Entry 8: Tolerance and Discomfort

I never got a Birds-and-the-Bees talk from my dad. For one thing, as I've mentioned before, he wasn't a big talker. He tended to lead by example and obviously, in this particular area, he wasn't going to take that approach, either. Another factor in my lack of parental guidance on this subject is probably the fact that I was a third child and second son. My brother says he had a talk from Dad on this subject and it consisted of about two sentences.

I arrived 10 years after my brother and by then, I think my dad had come to the conclusion that he wasn't anxious to broach the subject and odds were by that time we already knew more than we should, anyway. So he and I never had that conversation.

Sex arrived in my life in the middle of high school and I admittedly had no idea what I was doing. I mean, the pipeline of playground information provided me with a theoretical knowledge of what went where. But it was painfully deficient when it came to how things got there and what to do once they arrived. Now, like most teenagers, I was a fast learner and also like most teenaged boys, once I had a bead on how it all worked, I was anxious to experience it often.

This is what led to my getting the car stuck in a ditch one cold winter's night out on Old River Road east of El Dorado. There was about three feet of snow in the ditch and once the car had planted one wheel there, it wasn't going anywhere without a lot of help. A late-sixties vintage Chevy Biscayne with a 396 is a bit beyond the muscular capacity of a skinny 140 pound high school junior.

What followed was about a half-mile hike to a house where I made a phone call home. This led to Dad driving out in his work car and pulling the other car out of the ditch. He clearly wasn't happy to be doing this but as was his nature, in the presence of a third party (my companion for the evening) he said almost nothing. After I got the family car home, I was quietly informed I was grounded for a couple of weeks. There was absolutely no mention of why I had been parked out in the country on a cold winter's night or what we had been doing.

It wasn't that my parents were irresponsible. It's just that when it came to certain subjects, the overall level of discomfort with discussing them was absolutely paralyzing. My sisters have rightfully pointed out that my parents had a distinct double-standard when it came to raising boys versus girls. Had one of my sisters been involved in this incident, she would have been locked in a convent - assuming Baptists had such things. In the summer after my senior year, I took a week long camping trip to Colorado with two buddies my age and no parental supervision. Had my sisters proposed such a plan at 17, their chances of getting permission would have been zero.

Yes, my parents had a double standard. Hey, it wasn't my fault. I just benefited from it.

The realities of their generation were reflected in the way they raised their children. They tolerated more from boys because boys were harder to control. In that regard, my brother paved the way for me rather well. He set the benchmark that boys could be trouble - a handful to deal with. In contrast, my older sister was more of a model teenager - a good student who stayed out of trouble. So in that regard, the two older siblings set the benchmark for tolerance that was applied to the two younger.

Still, I understand their resentment. I didn't get a fierce lecture and I wasn't constantly reminded of my actions. My grounding didn't even come with a discussion of why and I was smart enough not to ask for one. A female child in our family would have been locked in a cage with a chastity belt and one of those house-arrest ankle bracelets (if those existed in the early 70s).

The day after the parking incident, I realized I could not find my billfold. To be honest, in those days I didn't keep a lot of stuff in my billfold. There might have been a few dollars there in addition to my driver's license. But this was long before I began acquiring credit cards. Naturally, I had to apply for a replacement license which wasn't all that difficult and since I was grounded, I wasn't going to be doing a lot of driving in the near future so it wasn't that big a deal.

Anyway, several weeks later, my dad was cleaning out the family car and found my billfold. It was wedged down behind the back seat. I was walking out of the house that evening to meet up with friends and my dad was returning to the house after cleaning the car. He handed me my billfold without saying a word and went inside.

Never underestimate the power of social discomfort.