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Family Cruise: Joe on Sex & Love

BANGKOK, Thailand – Now that I'm nearing 50 and can only attract women who are desperate or with cataracts, I increasingly rely upon my handsome boy to let me live vicariously. It is every aging father's secret joy: to see a pretty girl looking into your son's eyes, and know his twinkle is partly your own, to overhear her giggling at his jokes and realize it is your same sense of humor that's seducing her. It makes you feel you've still got it, if only by association.

Thailand is where men of all ages go not just to feel like they've still got it, but to actually get it. This is one of the most sexually accommodating countries on earth. Even its communities' names (Bangkok, Phuket, Phetchabun...) sound suggestive. Everywhere you look—beaches, hotel lobbies, in the backs of sputtering tuk tuks—you see lithe young Thai girls wrapped around Caucasian men. And if you're feeling a bit stiff, there are more massage parlors in downtown Bangkok than there are Starbucks in Manhattan.

Since the ship will be docked overnight in the port of—here's another one: Laem Chabang—with Bangkok 75 miles away, Paul and I decide to reserve a room at the Oriental Hotel and enjoy a night on the town. My plan is to visit Patpong, the city's infamous red-light district, and saunter like drunken frat brothers with my son along its seedy thoroughfares.

But finding your boy some action, even in Bangkok, is a tricky thing.

When a cab pulls up after dinner later that evening and I have the chance to say "Patpong, please," something unexpected happens. I hesitate. Do I really want to end up in some sleazy club with my son cheering a ping-pong match miraculously played without paddles or net? Do I want the boy who once sat in my lap to witness a baby of another sort sitting there? And perhaps most worrisome, do I want my son risking an STD? I know, I know, I'm sounding more like his father and less like his bud, which runs counter to this whole experiment. But I can still vividly recall my dad showing up at my strip-club bachelor party and how awkward and embarrassed we both felt.

And most important of all, do I want to encourage him to view women in this way—as commodities, playthings, disposable dolls?

So I chicken out. I tell the cabbie to take us back to the hotel, and I'm snoring by midnight. The next day Paul ribs me about being over-the-hill, but he doesn't seem disappointed.

What was I thinking anyway? Sons don't want their fathers' lessons about sex. They don't want to hang with us on a Saturday night. Not only is it too uncomfortably personal, but what makes us experts? Most of us are getting it so infrequently that we've stopped thinking clearly and end up in places like Bangkok. Better to steer them to brothers and bartenders for more pertinent advice.

But that does not mean fathers are without influence when it comes to sex and especially love. Even though sons rarely look it (especially during their teen years), they are aware. They observe. I'm hoping that through the years Paul has noticed the simple fact that I've loved only one woman, his mother, and remained true. Unfortunately, I have no magic checklist to share with him, no guidelines for recognizing "the one." My only advice lies in what I have, and now haven't, done.

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