Susan: I absolutely love this Thai restaurant you have here, Jan. Thai food is just about my favorite, but where your father and I are living now there’s no decent Thai restaurant within 50 miles.
Jan: Well then, Mom, you’ll just have to visit us more often. Of course, we’re much more than 50 miles away for you, but I’d hope you come to visit for more than just the restaurants!
Susan: Certainly, dear. Bill and I are always delighted to hear first-hand from you on how everyone in your family is getting along – especially the kids.
Jan: I know you are, Mom, and all of us are just as happy to have you visit.
Susan: So, where should we begin? What’s new with Danielle and Sean?
Jan: Well, Danielle is getting really involved with the swimming team she’s on. Dave and I would never have guessed, but she’s turned out to be a real champion at swimming. Now that summer’s here and it’s warm enough to use our pool, she spends an hour or two every day just working at improving her speed and technique.
Susan: That’s wonderful. Has all that effort paid off for her?
Jan: Yes, absolutely. She’s regularly now the best swimmer on her team, and consistently comes in with the best or second best times when competing with other teams. But she’s still annoyed that she doesn’t come in first all the time.
Susan: You must be so proud of her. Winning competitions is a great thing – provided it’s not her only goal in life. Does Sean share his sister’s enthusiasm for swimming?
Jan: No. He does enjoy swimming too, but he knows that there’s no way he can compete with Danielle – at least not for a long time. And he doesn’t have nearly as much competitiveness as Danielle. But that’s fine. Sometimes we think Danielle is just a little too competitive. We’d like her to be a bit more well rounded. She doesn’t even seem to have started being more interested in boys, although most of her friends definitely have. Perhaps that’s because she’s better at swimming than most of the boys her age.
Susan: Well, that’s probably a good thing. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the future. Most girls seem to get interested in boys much too soon, I think.
Jan: I agree, definitely. Dave and I both think that Danielle’s focus on swimming instead of boys is certainly a good thing. Now Sean, on the other hand, is interested in a lot of different things, especially academic things. He’s always reading something or other: science, history, travel – you name it. And he’s gotten very involved with collecting things – especially rocks, model space ships, and pictures of birds.
Susan: In other words, fairly typical boy things, although the interest in birds might be a little unusual.
Jan: Perhaps, but the interest in birds is something relatively new. The rest of us joke that he may be a budding ornithologist, because he’s so serious about it. His interest in birds does affect what we do as a family, though, because he’s always bugging us to take him to someplace new where he can find new birds to identify. He can tell almost immediately when he’s come across some type of bird he’s never seen before – and he’s almost always right about what type of bird the new sighting is. He must be able to identify 100s of different species now. We’ll probably do a number of camping trips this summer just so he can look for some new type of bird.
Susan: Well, you know, both of your kids seem to take their respective interests very seriously. This is a family trait, you know. A couple of my siblings and many of my cousins are the same way. It sounds like your family fits the pattern pretty well. And that’s not a bad thing, assuming these interests don’t evolve into obsessions.
Jan: Dave and I feel the same way. We’re glad that our kids have interests that keep them fully occupied, so that they never seem bored, or never waste too much time in watching TV or playing computer games. Wait, I should take that back slightly. Sean does occasionally play some sort of space adventure games that his friends like, but he’s not very addicted. Between the two of them, they keep Dave and me pretty busy – either taking Danielle to swimming practices and competitions or Sean somewhere he can look for birds he hasn’t added to his “lifetime” list.
Susan: How about Dave? Has he developed any new avocations or enthusiasms of his own recently?
Jan: Um, not much, really. His job keeps him pretty busy, not to mention everything he and I have to do to help the kids pursue their own interests. Oh, well, I guess there is one new thing that’s come up, and it doesn’t really consume a lot of his time. I suppose I’ll have to tell you about this eventually.
Susan: Oh, does your hesitancy indicate something you’d perhaps not care to talk about?
Jan: Maybe. But I’m afraid I’d better talk about it, just so it’s no surprise if the subject eventually comes up, as it probably will.
