The Common Good
September-October 1999

The Facts of Life

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September-October 1999

Funny business.

I should have been happy when my daughter brought up the subject. I had been dreading our "little talk" for months, but knew it couldn’t be put off much longer. A topic of this importance can’t be pushed aside by a parent’s petty fear of embarrassment (or the fact that my kids haven’t listened to me since shortly after conception).

When a child reaches puberty and begins to experience life from a different perspective, a parent needs to help explain the stirrings inside her and instill the proper framework for enjoying one of God’s most beautiful—but most misunderstood—creations.

"Dad?" she began, gazing uncomfortably toward the floor. This wasn’t going to be easy for either of us. "Could you explain the Bee Gees?"

Where does one begin? It’s so hard for a father to find the words to describe these phenomenally talented men who, since the late 1800s, have inspired a grateful world with their admonitions to love, to hope, and most important, to use lots of hair dye.

I could talk from personal experience and try to convey the feelings—the rapid heartbeat, the shortness of breath—the first time I heard these three men harmonize in such perfect falsetto (a condition reportedly caused by an unfortunate childhood bicycle mishap).

Or I could speak in more general terms about how natural it is to be 13, with your whole life ahead of you, when suddenly you get this urge to strut down the sidewalk with your hand pumping in the air as you sing, "Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive!"

I knew if she didn’t hear the truth from me she’d just hear about it from her trashy little friends at school. (You know how some kids, out of ignorance, can take something beautiful and make it seem so...so dirty). And that’s no way to embark on a lifelong love affair with the brothers Gibb. My own parents were too embarrassed to discuss it with me when I was a teen-ager, and to this day I feel ashamed when I hear "Lost In Your Love" on the radio. It just sounds naughty.

SHE SAW THEM for the first time a couple of weeks ago on television. At first we thought it was a commercial for hair transplants. But when the cameras zoomed in we realized it was a documentary on the ravages of gum recession (and the singularly tragic way it affects Australian siblings).

Shuddering with a resolve to take better care of our teeth, we headed upstairs for the dental floss when the music—their music—stopped us in our tracks (and, coincidentally, drove the cats from the room). Our hearts were overcome by...disco love. We couldn’t help ourselves. After all, it was the Bee Gees.

I could tell she wanted to ask me about it right then. Her questions would be the same that daughters have asked since time immemorial: "When can I start listening to that intoxicating beat...on my own?" "If I meet somebody and I just know he’s the one, do I really have to wait until we’re married before we can listen to ‘Saturday Night Fever’?"

She needed—no, she deserved—the answers to these important questions. I didn’t want her to be unprepared the first time she found herself alone in a car with a boy (who we’ll call "Bobby." His real name would be something like "I’ve Come for Your Daughter, Old Man."):

BOBBY (cooing seductively): C’mon, just let me play one song from their Greatest Hits CD.

DAUGHTER: No, Bobby. I’m...I’m just not ready.

BOBBY: If you really loved me, you’d at least listen to "Jive Talkin’."

DAUGHTER: If you loved me, you wouldn’t ask.

Could she be so grown up already? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was teaching her to tie her own shoes? (Actually, it was the day before yesterday. She’s always had those velcro thingies.) And not that long ago I was helping her with homework, trying to find Kryptonite on the periodic table. (Apparently it had been omitted by mistake.)

Sadly, the moments of our children’s young lives are flying by, as they move from one stage of life to another at incredible speed, unless the car pool is waiting outside.

But these are the best of times, the times before our delusions are shattered by the cruel realization that there’ll be no Olympics, no Harvard, no congratulatory phone call from the president; nothing to show for all the hard work and sacrifice of parents who simply wanted their children to grow up happy, secure, and really famous.

So savor these years, these precious moments before our children return from college and surprise us with their foolish career choices. "You’re going to be a WHAT?!" we’ll cry in unison (since we practiced beforehand) as they break the news we had always feared: that in their selfishness, they simply refuse to live the lives we had so carefully planned out for them. (How can I be expected to live vicariously through my children if they choose a career that I’m not interested in!?)

Not to mention the other catastrophe just over the horizon, when, in the sanctity of our own living room, we’ll be introduced to a dubious selection of life-mate. "Oh, hello," we’ll say politely, as we meet someone with vaguely human mannerisms. "Why don’t we get a coaster for that beer you brought with you. No, it’s fine to park your motorcycle there. We can always plant more roses."

BUT PARENTS, take heart! There’s still time before the kids write their best-selling memoir that reveals, in excruciating detail (it’s a three-volume set), how their parents failed them. So get busy. It’s never too early to start making excuses for ourselves.

ED SPIVEY JR. is art director of Sojourners.

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