Born in the 60’s and living as a teenager in the mid to late 70’s, my early years seem so much different than anything my sons are sure to experience when they hit their teen years. That’s a good thing because the world has so much more to offer now. Alas, that’s also a bad thing. They have a hyper vigilant father, because in this day and age I know I have to be. There is social media, the Internet, and cell phones to contend with. Predators get their own five-week coverage on CNN, so we learn every scary detail about them. Across the nation gay men and women are enjoying a ride to the land of normalcy as we speak, but with that comes the extremists and religious zealots who will stop at nothing to prove their point, even going as far as to hurt our children.
I’m torn because I want my sons to have a sense of adventure, but I’m afraid that if they do some of things that I myself have done or experienced, my heart will not be able to take it. I’ve gone skydiving, for example, just to check it off my bucket list, but with skydiving the odds seem very much in the jumper’s favor. Nevertheless, I will be horrified the day they tell me they want to try it (and I’m sure that at least one of them will!)
I’ve had other experiences that I couldn’t even fathom happening in this day and age. Like my solo bicycle ride across the US when I was 22. Several months before the summer of 1984 I announced to my parents that I would be bicycling across the nation in order to get to California, which I had recently come to learn was a mecca for both triathlon training and gay life! Who knew? Although my parents were a little nervous to say the least, there was no negotiation or discussion about the rationality or the intelligence of my decision. I was doing it and that was that. I could not imagine anything less than a ton of conversations with plenty of grilling going on with my boys if they were to want to do this trip.
For two months (91 miles per day average), I pedaled west (and then south down the entire Pacific coast), not knowing where I was going to sleep each night until I got there. If it wasn’t a church yard, or school yard, or behind a billboard, or in the woods right off of the beaten path (I had a lightweight tent and sleeping bag with me), then it was in the home of an absolute stranger that invited me in for the evening. I hadn’t watched ‘Nancy Grace’ or ‘America’s Most Wanted’ prior to my trip, so I had no reason to think that anyone had any bad intentions. In other words, I was extremely naïve. That would not be the case with my sons. I would totally load them up with fear.
Another time, when I was a young athletic 15-year old just learning about sensuality and sexuality (I was a late bloomer), my family took the hour-long car ride to New York City to see the big tree at night in Rockefeller Center during Christmas break. We ate at a fairly upscale restaurant right across from the tree, with a beautiful window table so we could see the tree as we dined. It was halfway through the meal when I noticed him. An older guy (30s?) was smiling at me through the window, and then the current of the crowd would take him away. Minutes later he was back, giving me “the look” as he was again swept away. This went on for the remainder of the meal and I could hardly contain myself. When he saw us getting up after settling the bill, he was gone and did not return to the window, despite my every attempt to will him back.
We went close to the tree where a crowd was of course congregating all around, celebrating and meandering as the holiday music played and flurries fell in the freezing cold. I was standing a couple of rows behind my family, just so it wasn’t so obvious that I was searching for my guy with the jean jacket over a white hoodie. All of a sudden I could feel hands come from behind me and slip effortlessly into each of my pockets. I knew right away it was he as he pulled me close to his gymnast body and said, “You are so sexy.” I think I said “You too”, but the music was crazy loud by now and anyway it didn’t matter what I said. I stood there and enjoyed his hands for the next several moments until he was gone, just in time for my parents to say, “Let’s get going” to my siblings and me. I now know how easy it would have been to pull me away to a windowless van waiting down the street.
Overall I think my experiences affected me positively but clearly I dodged some bullets. My parents didn’t have the World Wide Web. They had seven television channels, one of which was extremely fuzzy unless they shook the rabbit ears just right. I will do my best now to stay ahead of the learning curve, be on the lookout for the danger de jour, and talk talk talk to my sons about what lies ahead, and beneath, and above them. Learn from my mistakes, I’ll say, no matter how pleasurable they actually were.