I must admit that having this conversation was both exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. The exhilaration was from the fact that I was preparing for one of the single greatest moments of a dad's life. It was exciting and the anticipation had been building for months. Yet there was also a terror; it was terrifying in the sense that I didn't want to mess it up. What if the conversation went wrong? What if I didn't say something quite right? What if he asked questions that I was not prepared to answer?
Knowing when the time is right
My wife and I had both began to notice some apparent confusions that were beginning to take place in the daily life of my 11yo son. For example, we began having discussions about inappropriate touching with girls that he had grown up playing with. Not that there had ever been anything inappropriate but we had to set limits on playful things like tickling, hugging, and touching in general.
There were also lots of questions that he was beginning to ask such as "When do you get married?" or "Why do moms and dads sleep in the same bed?" These questions and circumstances provided indicators that it was time for us to have a deeper explanation of the sexes. The time for "The Talk" was now necessary.
In light of these inquisitive question and answer sessions, there was another factor that helped me understand that the timing was right. During the spring I had the opportunity to travel with my sons 5th grade class on an out of state field trip. I was privileged to a week long experience of getting to know other boys his age and being exposed to others who were not necessarily brought up with the same values that we were teaching our son.
Let's just say that this trip confirmed some of the stories about the wiles, illicit language and acts within the public school system. However, this is not some new phenomena. I can remember being in 5th grade and these "child level" sexual discussions were commonplace on playgrounds back then. I can remember terms being used in reference to sex and not having any real idea about what they were talking about. Now, as I reflect, I also know that the children speaking didn't even know what they were talking about.
So, with these flags waving, my wife and I began having discussions. It seemed to us that all of these factors; questions, actions, and surroundings were screaming for action from dad!
Picking the place
I spent weeks mulling over the time and place for a discussion like this. Through careful prayer and meditation I decided on several factors concerning the location: it couldn't be too loud, it couldn't have distractions, and privacy was a must.
The verdict was a simple one for me, a short camping trip. A camping trip would provide the seclusion and privacy that I felt was required.
Building up the nerve
First, let me start by saying that this event was bathed in prayer and seeking biblical counsel. I read scripture dealing with sex and sexual sins as well as several books that were based on a biblical perspective. I even consulted with elder pastors who had boys and received their counsel and wisdom.
When we arrived at the camp site it was already getting late and we had to get busy setting up camp and preparing dinner. As we worked to get things setup my mind racing with questions. I would ask myself things like "Do I start the conversation now or wait?" Every time I asked that question it seemed to end up with me telling myself to wait. This forced an honest evaluation of myself and the moment; my procrastination was the result of fear and I could not seem to find a way to start the conversation.
Before long I began to take notice that other campers were settling in around our camp site. Their voices were carrying through the woods like the wind from a thunderstorm. My mind once again began to race, "If I can hear them that well then having a conversation about sex with an 11yo boy, in a tent, in the woods, in the dark was NOT about to take place. Note to self (and to others) PLAN THE LOCATION BETTER!
It seemed to me that the work of the devil was all around. My own sinful flesh was warring against my regenerated soul and I began to consider the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7.
"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members." ~ Romans 7:21-23
My flesh was telling me to chicken out; to either have the conversation later or possibly not at all. On the other hand, the Spirit of God was commanding me to be a godly father and train up my child in the way that he should go. The Lord was making it clear that having this conversation was my responsibility and anything less would be turning my son over to learn from the world. I quickly conceded that letting the world teach my son would be sinful for me and seriously destructive to his spiritual well being.
I finally decided that it was time for bed and the conversation would have to take place the next day. Now let me be brutally honest here, without a doubt my son slept more than I that night. I vividly remember checking the time at various points throughout the night. While I lay awake with angst my 11yo was dead asleep with absolutely no idea of the conversation that he would be confronted with the next day.
Time to talk
After a long night of no sleep I rose early and quietly rolled out of the tent. As I sat out in the damp morning air I prayed for the Lord to give me wisdom and courage. This early morning prayer time reminded me of an early morning pre-battle scene. It was extremely quiet and there was a dense fog in the air that looked like smoke floating over the nearby river. I felt like an experienced general rising early to pray before sending troops to face an enemy they had never known. I was preparing to lead my son into battle against sexual sin and perversion, a enemy he never knew existed. The curtain would soon be pulled back and once he is exposed there is no turning back.
