Personal, Stories Told

Seven things I’ve told my sons about porn

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when you had to go out into public to get porn, usually to places where you wouldn’t want to be seen. But as I transitioned into adulthood, the Internet broke into the mainstream, and porn exploded. For going on a quarter century now, anyone with an Internet connection has an unlimited supply in full privacy. Nobody has to know.

That’s the world my sons were born into. They Google anything that interests them — and at some point, women’s bodies began to interest them. And so I’ve had a conversation with each of them about porn. Here’s what I told them:

Do not be ashamed, as you are made to be naturally curious about sex. You are hardwired to be interested and that is a very, very good thing about being human. Porn is so incredibly available, and you are so incredibly naturally curious, that it was just a matter of time before you found it. Every man with an Internet connection has to decide what he’s going to do about porn. Even me. I wish I could say I’ve had a clean history with it but I haven’t.

But shame should not be a part of your sexual experience. It will inhibit you and interfere with your full enjoyment of it — needlessly!

A very real challenge in life is figuring out what to do with your sex drive. Your desire for sex is 100% legit. But our faith asks for abstinence until marriage. And today most men are pushing 30 before they get married. That’s a super long time to wait! And look: here’s all the porn you could want in the meantime! It’s enormously tempting. (So is being involved with someone primarily because you get sex.)

This is a twisty road, and I have no map to give you. You’ll have to figure out for yourself what’s healthy and right for you. You’re likely to try some things along the way that, upon reflection, you won’t feel good about. That’s part of being human. But be sure to do that reflection and pay attention to how you feel and what you think. Let that guide your future behavior.

You need sensuality and intimacy, not just sex. Porn is just sex. Here’s a rule of thumb: do sexual things with someone you love. Sex in that context is likely to draw the two of you closer and deepen your connection — which, plus making babies, is the real purpose of sex.

That’s not to say solo sex is out. I think it’s part of healthy sexuality. But I don’t think it’s healthy when the only thing that fuels it is porn.

Porn is not real. Because you have little or no experience with real sex, and because your mind is not done forming, your brain wants to make porn into what it thinks normal sex is. Trust me on this: porn has as much to do with real sex as an action movie has to do with real life.

Some men find that letting porn imprint on their brains interferes with loving sex with a partner. They expect it to be like porn, and it’s just not. They have to unlearn what they learned from porn to be able to connect well with their partner. What an unfortunate thing to put a partner through.

There’s some seriously disturbing porn out there. When you search for porn online, you will stumble upon all kinds of things that you didn’t even know were things. Some of them will deeply disturb you, guaranteed. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.

Porn takes away the actors’ dignity. That disturbing porn — how can the people that perform in it feel good about themselves for doing it? Even the tamer porn is just actors engaging in a physical show for money. There’s no love and connection in it. None of it builds anybody up or creates intimacy — which is where the full humanity and dignity of sex lives.

What’s even more disturbing is some evidence that the porn industry is linked to sex trafficking, a form of slavery that forces people into sex beyond their will. There are some disagreeing views about how true this is, and porn certainly didn’t create this evil trade, which has sadly existed throughout history. But I’d sure hate to fuel it in any way.

You can become addicted to porn. I’m not saying you will become addicted, but that it’s possible. Anything that stimulates your brain’s pleasure centers and that you do excessively can become an addiction.

One clue you are in danger is when you find that basic porn doesn’t work for you, and that you need increasingly serious porn until the only porn that works is that stuff that used to disturb you and that you wished you could un-see. The other clue is when you feel deeply compelled to use porn, using it even when you don’t want to.

For all of these reasons, I have to try to protect you from porn. It’s why I insist you use your Internet devices in places around the house where the screen is in full view. It’s why I sometimes check where you’ve been on the Internet. (And because I’m a geek and work in software development, I know what I’m doing, and even incognito mode can’t shield you.) If I find you’re using porn, I’ll block your Internet access, period.

But again, do not feel ashamed. The very interest that leads you look at porn is a good thing about living. I ask you to try to be patient and look for positive, affirming, intimacy-creating, relationship-building ways to be sexual.


Fatherhood changes when teenagers are almost ready to launch

I was so happy and proud for my sons on the days they started Kindergarten. I could feel them growing up as they boarded the school bus, their hands on the rail and their superhero backpacks hanging low. I’m sure my grin was plenty goofy as I watched them go.


My older son was absolutely thrilled to get to ride the bus. He had watched his stepbrother do it for years and was just sure it must be totally awesome and a real sign of being big. When I came home that afternoon, he chattered for a long time about the bus ride, telling me every detail. When I asked him how school was, he said it was okay and told me more stories about the bus ride.

His younger brother was unsure and anxious when his turn came, but he did fine because his bigger brother was there to show him the ropes. When I came home from work that day, he had no stories to tell. When I pried a little, he admitted that he didn’t particularly enjoy the bus ride and wasn’t excited about school. I think that all the new stimulation overwhelmed the poor boy. He slowly adjusted and ended up doing fine.

I was excited to be there for every new adventure, whether happy or challenging, as my boys grew up. I cheered on every rite of passage, unlike their mom who struggled with seeing our sons’ littleness fade and every era end.

My sons are 15 and 17 now, a sophomore and a senior in high school. My older boy has become a little more interested in spending time with his friends than with his family. My younger boy, who is the solitary sort, pursues some deep interests that he has developed.

As a parent, the finish line is finally coming into view for me. My sons are starting to form identities separate from their family and to think about what kinds of lives they want to live on their own. These are natural passages.

