As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
IF you heard the music from the Gay Byrne Show you knew you were already late for school. My sister recalls our Mum, tucking the transistor radio under her arm and announcing that she was off to bed with Gaybo, while we were all running out the door. Up the stairs she would go to enjoy two hours with the other man in her life. Like a lot of women of her generation she loved him utterly and completely. My Dad wasn’t quite as keen.
I remembered last week that I was in bed with Gaybo once myself. Well who wasn’t, you will probably say.
I was home sick from work with a sore raspy throat and a temperature. My young children were gone to school and I was in the leaba, listening in a sleepy way to Uncle Gaybo. He was rabbitting on with some expert on sex education. Someone I would have then considered to be an Old Bat.
You might think there had been enough discussion about condoms to last a lifetime. But this was the 1980s and although the Late Late Show had already demonstrated with graphic detail what they were for and how to use them, people still couldn’t get enough about contraception, sex, affairs, and moral dilemmas.
The Old Bat was going on about giving teenagers “the talk” and parents were ringing in with questions. I can’t exactly remember who asked, but someone wanted to know what to say if your child asked “What’s a condom for?”
The Old Bat suggested that parents who didn’t know the answer to a challenging question, could always reply, that “these things were a private matter between a Mammy and Daddy!”
I was suddenly bolt upright in the bed.
Here was the “expert” getting stumped on a most basic question. Imagine if parents in the 1980s had been confronted by far more current and complex questions; sexual identities, porn, consent, abortion, equal marriage? They couldn’t have put it all down to Mammies and Daddies!
In a flash I had picked up the phone and called the Gay Byrne Show number. I’m not sure I knew what I was going to say. But weirdly, in those days you just rang the programme and in a few minutes there you were, on air, talking to Gay himself.
I took issue with the Old Bat’s answer. How could anything a child asks about sex be answered with “it’s a private matter between a Mammy and Daddy?” The whole point of sex education would be to give full and frank answers, within a child’s level of understanding?
Well what would YOU say Gaybo boldly asked me, if YOU were asked that question? I won’t ever have to answer that question, says I, as my kids already know what condoms are for. Haven’t they been running around the house playing with them for years!
I then went on to describe how all kids are full of curiosity. How keeping secrets, even about condoms, from little ones who are jumping in and out of your bed every morning, sitting on your head and rooting through your stuff would be impossible and plain silly.
My chat with Gaybo is a funny memory. I know both he and I got a great laugh out of it. Gaybo also took a shine to my raspy throat and said I sounded like a lovely person and had a gorgeous voice. I haven’t forgotten that little detail, even though the husky tones were gone in a week!
I always felt strongly about the trust between parents and their children. How would they ever learn to believe and value our thinking on anything if we wouldn’t answer their innocent questions truthfully? Didn’t children deserve to be treated with dignity and respect? Aren’t children autonomous people too!
Well no. In those days, children did not have true autonomy or even bodily integrity. Many Irish parents were still slapping and punishing children. They were to be seen and not heard. They were not believed even when they told horror stories about priests. We now know where all that led us.
Sure it’s all old hat now. Hard to even imagine a so-called sex education expert being any kind of novelty. Now that I’m an Old Bat myself, I am at a loss about how to talk to the next generation. “The talk” has gone way beyond “what is a condom.” Imagine, the killing of Ana Kriegel as a starting point for a discussion with a young child?
No one is a perfect parent. No one is a perfect son or daughter. We are a confused and varied bunch of humans. But maybe fundamental trust and honesty between us is the best we can do for starters. And that’s exactly what Uncle Gaybo was all about.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com