The Lord sharpened my mind and I realized that it was far better for my son to meet this enemy by my side rather than being forced to face it alone. The worlds version of sexuality is an enemy that has destroyed grown men and has caused families to crumble. At the thought of this my soul was filled with sorrow for any father that would allow his son to face a battle like this on his own.
Wanting to get an early start, I stirred my son from the tent and we sat and cooked eggs over an early morning camp fire. We made small talk and anticipated a good day of fishing before having to get back home. After finishing up our breakfast we packed up the camp site and grabbed our fishing gear. As we walked through the fog I could sense a dual excitement, he was excited about fishing and I was excited about the conversation.
After a few casts my nerves were getting the best of me and I found myself struggling for words. How was I supposed to start this type of conversation?
This is the exact reason that I am writing this post. None of the books nor any of the men that I had spoken with had ever given me the words to use when having this type of talk. I quickly realized that I had no idea how to start the conversation. This was throwing me into a panic and I felt like a plane spiraling out of control.
Knowing that I had to get this conversation started I finally took him over to a picnic table and sat him down. This is how I started the conversation:
"Son, tell me what you know about sex?" He looked at me confused (seriously) and said, "What do you mean?" He actually, had no idea what I was talking about. As he began to think about it I could tell that he was scrambling for answers. He began to mention things like getting married and kissing but at no point did he ever indicate that he knew anything about intercourse.
Instead of letting his mind continue to run I stopped him. I told him that he was getting to an age where "sex" was going to come up more and more. I went on to tell him that he was still a child and that all of his friends were children as well. He needed to understand that hearing something from the mouth of a child does not mean that it is accurate, in fact, as it pertains to sex, most anything that he would hear from the mouth of a child would be inaccurate and a half-truth at best.
I told him that I wanted him to know that he could trust me, as his father, to tell him the full truth accurately and without reservation. I wanted him to know that he could trust coming to me for answers with even the most difficult of subjects.
We then went to the Scriptures and began to discuss the foundations of marriage with Adam and Eve in Genesis.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28, ESV)We talked about what God meant when He said to be fruitful and multiply and then I brought up the biology side. Yes, we talked about how God created male and female with different body parts. And yes, I used literal terms like penis and vagina. And YES, it was weird to use those words in front of my son. However, I agree with most of the resources that I read concerning the use of terms. It is important to use proper wording and make your children aware that they will hear slang uses. I hope that this will help my son validate my words about listening to children - children will typically always use slang terms and I pray that when my son is confronted with this he will reflect back on our talk and know that his dad was man enough to tell him the whole truth including the proper terms.
After labeling parts I then provided him with some basic understanding of how sex works. I literally said, "A man places his penis in his wife's vagina." He seemed to be about as comfortable hearing this as I was saying it. It was awkward but it was truly beneficial. He was hearing the truth and he was hearing it from me.
We both laughed a bit and I could tell that he was embarrassed. The topic shifted just a bit and I told him that he would soon be experiencing changes (puberty) in his body and this would be a topic that would come up more and more.
NOTE TO FATHERS -- This is exactly why having this conversation cannot be a one time experience. This "first" conversation should be viewed as the start of many mandatory discussions concerning sex and purity before God.
After the biological labeling and basic sexual discussion I redirected the discussion to purity. I reemphasized the marriage bed and began to discuss how many times the Bible addresses "sexual immorality." I explained in basic terms (deeper explanations will come in time as he matures) that this pertains to having sex in a "wrong way" - in particular we discussed having sex outside of marriage.
First we discussed how we are to glorify God with every part of our body:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 ESV
Then we discussed his recent profession of Christ and how we are to live in the Spirit and not the flesh:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, ~ Galatians 5:19 ESV
Finally we had a long discussion around sanctification and pleasing God:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV
This whole talk lasted about an hour and a half and I am grateful to the Lord for the strength and courage to push through this conversation. I learned from having this first conversation and I pray that it will open the door for greater father son discussions.
Summarizing the experience
- Pray for wisdom and guidance
- Study and seek the counsel of others (Prov 15:22)
- Take note of questions and actions of your son to determine timing
- Plan the location
- Rehearse your words in advance - especially how you are going to start the conversation
- If you already know what you are going to say you won't have to figure it out in the heat of the moment
- Use proper terms of sexual organs
- Use Scripture and stress the importance of honoring God with your whole body
- Living in the Spirit and not the flesh
- Discuss sanctification and pleasing God
- Build trust and have followup conversations
In Christ Alone,