But now it’s my turn to struggle. I’m still excited for their adventures to come, but very sad that more and more of them will happen without me in the audience.

During the summer, my sons live one week with their mom and the next with me. They’ve needed less and less direct care over the years, but this year it’s been clear that they are able to stand almost entirely on their own. This was proved by how well they took care of all of us for a couple weeks while I was laid up after surgery. And where in past years they were happy to make day trips with me or just run up to the Dairy Queen for a sundae, this summer what they really wanted to do was play games online with their friends. (Side note: Do kids actually go see their friends anymore? My older boy doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet. He says, “Why do I need it? All my friends are on Skype.”)

Unglaciated view

Can I just admit that it was a little bit of a desperation move on my part when I took vacation the week before school started and booked a couple days away for us? The school year’s grind would soon be upon us, and I wanted a couple of distraction-free days to just hang out with my sons. So we rented a cottage in beautiful Brown County and spent a day exploring the art galleries and shops in Nashville and a day hiking through the state park to take in its stunning views.

I had a good enough time. I think my sons did, too. But both of them were obviously glad to come back home. One of them even told me he especially enjoyed his time at home that week as he could just relax with his friends.

And so it’s time for me to start to let go. I know my sons still value time with me and in my home for the familiarity and security they provide. I know they still need me to guide and coach them. But these things serve more as a launching pad now, a safe place for them to figure themselves out and build their futures. But more and more now I find myself hanging on their every word, even as they chatter on about a video game they just played, wanting to feel like I’m a part of their lives as I was before.

After the divorce, fatherhood brought other unexpected challenges. Read about it here.


The years fly by at warp speed

My youngest son turns 15 today. In case you’re new to the blog, I’m a divorced dad with three sons. My stepson is 28, and my sons still at home are 17 and, now, 15.

It turns out that I really enjoy teenagers. For me, these are the best years to be a dad! It’s a relief, because – can I just admit this? – I didn’t enjoy the little-kid years. I’m glad I was there for the early days, but I wouldn’t want to repeat them.

I’ve always been eager for my sons to grow up and embark on all of life’s adventures. My younger boys are mature enough now to have real adventures. My 17-year-old took several advanced biomedical classes this year and has been overloaded with homework, and has learned some hard lessons about prioritization and time management. My 15-year-old just made a tough choice not to continue in a vocational program in which he was learning television production. He really loved working in the studio. But the outside-of-class work was a little beyond his reach, and he was tired of constantly struggling with it.

These choices really shape their futures and say a lot about the people they are becoming. In choices like these I see parts of my personality and character in them, and parts of their mom’s. I even sometimes see things in them that I recognize as traits from my mom’s family, or my dad’s. I’m excited to see them launched out into the world, to enjoy what it offers and, I hope, to give it the good things they have.

If I learned anything from the years my stepson was in high school, it’s that these these years fly by at warp speed. Unfortunately, because of the divorce, I only see them a couple evenings a week and every other weekend during the school year, although they live with me half the summer. So I don’t even get all of the days that will come. The best I can do is be as present as I can be for every moment I get.

Music, Stories Told

Just where do kids hear new music these days?

My sons have only a vague notion of what music is popular today.

It’s because their avenues to hear it are few. Once in a while they’ll stumble across a song on YouTube. They have iPods and iTunes accounts, but they use them only to download and play games. MTV doesn’t play videos anymore. Top 40 radio is long gone, replaced by today’s fragmented radio landscape. No one station holds their interest for very long.

Ah, top 40 radio. When I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, I listened constantly, and the music I heard there formed the soundtrack of my life. I always knew all of the popular songs. Some of them thrilled me, many were merely okay, and I didn’t care for some songs at all. But wondering what song they’d play next and looking forward to hearing brand new songs kept me listening.

Radio was so exciting that I wanted to be a part of it, which is why I joined the campus radio station in college. The station had a vast record (yes, vinyl) collection, probably 5,000 albums, and I happily mined it for songs I could play on the air. This is how I was introduced to the progressive, blues, and hard rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Getting to know that music provided some of the happiest times of my life.

One of my friends and I used to meet in the station’s office most Saturday nights and share a pizza. We’d talk about life, how things were going at the station, and about the music we were finding. I remember telling my friend that one day when I had children, I’d introduce them to all this great music and I hoped very much that they would appreciate it.

But as I said it, I felt sure it was unlikely to happen because I certainly didn’t appreciate the music my parents listened to. Mom played music at home all the time, mostly pop and jazz vocals from the 1940s and 1950s. I listened politely for the most part, but those sounds didn’t resonate with me. Sometimes when we’d go visit my grandparents, they’d play stacks of 78 RPM records as old as the 1930s. I couldn’t take it. I always turned up the TV or just went outside. And so I felt sure that my future children would consider my music just as fuddy-duddy. (I thoroughly enjoy mom’s and grandma’s music today, though!)

But I was wrong. My sons like my music! I play my CDs in the car constantly, and much of that music has stuck on them. For a few years, my youngest son’s favorite album was Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos, which predates him by 29 years. My older son can sing every word of dozens of songs by Paul McCartney, with and without Wings; he owns several Beatles T-shirts. Both of them enjoy Heart so much that a couple years ago they jumped at the chance to go with me to see them perform live.

I lived in a time when new music was all around me. It was literally in the air! My sons live in a time when there’s still plenty of new music, but you have to go looking for it. They don’t bother. I hope that as they continue to grow up and apart from me that music they consider to be truly theirs finds them.