I was riding the subway into the city. Sitting next to me was a father and his elementary-school-age son. The father was reading a newspaper article about the death of Farrah Fawcett while his son played an electronic hand-held game.
When the father finished the article, he folded up the newspaper and sat quietly. The boy asked, “Who is that woman?”
The father answered, “She was a famous movie star when I was a kid. She just died of cancer.”
“What kind of cancer?” the boy asked. “Was it the kind that Grandma had?”
“No.” said the father. “It was a different kind.”
Unsatisfied with his father’s answer, the boy continued to pursue the subject. “Was it lung cancer?”
“No” the father stated tersely.
The boy persisted. “What kind?”
Visibly annoyed, the father shifted in his seat and changed the subject. “Did you finish your homework?” he asked.
It was obvious that, even though the father seemed educated and very modern, any conversation about Farrah’s anal cancer was over before it started. Such a conversation was simply too uncomfortable for him, just as it was for others. Indeed, even before Farrah passed away, several distasteful jokes were circulating about her illness.
All too often, a joke is a preferred way to deflect attention or conversation away from uncomfortable realities or subjects—especially when children are involved. I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be better to make discussions about our private parts as straightforward and run-of-the-mill as conversations are about any other body part.
In other words—in my opinion, the father missed a golden opportunity to move his son’s future thoughts and discussions about the anus out of the gutter (where taboo subjects often reside for young boys) into respectable everyday life, where they belong in the first place. My hunch was confirmed with the knowing look and the wicked little smile that the boy flashed to me as he and his father left the subway car.
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