Updated: Jun 28, 2020
DAD WHAT’S A VIRGIN
I knew when I became a parent that I was going to make mistakes. Based on all the psychological research, I knew the importance of family traditions (something I will write about in future entries) in creating an unbreakable bond with children. I understood the absolute necessity of sticking to a set schedule. I knew I would have sleepless nights, issues with the 'internal chatterbox' – talking myself into anxiety, chronic worry over the wellness of my children, and many battles with self-doubt. I knew that as my kids grew older, I would have to figure out my finances in planning for hobbies (dance classes, music classes, martial arts classes, art classes, etc.), after school care, Bat Mitzvah's, college and, yes, even weddings. I was looking forward to all of it.
Several years ago, I was sitting in my home office looking over screenplay notes an editor sent me. All my daughters were playing chess down the hall. I know all parents love to hear their children play peacefully with one another. We hate to hear our children fight. But, we dread hearing nothing at all. When kids are in the house, silence makes parents nervous. So when I heard nothing down the hall, I walked out of my office to check on the girls. They were already standing at my door with serious expressions.
"Dad, what's a virgin?" My daughter asked. Where was all this coming from? They were just playing chess. My mind raced with questions. But it was one of these situations when asking kids questions may have led to more questions. I was blindsided. I hesitated. I am a mental health professional specializing in anxiety disorders and psychological trauma. I also work with athletes and high powered professionals on peak performance training. I read numerous books on child psychology, but nothing prepared me for this. Deep down, I knew this was a perfect time to have 'the talk'.' But, I chickened out. I froze. For the first time in a long time, I was at a loss for words. I was about to make a mistake as a father. The next thing that came out of my mouth was, "A virgin is a nice girl or boy." Yes, that's what I said. I am not proud of it. I acted based on some strange, paternal instinct to protect my daughters.
Deep down, unconsciously, I must have thought I was protecting their innocence. My crazy answer seemed to suffice. "I told you that's what it was." My daughter said to her sister. And before I could inquire what lead to this question, they ran off to grab another game from the basement.
My mistakes just kept on coming. I SHOULD HAVE revisited that conversation with my daughters. But I was too scared. This was a teaching opportunity, and I blew it. My mistake was about to come back to haunt me. Two days later, my daughters were playing with kids at the playground down the block. My neighbors, all parents, were watching their kids as they climbed up and down muddy monkey bars. I should mention that my daughters were always very protective of one another. They fought at home, but they made up quickly and were never apart. So when a local 10-year-old pushed one of my daughters hard off the plastic slide, her twin came to her rescue.
"Stop pushing my sister. She is a virgin. You are not a virgin!!" My daughter screamed at the top of her lungs. The jaws of every single parent dropped. A group of teenagers playing basketball about a hundred feet away stopped mid-throw. A young couple at the tennis court glared at my girl, who was oblivious to what she said. It was fascinating that kids at the park just kept playing as nothing had happened. Two mothers walked over to their children, took them by the hand, and left the park. I felt clammy and dizzy.
Shying away from difficult conversations is not a good idea. I meant well, but I was wrong. As I kissed my daughters good-night, I thought of all the parents who may be faced with 'what's a virgin question'? Kids don't forget; I learned that many times the hard way. I sat in my office and prepared myself for the uncomfortable, but crucial discussion. There are many ways we can have adult conversations with children on their level. That's what I should have done.
I found out later that my daughters found a DVD of Footloose – a new version, in my DVD player. They heard the female protagonist tell her father, "Dad, I am not a virgin!" After she shouts those words, her father proceeds to slap her across the face. Not knowing what a virgin meant, my daughters wanted to figure out what could make a father turn against his daughter? They never saw anyone get slapped. Seeing a father hit his daughter was frightening to them. All my girls wanted was reassurance that their father will love them unconditionally.
Never stop asking questions. Kids and parents see the world through a different set of lenses. Never stop trying to enter their experience.