Isn't it about time we dads learnt to talk about puberty? About unwanted erections, hormones and changes that happen to women? And to do it without embarrassment and code words, as if any of it were something to be ashamed of?
Now I'm not saying this is easy! I am a fairly confident chap who, as a church minister, youth worker and parenting coach, is used to tackling awkward issues. But although puberty and sex education have been bread-and-butter topics through years of running youth clubs and supporting parents, I found speaking to a bunch of other men about them quite unnerving.
Gathered with 20 men around an open fire, beer in hand, it was not just the heat of the flames that made my cheeks glow rosy red as I showed them how to put a sanitary towel in a pair of knickers! Why was it so uncomfortable? I think it's because whilst it's natural for mums to address bodily changes with their daughters, dads often exclude themselves completely from talking about puberty - let alone periods and menstrual cycles! - with their children because they themselves are ill at ease. All too often, our best efforts at talking about anything to do with puberty with our sons can have a lad's mag element, approaching it indirectly as if it is somehow unclean. Yet talking maturely about puberty can be essential in helping our children understand their body and nascent sexuality. Perhaps we need to be honest as well, with all the gender equality strides we have made, it seems us dads are still smugly satisfied to leave the talk of blood to the mothers of our children.
Our dads' night at school was intended to complement the excellent mothers & daughters assembly that had happened a few weeks earlier, and I am grateful to the school for trusting me with this pioneering project. Around a fire, with beer and good food diffusing tension, 20 men discussed the stages of puberty, talked about the need to use anatomical words when discussing genitalia, and laughed as we encouraged one another to overcome our insecurities in these areas. Conversation flowed about how to help our children handle those embarrassing puberty moments such as unwelcome erections, spots, comparisons of bodily parts and pubic hair growth. Not the usual locker room talk but something far more 'manly'!
It took everyone courage to come and discuss these matters, but removing long entrenched shame and secrecy from the natural process of growing up and becoming sexually aware is a challenge. Few experts would doubt we have a crisis of body image and self-esteem among our teenagers, allied to inappropriate and naive understandings of sexuality and sexual health thanks to the prevalence of porn. Yes, I was a bit embarrassed standing there with a sanitary towel in my hands, but only by together going a bit red in the face can we start to help our young people build positive body image and learn healthy habits around sexuality which will enable them thrive in adulthood. I am looking forward to getting around a fire again with these brave men and any others who want to join us. One day our kids will thank us.
If you would like me to come and do this talk at your school, or let you know what I did so you can repeat it get in touch.
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