Susan: I hope it’s nothing too bad, like a health matter or something else that might be a problem for you or your family. If it’s anything you’d rather not discuss right away, I’ll understand.
Jan: No, I’ve been thinking about how to tell someone else about this, and now that I’ve tipped my hand, I guess I’d better bring it up. See, a few weeks ago I asked Dave what I thought was an innocent question, about something that came for him in the mail – a magazine that came in a plain white envelope. I wasn’t suspicious or anything about it, just curious – figured it was probably just a catalog related to one of his hobbies. I remembered that Dave had received something like it one or two times earlier, and didn’t really pay much attention. But I never bothered to ask about it before.
Susan: So, what was it?
Jan: Um, well, it was a magazine from an organization that promotes something they call “naturism” – what most of us would refer to as “nudism”.
Susan: Oh, is that all? Just about people who like to go around without wearing any clothes sometimes? Don’t hear much about that sort of thing these days. Except for people who are trying to promote some cause or other, like protesting for animal rights or against excessive dependency on driving in congested cities. And also people who enjoy being naked in their own homes – but people don’t tend to talk too freely about what they do pretty much privately. Doesn’t seem like a very big deal to me. Does Dave want to experiment with being a nudist?
Jan: To put it briefly: yes. We’ve had several conversations about it, and he’s let me read the naturist magazines he’s received. He makes naturism sound very practical, sensible, enjoyable, and even healthful, both physically and mentally. Not that he’s actually had the confidence to try it yet. Apparently most of what he “knows” about naturism is what he’s learned from the magazines and many things he’s read on the Internet.
Susan: Has Dave told you what steps he’s considering in order to experiment with nudism to see whether he might enjoy it?
Jan: I didn’t ask him that right away, and maybe he didn’t have specific ideas, or perhaps he didn’t want to mention them out of understandable concern about what my reaction would be.
Susan: I hope he gives you at least a little advance notice when he decides to do something. Surely you’d want to weigh in on his plans.
Jan: Yes, of course. And the kids should know too.
Susan: What was your initial reaction on learning of Dave’s interest in nudity?
Jan: Well, I didn’t really know how I should react. I mean, from what I’ve since learned it doesn’t seem that going naked sometimes and doing the things that naturists say they like to do is especially illegal, immoral, or fattening. But personally, I just couldn’t fathom why people would be interested in that sort of thing – except, of course, if there’s a sexual angle to it. And Dave, the magazines, and what I’ve read about it on the Internet all claim there’s nothing sexual about it.
Susan: I think that’s credible. I’ve read a few articles in newspapers or magazines about things that a few people like to do naked, such as naked yoga, and even getting their naked bodies painted right in the middle of Times Square – if you can imagine that. Some people also claim there are health benefits and psychological benefits, such as accepting your body as it is and not being ashamed of it. But they always emphasize that – in their opinion – it isn’t sexual.
Jan: Yeah, Dave has mentioned such things to me in our discussions. So for the sake of argument I’ll assume that doing such things naked isn’t sexual. But even then I still can’t understand why most people would want to take it seriously and actually do a lot of things without wearing any clothes. Going to nude beaches, or swimming in a private pool, or getting an all-over tan, perhaps. But I just can’t comprehend the appeal of being completely naked to socialize with other people, go camping or hiking, or participate in sports. It just seems pretty weird to me. Sure, it evidently appeals to some people – including Dave, I’m afraid. But right now it’s more than my fairly conventional mind can boggle.
Susan: Has Dave pursued this interest in nudity since your first discussion?
Jan: Yes. In fact, after checking with me he’s increasingly been naked around the house and in the back yard, including the pool. Fortunately, our back yard is fairly private, though neighbors might see in a little from a few angles. Of course, I’m completely used to seeing Dave naked in our bedroom and bathroom, and he’s just as used to seeing me naked there. We’ve never been especially hesitant about being naked with each other – in the usual circumstances. So I told him I don’t mind if he’s naked as much as he likes when it’s just the two of us.
Susan: What about when your kids, or anyone else, is around?
