Opinion: Where Do You Draw the Curtain in the Man Cave?

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I put my hand on my teenage son's shoulder at the grocery store the other day.

"Stop that!" he yelled. "People are going to think we're the Ambiguously Gay Duo!"

OK, first of all, someone just lost access to my "Saturday Night Live" DVDs. It's time for "The Andy Griffith Show." Opie never talked to his pa that way.

Second of all, I'm hurt.

This is the kid who yelled "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" every morning before he stomped on my groin and rarely let me go five minutes without giving me the Heimlich maneuver.

"I like to be hugged," I used to tell him. "Just not all the time."

My only consolation was that he would grow out of it. Sigh. He did. He still loves me. I know. But a lot of the time (and almost all of the time in public) I am an embarrassment. I am a middle-aged doofus with a humiliating sense of humor and an annoying tendency to express affection when other people are around.

He has become a paragon of propriety, this kid who used to spend half his life running around the house naked and making "Ghostbusters" jokes with me when we shared public urinals. "Don't cross the streams! It would be ... bad!"

I saw this coming, of course. Teenagers are easily embarrassed, and somewhere around the onset of puberty, the serpent gets them to drink the Snapple that makes them realize nudity is gross. Well, some nudity. They are grossed out by the nudity of relatives and embarrassed by their own. Nudity on TV and movies just makes them giggle nervously.

We live in a man cave. It's just the two of us guys. The rules are slightly different. More bodily noises are allowed -- even celebrated -- these days. The rules were stricter when there was a mother and older sister around. Toilet seat rules have completely fallen by the wayside.

You pays your money, and you takes your chances.

Nonetheless, I was a writing a story the other day about whether or not toddlers should sleep with their parents, and I got to thinking. My son is way past toddlerhood, but what are the rules (even in a man cave) when it comes to personal boundaries and propriety?

Men traditionally don't care about such things.

It has only been in recent years that public men's rooms have included dividers between the urinals so men can't "shop and compare." I was shocked in college to learn the showers in the girls' dorms included separate stalls for privacy.

All we got was one big room and three nozzles.

It always struck me as odd, especially in such a homophobic culture as ours, that boys and men are not supposed to mind exposing themselves to one another in school locker rooms, public restrooms, communal showers and so forth.

But maybe they do mind. I also once wrote a story about how teenage boys often smell because they refuse to shower with the other guys after gym class.

Then there are the dividers between the urinals. There seem to be more and more of them. It could be that males -- politicians with Twitter accounts notwithstanding -- are become a bit more discreet. Good. My gender is not exactly famous for its tact and decorum, so if men are becoming dignified, I will gladly do my part and double check my fly.

Still, we remain weird about nudity in this country. I hate to see us descend even further into Victorian prudery, the hypocritical obsession with propriety on the one hand and pornographic objectification on the other.

I think we could be a little more laid back about the whole thing. And I think my son's attitude is a little ridiculous. I mean, I used to change this kid's diapers. Is it really the end of civilization as we know it if I catch a glimpse of him naked while he walks from the shower to his bedroom?

Would anyone think less of us if I hugged him, or even (God forbid) kissed him, in public?

Still, I take my cues from my son. I keep myself fully clothed at all times. I don't scratch myself anywhere below the waist in his presence. This is a far cry from the fishing trips I took with my own father, let me tell you, let alone the things I saw in my middle school locker room.

Men were men back then. So were boys. They were crude, rude and didn't care how many other guys knew it. Or saw it. Or heard it.

Times have changed and so have standards. I know that. I also know that one day my son will be a little more huggy, a little less embarrassed.

We will probably never make that "Ghostbusters" joke again, but I can live with that.


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.