Q: When I went upstairs to open a window, my son was using the restroom, and without his quick attention to closing the lid of his notebook, what I had suspected lately meant I would find exactly what I did — a graphic pornographic site. I don’t suppose there is any other kind, really. I unplugged the unit and put it away. When he came to me hangdogged and waiting for the shoe to drop, I simply said, “We’ll talk about it later.” Your advice will be too late in coming for my situation, but I know I am one of many who will deal with this issue. So, my question to you is, what will you do when you find your son looking at porn on the Internet? — G.C., Houston
A: I was 13 when I discovered my father’s Playboy stash. Home alone at the time, I lost several lifetimes in what was more likely 32 minutes. I would tell you that my brain stem felt like I’d snorted double handfuls of cocaine, but I’ve never tried cocaine, so the analogy is purely anecdotal. The women were breathtaking. Goddesses, each. My thoughts and feelings were palpable. Powerful.
And what I’ll say next might surprise you: The only negative part was being alone in the experience. Set that kind of energy loose in a 13-year-old boy, and it ricochets back and forth in his skull, his gut, his soul, looking for a place to rest and give meaning. But such a place is not yet formed in a boy, and so there is risk for this energy to habituate in orbits of shame and compulsion.
Alone, I was left with a cosmic and most enjoyable rush, yes, but also fear, guilt, anxiety and confusion. I needed an elder. Ideally, my father.
Contrast that with this …
The mother calls the father with the news that their 12-year-old has copped to seeing his first Playboy while at a friend’s house for a sleepover. The boys found the magazine in the master bedroom dresser. The father looks for the next available moment, and finds it in the car.
“So, your mom says you and (friend) were looking at (friend’s dad’s) Playboy.”
“Uh-huh,” says the boy, eyes glued to the floor mats.
“No big deal,” the boy says with a shrug.
“No big deal?” the father exclaims. “Wow. I was about your age when I first saw a Playboy. It was a big deal. My palms got sweaty, I could barely breathe, (here Dad delineates other biological phenomenon in short, simple, forthright terms).”
Now the boy makes furtive, sideways eye contact. He way didn’t expect this. The boy is about to meet his father again for the first time. He gazes in wonder and cautious hope. There is a long pause as the boy considers his answer.
“Yeah,” the boy says, relieved, “that happened to me, too.”
“Whew,” the father says. “There for a minute, I thought something was wrong with you.”
The father tells the boy his curiosity about women, and especially naked women, is not the issue. Sexual desire is an essential part — a good part — of how the boy is designed, the father says. The father assures the boy they will talk more of this desire, and its rightful and meaningful place in the life of a whole and honorable man.
But for the moment, the real issue on the table is the boy’s bad, bad manners as a guest in another man’s house. “When we welcome your friends to our house,” the father asks, “do you and your buddies rummage my drawers? Your mom’s drawers?”
The boy gets it immediately, and is properly mortified. And should be.
But here’s the moral of the story: The boy is not alone in his dawning, emerging sexuality. When I hear this story, I am so happy for the boy, even as I contrast his good fortune with my own wistful memory of being alone.
So that’s the first and most important thing: providing a boy a place to “have” the experience, even if we regret how the experience came to pass. We help the boy to feel his feelings. We help him name those feelings. We help him understand, accept and celebrate his masculine nature.
From there — and only from there — do we then fit him for the necessary bridle that will harness and direct the power of his sexuality toward the end of his own wholeness and happiness.
More next Tuesday.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.