WHEN PARENTING gets hard, I sometimes call my mom and dad and ask a simple question: "Why didn't you warn me?"
They never answer. They simply laugh, knowing that I'm getting back a heaping helping of the crap I gave them when I was a kid.
I'm willing to accept my payback, because I know how hard it must've been for my parents when my brother and I were coming up. They endured sleepless nights when we were babies, helped with last-minute homework assignments and fed two teenage boys in high school. But even with all they suffered while raising us, my parents had it easier than we do, because in their day, parents controlled the flow of information.
When I was a kid, parents could fib about every major holiday and life event, and you accepted their words as gospel, primarily because there was no way to cross-check their claims.
"I got this new bike from a guy in a sleigh? Cool!"
"There's a rabbit outside laying eggs for Easter? Wow!"
"The money under my pillow came from a fairy? Great!"
Your parents could tell you that babies came from a hospital takeout counter, or from a bird in the sky, or from a postal truck. You believed all of it, because, well, they were your parents, and it simply had to be true.
To make matters worse, every adult in your life was in on the gag, so if you asked anyone, from your teacher to the mailman, to give you a straight answer, they'd confirm your parents' version of events.
Parents these days can't get away with that. Kids have far too many sources of information. If you tell your children that babies come from a stork, they can Google it, and once they find out you've lied about that, your credibility is pretty much shot.
That makes it pretty difficult to hide stuff from your kids. Some parents still try to do so, and that's an individual decision. Me? I prefer to confront stuff head on, especially if I think my kids have already seen or heard about it someplace else.
Take the latest Rihanna flap, for example. For those of you who have been living under a rock, the beautiful Barbadian R&B singer was recently honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), which presented her with its Fashion Icon award. Rihanna showed up wearing a see-through dress and a thong.
All her assets were on display. She looked naked.
Call me a prude, but I think people should reserve nudity for places like, oh, I don't know, the shower, or the doctor's office, or someplace where everyone else is naked, too. Public events don't qualify for nudity in my book. But hey, that's just me.
As a father with a 12-year-old daughter who has listened to at least one Rihanna song (I made her turn it off once the lines became as explicit as Rihanna's dress), I figured I needed to let my daughter know my feelings on public nudity.
"Did you hear about Rihanna wearing a naked dress on an awards show?" I asked my daughter, Eve, while I was driving her to school.
"No," she said. "What happened?"
At that point I was inwardly kicking myself. Eve hadn't heard about Rihanna's dress, which meant I could've avoided all the forthcoming awkwardness. It had to be addressed, though, so I started stumbling through my spiel.
"Rihanna wore a see-through dress and there was a lot of controversy about it," I began. "Some people think it was OK for her to do that, but I just wanted you to know that your body is precious, and, you know, you shouldn't."
"You don't want me naked in the street. Is that what you're telling me, Dad?"
"Well, yes, it is."
"I wouldn't do that."
"Good, because I love you, and I want you to know how special you are. You never have to do that."
"I know," she said.
I smiled. Then I breathed a sigh of relief, not just because I'd muddled my way through one of many difficult conversations I'm sure I'm going to have with my daughter, but also because of her response.
No matter what she sees on the Internet, or watches on television, or hears on the radio, her ultimate truth still comes from her parents.
I guess things haven't changed that much, after all.