Jan: Well, that’s where I asked him to draw the line. I’m rather concerned what the effect on either Danielle or Sean might be if Dave were naked around them. And regarding anyone else – let’s not even discuss that step yet. Maybe it’ll never come to that. I know Dave wants to be cooperative, so he agreed to that restriction. However, now that it’s summer, there’s seldom any reason to wear clothes just to be warm. And on top of that, the kids are out of school, so they’re around much more of the time. So I know Dave isn’t too happy about the restriction.
Susan: OK, so what concerns do you have about your kids seeing Dave naked often or even occasionally? I can imagine what those might be, but can you be more specific?
Jan: Fair enough. I think Danielle and Sean have had good sex education in school. Both Dave and I have also seen to it that they have other things to read on the subject. So they know most of what they ought to know about sexual anatomy. I’m not worried that either of them will freak out or react badly if their father’s genitals were often on display. But, I don’t know, they might easily draw the wrong conclusions about what Dave’s intentions are by going naked around them. Let’s just leave it at that.
Susan: Are you afraid that simply seeing one of their parents naked often could be psychologically harmful somehow?
Jan: According to the little I’ve read about naturism so far, the claim is that there’s very unlikely to be any harm to kids from seeing either of their parents naked often. But I can’t help thinking it’s a fairly risky thing. Why run that risk?
Susan: Fair question. I suppose it depends on whether there are also potential benefits too. Are you also worried they might get interested in going naked themselves, either at home, where at least you can supervise them, or possibly elsewhere you might not know about?
Jan: Yeah, I suppose so. I can’t even guess whether being naked either inside or outside our home might sooner or later appeal to them. However, Danielle and Sean could be concerned about having friends visiting our home if Dave were likely to be naked. Or – however unlikely – if I were too. For instance, their friends’ parents might object to that. And even if that weren’t a problem, our kids might well not want to be naked themselves around their friends, for fear of simply being considered weird, perhaps dangerously so. Casual nudity around anyone who’s not very closely related is so uncommon – or thought to be – that the strangeness of it is enough to scare most people I’d think. Wouldn’t you agree?
Susan: Jan, I have a confession to make. I’ve never talked with you about this subject, since bringing it up never seemed relevant. But I guess I’d better let you in on a few things at this point. I don’t think that my parents were nudists, not exactly anyhow. It’s possible that they had visited nudist places or nude beaches at times, but they never revealed that to me, or to my siblings as far as I know. However, my earliest memories are that everyone in my immediate family was pretty casual about nudity. Before I was in kindergarten I usually wore little or nothing at home, and to some extent or other my older siblings and my parents did likewise. So even being completely naked at home seemed pretty normal to me. I never as much as questioned it. If anyone happened to be naked, then that was fine and hardly worth noticing.
Jan: Wow. I’m surprised you never mentioned that to me. Was it like that the whole time you were growing up?
Susan: No, only for my first few years. We kids were often naked at home when we were young if we wanted to be. Being naked from time to time just wasn’t unusual, especially during the warmer parts of the year. But as we became old enough to go to school, we gradually began to stay dressed more of the time, since as far as we could tell that’s what almost everyone outside the family did.
Jan: Did your parents actually tell you that nudity wasn’t as normal as you’d assumed it was?
Susan: Yes, but they didn’t make a big deal about it. They simply said that wearing clothes was the custom with most people both inside and outside of their families, and that it’s just considerate to be respectful of other people’s customs.
Jan: Were your parents often naked when only others in the family were around?
Susan: Less and less as time went on. Since I’m the youngest, they were naked less than, oh, maybe a quarter of the time when I was the age of your kids. I eventually caught on that the older someone is, the less likely they are to be naked. I realized that my parents and older siblings weren’t naked as often as the younger ones in the family. And we realized pretty quickly that the enjoyment of being naked after a young age was almost unheard of in the families of our friends. Certainly nobody ever said otherwise. Yet we were never surprised to see either of our parents naked. And we never objected.
Jan: But if you didn’t know other families where nudity was enjoyed, weren’t you curious about that?
