’t need to be “there” all the time in a physical sense because, Lord knows, a pubescent boy is just going to need moments of intense privacy over the course of a day, but I mean “there” as in available to him should he have any questions. Provided of course none of those questions have anything to do with sex, human reproduction, body parts not visible while reasonably clothed, hygiene below the neck, body hair, masturbation, sexual orientation, pornography, fetishes, women or clowns. In most of those cases, my response would be to turn beet red and become immediately, intensely interested in finding my silenced cell phone I’m sure I heard ringing. As for clowns, well… clowns are just scary.

Most of the advice I get from people on how to handle this topic is very close to what I’d hear from an advice columnist. Advice columnists only ever tell petitioners one of two things: 1) Talk about it! or 2) See a therapist. In fairness, there really isn’t anything else you can say to someone whose entire story you know from a two-paragraph synopsis of a multi-decade relationship told only from one side. The prescriptions are superficial and ultimately unhelpful (because: Duh), but for Dear Abby to offer anything else would be irresponsible bordering on antisocial, even if questioners did opt in by writing in the first place.

But I’d like to just take this space to respond on behalf of all advice column letter writers: if I had the emotional capacity to talk about it, I doubt I’d have resorted to writing a letter to an advice columnist in the first place. Secretly I’d have been hoping the response would be the columnist dispatching his/her secret team of ninja jedi psychologist low-interest-money-lending handymen to have it all sorted out by the time I got home from work. This has yet to occur. In the end, the neon-light solutions are as obvious as they were before the questions were formed: Talk about it. See a therapist.

I’ve got some time left before I have to confront the reality of being the father of someone physically capable of being a father. But maybe my hesitance to talk about it has nothing to do with my Catholic upbringing. Maybe it’s more that while my son is still a boy, a thing physically separate and distinguishable from me, then I’m still as I see myself: young, in my prime, buoyed with the vigor of discovery and yet-untapped potential. But if my son is a man as I am, if only a nascent and newborn one, then I’m forced into another phase of life, at the wide end of a narrowing tunnel that ends in dotage and decline and too-soon, unlooked-for death.

And after everything I’ve done for him, the ungrateful little bastard.

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