Up until a few days ago, I lived a jovial and carefree life with my two sons, tossing the football in the front yard or reading Harry Potter inside blanket forts. That all changed when David Attenborough opened his big stinking mouth.
Recently, my little dudes and I have been on a Planet Earth kick. Every day I come home from work, catch my breath, and then we start Planet Earth II, something we did with the original series a while back.
The original Planet Earth was great. The second installment is more of what works, plus better visuals, like riding on the back of hawks or seeing more snow leopards. Then we get nature in new locations, like “Cities.” We also get a bolder David Attenborough, as each new episode ends with a rebuke directed at dumbass humans hell-bent on destroying the world.
In addition to his boldness, Attenborough gets a little racy in the final episode of the series, when he makes a joke about “sex in the city.” Now, about 80 percent of the show is devoted to some bird of paradise or earthworm trying to get its bone on, but nowhere in the series had the word sex been uttered.
“What is sex?” my seven-year-old son asks.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: The father thinks if he sits tremendously still, the questioner may move on.
“What is sex in the city?” my son follows up.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Not this time.
I froze during examination, like that scene from Jurassic Park, like maybe if I didn’t move, we could all just move along. My neck turned 180 degrees like a barn owl up at my wife sitting behind me. We matched “what do we do” looks.
I turned back around and said quietly to him, “We’ll talk about it later.”
Later that night, I whispered to my wife, “What do we do?” This was not a conversation I was looking forward to having, like, ever really. Definitely not before his eighth birthday. But I remember not ever having that conversation with my own father.
I didn’t want to jump the gun or start too soon like we did with Harry Potter—we got stuck on Goblet of Fire shortly after Mr. Muggle gets avada kedavred. But I thought if our kids were going to trust the option to talk to us—something I encourage all the time—we couldn’t just say, “We’ll talk when you’re older,” or ignore their questions. And I don’t really want some second grader explaining to my kid how peeing on girls gets them pregnant.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: To be clear, the human male must actually pee in a female to get her pregnant.
“All right, pal,” I said when we were alone. “Remember that question you asked me earlier?” I felt desperate to snake-shimmy out of my own skin. He didn’t remember until I said that word again—sex.
The plan was to go as far as he wanted to with the query. If he had one question and that was “what is sex?” then I would do my best to offer a first-grade-worthy explanation and be done with it. If he had more questions, I would do the same until he wearied of the topic. I tried to keep things simple—keep things to a Planet Earth, animal kingdom-type description of intercourse: “Sex is something that moms and dads do to have babies,” I said and thought, usually only on dad’s birthday.
“Oh,” my son said contemplating. And he had never looked older in his life. After a pause: “What is it?”
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: He’s in for it now.
“Okay, bud, well,” I said, “you know boy and girl bodies are different right?” I had to say the word penis and then say, well, you know girls don’t have those. He has a little sister, so he knows.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Haha. Penis.
At this point I kind of just blacked out and said something like “Well, boys and girls have different parts and they use them to make babies.”
He was quiet. I could tell he was a little uncomfortable and confused.
“Do you feel weird talking about it?” I asked.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: This young male is ready to move on.
We laughed and wrapped up the conversation. “Well, I just want you to know you can talk to me. If you ever have any more questions, I want you to come talk to me and not your buddies. And I don’t want you to talk to your brother (who is five). He can talk to me when he has his own questions.”
The talk (or chapter one of the talk) was uncomfortable, but it was a good learning experience for us both, and I really think now that we have a good base to build from. Things should only get easier from here.
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: You could cut the naiveté with a bowie knife.