Most boys are, by nature, allergic to conversation. As a parent, you must pick your spots.
Even older, young-adult males communicate only because they have a biological need to order Big Macs, attract girls and make Mustang payments.
Women, on the other hand, think that any man watching sports on television is, by definition, starving for conversation. This is false. When I am watching the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, I am not secretly yearning to talk about summer camps.
Soap operas were invented so women could listen to male actors talk in deep, emotional dialogues. No male, to my knowledge, has ever even used the phrase “Days of our Lives” in a sentence. As in, “Honey, with the NFL lockout, what shall we do with the days of our lives?”
But back to today’s topic: boy talk. I’ve discovered that there are three places you have a shot to connect conversationally with boys. These places are: in church, in a car and at bedtime.
- At church: Even if you’re an atheist, I’d suggest that you go to church services just to have more quality time with your kids. There is no other point in the week when a 4-year-old boy will sit in your lap for 45 minutes and whisper junk in your ear.
My younger son is amazingly creative at killing time in church. Once, he took off my wristwatch, attached it to his right ankle and did a little Rockettes-style kick-step to “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
A caution: Beware of baptisms. If the preschooler in your lap becomes aware that a person is about to be baptized, your kid will climb you like a jungle gym to get a better view.
- At bedtime: If you are even moderately good at telling stories, bedtime is one of your best bets for talking with your boys. Once the stories and the children’s books are put away, there’s often a little window of opportunity for conversation.
Just the other night my 4-year-old son asked me, “Daddy, who was the first person who was ever alive?”
“Adam,” I said.
“Have I met him?” he asked.
“No, he lived in the Garden of Eden,” I said.
“Where is this Garden of Eden?” he asked. “What state?”
“It’s in another country,” I said. “You know, it’s where God told Adam not to eat apples, but the snake said it was OK to eat apples. Have you talked about this story in Sunday school?”
“No,” my son said. “I’d remember a talking snake.”
- In the car: Every dad knows that if you really want to have a conversation with a boy child, the last thing you should say is: “We need to talk.” When you want to talk to a boy, you put him in the back seat of your vehicle and bribe him with a trip to the video-game store.
I did this three weeks ago. In a burst of courage, I had decided to give my older son an elementary-school version of the birds and the bees talk. My reasoning: The older he gets, the more uncomfortable the topic will become for both of us. I had six minutes, the time it takes to drive from the top to the bottom of Signal Mountain, to cover the basics.
Little by little, I gained momentum. One subject led to another. I felt exhilarated, empowered. “How could I have worried about this for years?” I thought to myself. “This is easy.”
In rapid succession I covered male-female physical attraction, body mechanics, texting, romance, family planning, pregnancy, monogamy and the importance of Godiva-brand chocolates.
The relief that I felt by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain was incredible.
“Son, do you have any questions?” I said triumphantly, hoping to make eye contact with him in the rear-view mirror.
To my shock and amazement, my son had his head thrown back, his eyes were shut and his mouth was wide open. His next inhalation produced a snore so violent that it vibrated his little body and rattled the car windows.
All right. No questions. Good deal.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...