Susan: Sure. My older sibs asked them why it didn’t seem like anyone else’s family enjoyed nudity. So they explained that nudity was sort of a taboo in our society, at least away from immediate family. They said this was unfortunate, since they considered nudity to be just fine, and there was nothing inherently wrong with being naked, provided everyone “behaved” themselves properly. They lamented, however, that the enjoyment of nudity was simply a matter of personal preference, and sadly, that preference was too uncommon in our society.
Jan: So that’s why you and your siblings eventually didn’t continue to go naked, at least outside of immediate family?
Susan: Yep. Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. As my sibs and I got older there were friends visiting more often, and it was awkward – even embarrassing – to explain why there would be naked kids around. Even if our friends could accept that, they’d probably tell their parents and others that nudity was common in our family. There were certainly various times this caused problems. But most of our friends didn’t seem to mind our nudity, and their parents usually were still willing to let them visit. In fact, some said they wished their parents would let them go naked at times. I know of some friends who actually got permission. Our parents would usually be asked about the nudity. They always assured everyone who asked that “proper” behavior was insisted upon, and this assurance was generally accepted.
Jan: I have no difficulty seeing how that would be pretty tricky to deal with – so that the hassles could become distracting enough to reduce time spent naked as time went on. I’d definitely worry about that if Dave or my kids wanted to be naked while there were visitors.
Susan: Right. Basically, I guess, we wanted to “fit in” with everyone else, and there didn’t seem to be anywhere outside our family home where nudity was as well tolerated. So we came to think that while our family’s tolerance of nudity was fine, it wasn’t “normal” in most families. Our parents didn’t discuss nudity very explicitly with us, so we never realized there was this thing called “nudism”, where enjoying nudity was an actual option in the “real world” under “appropriate” conditions. Consequently, we didn’t understand there are ways we could continue to go naked if we wanted to.
Jan: And so you and Dad never established the same tolerance of nudity in our family as you experienced while growing up?
Susan: Yes. And now I kind of regret that, especially since you seem to be having trouble getting used to Dave’s interest in casual nudity. I think Bill and I made a mistake in that respect. In fact, it wasn’t anything we even seriously discussed. The subject hardly ever came up. See, Bill grew up in a family quite unlike mine – one that had much the same disapproving attitudes towards nudity – except for very young children – as the rest of our society. He did make disapproving remarks when he read news reports of people going naked in public or even with others at nude beaches or nudist clubs. Rather unkind things like “Most people look pretty bad without any clothes on, so nobody wants to see them.” So it didn’t seem worthwhile to tell him about my family or argue about whether there was anything wrong with nudity among people who enjoy it.
Jan: So I assume nobody in your family has ever been naked or even discussed nudity in Dad’s presence.
Susan: Not that I can recall. I’ve told them how Bill feels. Our parents didn’t raise dummies. They’re all quite aware of our society’s prevalent attitudes concerning nudity, and they try not to impose nudity on anyone for whom that would be unwelcome. Occasionally I’ve considered telling Bill how nudity was common in my family when I was growing up, and the fact that my parents continued to enjoy nudity. But I always decided against that, so we didn’t follow my family’s example when raising you and your siblings. I’m afraid I have to apologize for that, in view of how you’re now having this issue with Dave.
Jan: I guess that means Dad might not be too happy if he finds out anyone in my family gets seriously interested in being naked a lot.
Susan: Yes, that could be. But that certainly shouldn’t influence what you and Dave decide to do about nudity in your family. That really isn’t any of Bill’s business. And I won’t hesitate to tell him that if the issue comes up.
Jan: Well, the history is all water over the dam now. Dave and I have raised our kids pretty much the way Dad and I were raised, as opposed to your own experience. Even if I should decide that casual nudity isn’t so much of a problem as I’ve assumed, isn’t it too late to adopt a much more tolerant attitude towards nudity the way Dave appears to be interested in?
Susan: I’m afraid I can’t answer that for you, dear. You and Dave will need to work it out between yourselves. I’ll just say this: I don’t believe that the casual nudity my siblings and I experienced growing up had any bad effects on us that I’m aware of. Perhaps, however, we’re not a typical example. So you’ll have to figure out what’s best for the four of you.