Friday, April 08, 2005

"To Be or Not To Be" shouldn't be the question.

Dear Zachary:
(a note to my twelve-year-old son)

To Be or Not To Be

Well, son, I have irrefutable proof that time flies by much too quickly. Not long ago, I paced the floor in a hospital delivery room. I held you, new-born, tiny and pink, in my arms. I carried you around the delivery room and whispered softly to you about all the fun we would have together in this fascinating world. Then, somehow, while you and I were otherwise occupied, we hurtled through time to the present.

Two years ago, your grade five health class started to learn about puberty. I’m not one who disagrees with sex education at school. I think that the technical aspects of sex, the ‘ins and outs,’ so to speak, are part of life and should be taught in school as part of a health or physical education curriculum. This is a penis. This is a vagina. When you stick the former in the latter, things can happen.

What can happen? Possibly, a pregnancy. Perhaps, catching or passing a sexually transmitted disease. Maybe, nothing. That’s the nature of gambling. You never know the outcome in advance.

Because the consequences of sex can be far-reaching and life-altering, children need to know about the mechanics of sex before they are likely to start experimenting.

But teaching the mechanics of sex, the science of the matter, in a grade five health class, should be only part of a child’s sex education. As with everything else, there are considerations of context, of responsibility, of ethical behaviour, which need to be dealt with by parents or guardians. That’s why I am addressing the subject here and why you and I have had numerous discussions on the matter before this.

An act of sex can be one of life’s great pleasures. Or, if you don’t act carefully and responsibly, you can cause yourself many years of grief.

Part of our relationship, son, is that we have always been very open with each other. I listen to you. I respect your opinion. You listen to me. You respect my opinion, even if sometimes you disagree with me. That’s OK. Life would be dull indeed if everyone always agreed on everything with everyone else. So when you and I have one of our marathon conversations, we sometimes talk about things which some other fathers might choose not to discuss with their sons. Like my own father, for instance.

My father was born in 1904 and grew up in a time when the primary focus was on staying alive. Children, as the saying goes, were meant to be seen but not heard. In fact, when visitors came to the two-room sod hut in Siberia where my dad grew up, the standing instruction to the children was: “Kinder, hinter den Ofen!” That was an imperative, in German, instructing the kids to get behind the large, free-standing wood stove in the multipurpose room which served as kitchen, dining room, living room and bedroom. The other of the two rooms was for the livestock. Until kids were old enough to contribute to the family welfare, they were noticed only when they required discipline.

I loved my father, but resolved very early on that should I ever have children of my own, I would attempt to forge a relationship based on communication and openness. This series of Dear Zachary letters to you is part of that attempt. Speaking to you directly, in those very interesting personal conversations we share, is another, perhaps more important part.

Because of our many chats, when you started to learn about sex in school, you already knew about most of what you were being taught. At age ten, it would have been criminally negligent of me not to have addressed this very important subject with you. It is not that I want to hasten your leap from an age of innocence to whatever state a pre-pubescent human male, fully aware of the human physiology of sex, might be called, it is just that with the rampant public displays of sexuality and the readily available sexual material available on the internet and elsewhere, I want you to understand that sex is about more than physiology, instinct and gratification.

Sex is also about responsibility.

There is nothing in the world with the single-minded purpose of a hormonally-charged pubescent male, unless of course it is a hormonally charged pubescent female. Put the two in close proximity to each other and you have an almost infallible recipe for disaster. And that is what I want to talk to you about: responsible behaviour, carefully considered before the fact.

Two years ago, the mere mention of girls, in just about any context, elicited an “eewww” or a “that’s gross, daddy,” from you. Lately, I have noticed that your protestations against having any interest in girls have diminished. We’ve even had discussions on dating. Soon, like most boys, when they reach puberty, you will be preoccupied with females, every hour of the day, every day of the week, likely for the rest of your life.

I know all about it. I’ve been a boy, an adolescent, a young man and now, at fifty-nine years of age, I am still very much aware of the opposite sex. It is the way we are. Without our strong attraction to the opposite sex, there would be no new generations to replace the old. There would be no Zachary. There would be no anybody.

The fact that there is a Zachary at all is a wonder of nature. You had but one very tiny chance to exist at all, and that was if at a particular millisecond in time one specific sperm cell introduced itself to a very specific egg cell and the resultant pregnancy culminated in the wonder that is you. That’s it. A fraction of a second earlier or later and there would be no Zachary. There might have been another pregnancy, resulting in another perfectly adorable child, but it would not have been the Zachary we love, even if it had been a boy and we had chosen to give him the same name.

We don’t know what your life will mean to the world. You may influence only your circle of family of friends and otherwise go through life largely unnoticed. You may eventually be a good husband and father, but expire at the end of an uneventful life without leaving a significant legacy of any kind. That would be OK. On the other hand, you might grow up to be a great businessman, a noted litigator or doctor or in some other way contribute to the store of knowledge in the world and help improve the lives of people in generations to come. It doesn’t matter, really. A life is a life. We love you because you are you, not because of what you might become.

And that is what this is all about. You were born. You live. We wanted you. We let you live.

We might have chosen not to let you live. That’s what abortion is -- a choice to terminate a pregnancy. Had we chosen to terminate your mother’s pregnancy, you would not be with us. Nor would you have another chance at life. Ever.

Abortion is a choice, yes. But it would not likely be the choice of the unborn baby if it had any say on the subject. When William Shakespeare’s Hamlet ponders suicide in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy, it is at least his choice whether to terminate his life or not. A fetus doesn’t have that same choice to be or not to be. It is at the mercy of its’ mother. A fetus is what proponents of abortion like to call an unborn baby. Literally, it means ‘young one,’ and describes the unborn baby from months three after conception through its’ eventual birth. Basically, the position is that because the fetus is inside the mother and dependent on the mother for life, it is part of the mother and not a separate being. The fact that in a few months the blob of cells will be a very unique living person named Alexander or Alexis doesn’t matter. Potential means nothing to those who promote the ‘right to choose.’ The fetus is simply a blob of cells while inside the mother and is at the mercy of the mother. So, if a pregnancy interferes with the mother’s life, her vacation plans, her career path, her education, she simply gets rid of the fetus. No baby. No responsibilities. No far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

In the real world, the way it should be, actions do have consequences. If the possible consequences are not something that you want to deal with, avoid the action that might bring about the consequence. Or be very, very careful.

I’m not trying to scare the bejeebers out of you, son. I just want you to be thoughtful, considerate, honourable and kind and careful when you interact with the girlfriends you are going to have. Consider their feelings. Consider how things will be after the inevitable break-ups while you are exploring and until you find your eventual mate. Girls aren’t simply things to be used and discarded. They are human beings and have the same feelings, fears and frustrations that you do. Treat them well. If you do, there is a better chance that they will treat you well too.

I will be proud of you, son, as you wind your way through this next phase of your life. I know I will. And I will always be here for you to talk to, about anything and everything. Always.



  1. That was amazing. You sound so much like the parent I am trying to become. I hope you don't mind if I stop back now and then. I think your open concept for your relationship with Zachary is beautiful and inspirational.

    Very much enjoyed this post.

  2. Thanks, Penny. Sometimes, I don't feel like such a good parent, like after I yell at him to finish his homework, clean his room, clean the litter box, etc.

    Come back anytime. I've stopped in at your blog and enjoyed reading about you and your daughter.