It was like a casting call for The Bachelor: The Early Years.
My wife Brandy and I found it equal parts funny and awkward that our oldest son Jackson turned his eighth birthday party into an almost exclusively female event: six girls, one boy.
However, I was in no position to judge. In fact, in that moment, surrounded by barrettes and ponytails, Jackson reminded me of myself. You see, I was a fifth-grade polygamist.
When I was 10 years old, I had two girlfriends at the same time: Klara, the sweet, blonde preacher’s daughter, and Amy, the athletic, competitive brunette. And this wasn’t some clandestine operation. My parents knew about it. Our teacher knew about it. Our friends knew about it. Now here I am handing out goody bag after goody bag filled with sparkly pink pens and a sheet of butterfly stickers. Would history repeat itself? It couldn’t. It was clear: The time had come to face my past.
Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, I tracked them both down. Amy is a physical therapist and mother of two living happily in Arizona. We were each other’s first kiss. I told her I only remember holding hands with Klara. “I guess I was the easy one,” Amy says with a laugh.
After a lightning round of who’s-where-doing-what, Klara and I began piecing together the sordid history of our dysfunctional trio, which was like a G-rated version of Fleetwood Mac’s Behind The Music.
The two of us were a steady couple until that fateful recess, the one where Klara stayed behind to catch up on homework while a gaggle of us wandered off to the baseball field. It was there that Amy and I went to first base, and went to first base.
“I was devastated,” Klara says, “but after that, everyone acted like it was OK.” After our conversation, Klara sent me a couple love letters from that time period. “I feel really stupid for the way I’ve been treating you,” 10-year-old Shawn wrote. “I’m really depressed!!!!” (Do emotionally distraught people really use that many exclamation points?) I closed one of the letters with, “P.S: Don’t think of A+S. Think of K+S.” Nice. I turned my sappy apology into advertising jingle.
Klara has three children, including a daughter in fifth grade. Now that she has a child that age, what are her observations of young love? “I believe the lessons she learns now are the ones she’ll take into adulthood,” she says. “I don’t think adults give kids enough credit for feeling as deep as they do.”
There’s no waiting to coach my sons on how to treat girls. The right moment is every day, always, now. Teaching good manners now means holding the door open later. Taking care of Brandy—protecting her, complimenting her, listening to her—means they’ll always know what love looks like.
If and when my boys do mess up, they can do what their old man did: write the kind of love letter she’ll keep for 25 years.