The Facts of Life, an Essay by Ferdinand Hunter

Ferdinand Hunter | Essay, Humor

I can so distinctly remember getting the facts of life speech from my father shortly after my 11th birthday. I was a big reader and my father had surprised me with a classic book-of-the-month series. It was all well and good with Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn and A Farewell to Arms, but The Decameron, written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, changed the equation that was my understanding of literature and of sex. This is the book that inspired Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales, which is great work of literature, but let’s be honest and admit that it is often remembered by readers for its more profane parts. The Decameron, which in my opinion surpasses The Canterbury Tales in terms of greatness and sexual frankness, contains 100 tales told by 7 young women and 3 young men trying to hole up in a series of secluded villas as the attempt to avoid the Black Death. Some of the tales are tragic, but many of them are remarkably erotic stories, featuring the amorous peccadilloes of nuns and priests. My father was familiar with this great work of literature and its eroticism. Before he would hand the book over he asked me to drop by his office for a talk. The talk.

The thing that adds to the awkwardness was the fact that my father was a United Methodist minister and his office was at the church. For some reason, still unknown to me, my father had decided to dramatically up the awkwardly ecclesiastical ante by wearing a muted gray suit and a clerical collar. Never has a Protestant looked so intimidatingly priestly. He usually wore neckties. My father was never a flashy man, but he definitely had style. His personality appeared in colorful pocket squares and socks. Was this all for my benefit? Fire, brimstone, and intimidation were never his style. He was a liberal modernist after all. Nonetheless, we had the talk-to-end-all-talks on holy and consecrated ground.

Imagine, if you will, being an 11-year-old boy, sitting across from your minister father, not making eye contact, so instead you have to look just above his head at the painting of the crucified Christ. You take in Jesus’ gaunt face, which is tilted down and to the right and his blue bloodshot eyes peer down from Golgotha at the Marys, who kneel at his feet to pray for the end of the suffering, as your father tells you in glorious Technicolor the story of sex, complete with diagrams and stick-figure illustrations.

Move to left, Jesus sees you.

Move to right, Jesus sees you.

“Quit it! Jesus stop looking at me!” you think.

“What’s the matter?” my father asked, craning his neck to peer behind him.

“No matter where I move it seems like Jesus is still staring at me,” I confess.

“I know. I know,” he sighs. “It’s creepy and comforting at the same time.”

Then he paused, took a deep breath, and began.

“You see, son, when a man and a woman love each other….”

Ferdinand Hunter is a writer of Creative Non-Fiction, as well as an Eng/Humanities Community College professor. He has a MFA from Brown University in Literary Arts as well as a Master of Liberal Studies degree from Arizona State University.

Photo Credit: John Wisniewski: “Stained-glass window, Community United Methodist Church, 100 Park Boulevard, Massapequa, New York.” Unaltered image licensed via a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution/No Derivatives license.