A Talk, Not The Talk: On Useful Chats With Your Adolescent Son

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Do fathers even have “the talk” with their sons anymore? I am approaching zero hour and unsure on the latest thinking. It’s not like I come at this armed with a treasure trove of Norman Rockwell memories. My talk, such as it was, occurred in 1985, during a commercial break in a Redskins-Cowboys game. Let me be clear on what I mean by that. It literally began after a True Value Hardware commercial had started and ended before it finished. My dad leaned in and told me that mom wanted us to have the talk, so I should learn “the ropes” the same way he did, by listening very closely to everything that was said in the locker room. That was it. Before I could even react he was back to hurling epithets at Brent Musburger.

Is the talk still necessary? With all that curious adolescent boys can discover on the internet, I’d likely be the one learning something new. So no, I don’t think I will have the talk. After all, at some point fathers stopped telling their sons how to avoid scurvy. This just feels like one of those times. But that doesn’t mean I can’t add value around here as paterfamilias. There are many other good talks a father can have with his adolescent son. Words of wisdom that will help him in high school, college and beyond. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll hit him with the “big three.”

First, showers. No easy way to say it, but high school can be tough, especially in the “nowhere to hide” crucible of the locker room shower. You may find that there are showering options, and you can choose between individual stalls and the less private wall nozzles. Now pay close attention here, because what I’m about to say is counterintuitive. I don’t recommend that you use the stalls, even though I know you like your privacy. If others are in the shower room, they will think of you as a hunter furtively holed up in a blind, while they are the ducks.

Is this rational? No, but brother, not much in high school is. The shower room is a soapy testing ground where your choices have limited upside but huge downside. Just trust me on this one and hide in plain sight. Have I ever let you down? Was it mom who showed you what happened when you synchronized “The Dark Side of the Moon” audio with “The Wizard of Oz” video? I didn’t think so.

I know what you’re thinking. If the shower room is empty, can I use the stall? The answer is yes, with a caveat. Know that anyone who enters the shower room after you’ve started will assume you made this choice when others who have since toweled off were in the big open area. So my advice is just keep it simple and avoid the stall altogether. It’s not the big deal you think it will be. Ah, but which showerhead? If at all possible, try to maintain some degree of nozzle separation at all times between scrubbing parties. It won’t always be possible, but personal space intrusions should be avoided here. They are worse than in elevators – more on that below — but not as bad as jumping a stranger’s revolving door compartment, which is the longest three seconds on earth. Don’t overthink this, just honor the shower vector and you’ll be fine.

Next, bathrooms. Which urinal? Easy, same spacing rule as with showerheads, although the legal doctrine of necessity will more often come into play here. Don’t even bother with any of this at airports, concerts or sporting events, where it’s any port in a storm. Initiate no conversations, especially if you haven’t properly spaced. If you must respond to some chatterbox, be as brief as you can and avoid eye-contact. Yes, he was wrong to prattle on and on, but for this he shouldn’t be made to fear that his wingtips are in danger.

Isn’t head-turning an effective deterrent to talkers? Clever, grasshopper, perhaps too clever. The thing about deterrence is it changes behavior and helps the next guy, not you. On balance I say this is no place for nuance so just keep it eyes forward. As for flushing, reasonable people can disagree here, but assuming it is not an automatic, just use your hand and be extra-thorough when you wash. Don’t be that hit-it-with-your-elbow guy. Cleanliness good, debilitating phobia bad.

Last, elevators. Here the proper visual is a flock of geese: where you stand and what you do is a function of the positions and actions of every other person around you. The rule of thumb is think of yourself as one of the dimples on the sides of dice. Any of those configurations work, and all are designed to communicate to others your respect for their personal space. If more than six people, just take the next car. All bets are off when in a cargo elevator, but what the heck are you doing in a cargo elevator? Obviously those on the back wall can only face front: if there are two on a side wall, it is okay to face the opposite side rather than front to accommodate more people. If you do this, be careful not to stare at the middle guy in the five-dot dice formation. He is right to be there and entitled to his privacy. Learn to be fascinated by your own shoes.

Never talk on the phone in an elevator. As long as you can walk, try your best not to be a one-floor rider. People will definitely talk about you as soon as you leave. And yes, talking is fine – customs have changed on this in the past ten years or so — but keep it to pleasantries. If you speak to a woman in front of you, never say anything that can be reverse-engineered to leering. Here’s an example of something appropriate to say in this situation:

“Friday can’t get here fast enough, right?”

And something inappropriate:

“What’s with this Spanx craze?”

From the back wall, call out your floor number if you were unable to punch it going in. Never reach forward and do it yourself, for like a pilot flying close to the treetops, there is danger in maneuvering that low. If for some reason you must, never use your other hand to brace yourself on another person. If you see a shirt or coat collar that is up, don’t fix it but rather assume that is how it’s supposed to be. Never under any circumstances speak of women’s shoes.

Well, that about covers it. Good talk, son.