Almost Thirteen

My son turns thirteen tomorrow.

One evening, a little over a week ago now, I walked into his bedroom.  As I did, my dad-sense went off.  This is sorta like spidey-sense; you know danger is near, you stand at the ready.  My son had his Nintendo gaming system in hand.  These hand-held machines now all contain browsing capabilities, as in browsing the web.  We have clear rules regarding 'online.'

Bud, have you been surfing?  This is one of those moments when its really important to tell the truth.

His face told me the answer, then his mouth followed.  I shut his bedroom door and sat the edge of his bed.

Why don't you show me what you've been looking at.

He protested, trying to explain, to tell not show, that he'd been searching on Google images.  The story goes that the boys at school had been feeding him tales of the sexy girls you could see there.  He protested a little more, as I said he turns thirteen tomorrow.  But I gently protested even more, as I turn forty-three in about a month.

Why don't you take me where you've been.  We'll go together.

And so my son showed me the pages he'd been viewing, a hand-held screen full of images along the lines of the SI swimsuit issue, nothing he hasn't seen watching Dancing with the Stars or in Avatar's 3D.  I looked at the search box to see what he had typed: 'sexy girl hollywood movie star models.'  The innocence in that moment was almost too much for me; my son was struggling even for the lingo to type - does that make sense?  His friends at school could no doubt be there in one word while he was typing six...this bumbling, stumbling, unedited far-from-savvy searching fueled by desires that are growing as he does.

We gotta be real careful here, man...this can take you to some dark places, fast, too fast.

The heart of our conversation after that is sacred, just between father and son.  It is an ongoing one.  The two of us are going out this evening; it will continue then.  I don't want to diminish in any way the gravity of those moments.  The stories of porn addiction seem to be legion these days, more often than not starting at about his age.  Our cultural landscape is littered with abuse, wrecked marriages, pain.  I also don't want to diminish in any way the gravity of those moments.  My almost thirteen year old son is wrestling with his self, his mind, his body, his very soul and how those facets of who he is fit together, rarely if ever smooth.  These wrestlings do not go away.  I know.  I'm almost forty-three.  Yes, yes, the apostle said we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but somedays I'd swear he was lying.

In the wake of that evening, I felt another conversation going on, between another father and son.

God: We gotta be real careful here, John...this is about his heart.  And yours.

Me: I know.  Please help me.  Please.  I'm not spiderman.   


  1. You're my kind of man. My kind of dad.

  2. Oh my goodness the tears. It is about is heart. Love those Spidey like senses!

  3. Mer and I were talking about our men last week. We are both so grateful our sons have guys who love them so much and who are "checked in" as dads. Our boys are blessed. And so are we.

  4. My Dad would have bought me the SI swimsuit edition and would've said 'stay off the net'.

    One of the parenting psychologist with foster care told us 'what we fear we create'. Not sure that holds true here, but I remember myself at that age. If there was skin to see I'd go to great lengths to see it.

    "Yes, yes, the apostle said we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but somedays I'd swear he was lying."

  5. That is my fear when it comes to parenting teenage boys. The world is bombarding them with thoughts and images that they are not equipped to handle. I only pray that my husband and I can be an thoughtful and eloquent as you when dealing with a matter that I'm sure all parents of teenage boys go through.

  6. John, Tears came to my eyes as I read your post. You are such a great Dad. "lets go together". Important as during these years you want to create open not closed doors. Love and miss you and your family.

  7. I'm sending this link to my husband. We'll be there soon...

  8. As I'm sure Meredith told you about our situation...i know exactly how you feel. Its a tough, daily road that we have in front of us and every single day the prayer is the same..."Lord, give me the insight and wisdom to mother these boys."

    Y'all are fabulous parents and I know you pray the same prayer.

    Blessings from TN,

  9. It IS scary, indeed. Our son, who is about 8 months older than W, was "sneaking" on the computer to look at Islamic cultures. Thought we'd be mad b/c I'm a Christian. We tried not to giggle at his earnest little face when he turned six in that moment and said, "I LOVE Jesus, Mom, I just wanted to see why this culture was so vilified." Oh, Baby...we love you so.

    You've got the door open to his heart, John. That's what we're trying to do with D. That's all we can do.

    That, and Net Nanny. ;)

  10. Anonymous6:25 AM

    I don't have any children, but I do have a father. Your posted was so profoundly touching for me. Thank you.

  11. incredibly well put, this speaks all the way to those far back places in my heart where I could swear I am wrestling against flesh and blood too.

    mine's almost 15. wish I had more powers than just spidey sense sometimes.

  12. John, I was sent here by a link on Twitter. As soon as I read your name, I clicked. My husband, Matt Whitson, interviewed to work with you in Arkadelphia as the youth pastor in 2002, I believe. We were so inspired by you and excited about the thought of working with you. The more we prayed and thought, the more we realized that God wasn't leading us to the church; you were. We wanted so badly to work alongside you, learn from you, and minister with you, we were ready to make the decision based solely on that. With much prayer and consideration, we realized that God wasn't leading us there. It was a short time later, that our home church called Matt to be on staff (the church Chris Taylor had worked for in Fort Smith), and we were thrilled. During that time, we also learned that you were moving to CO. We might have come to your church solely to work with you only to have you leave a few months later! I'm so grateful for God's guidance.

    I just wanted you to know what an impression you made on a young ministry couple in a short weekend. Matt's the family pastor at our church, and we're parents of two young boys. I'm thankful to have found your words here and look forward to reading more.

    If you want to see if you remember us, my old blog is here: No pressure- I don't expect you to. :)

  13. This post made me tear up a little. I have boys. I get it.

    It also made me chuckle when I recalled what I said to my faith formation teens.

    "Well. [exasperated sigh] You're not puppies. You don't have to hump everything you see."

    I have yet to live that down.

  14. Thank you for sharing this, for having this conversation with your son, and for having the conversation with God too. I reposted this on my my FB page, because it is a helpful reminder that we all need to have these conversations.

    Kirk - Sauk Rapids, MN