Dad Takes Son To Hooters, Stokes Controversy

Read about the trip to Hooters on Bob Elston's blog, and the subsequent op-ed he wrote for USA Today.

Blogger Bob Elston decided to take his 11-year-old son to lunch at Hooters. He talks about the responses he received after blogging about the experience, and how far parents should go to educate their children about sexuality.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

It started as a family lunch at Hooters - the restaurant chain known for serving chicken wings with the side of sex appeal - Bob Elston and one of his friends took their 11-year-old sons after their Saturday morning football game. The well-intentioned dads saw the outing as a way to demystify sex to see how the boys conducted themselves around women.

He posted the - about the experience on his blog, and boy, did he hear about it. Emails accused him of immoral and irresponsible parenting. So parents, your children will inevitably encounter sexually charged material on TV, on the Internet, in the form of suggestively dressed waitresses perhaps. Do you want to be there when they do? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Bob Elston's blog is the - therainracer.wordpress.com. And he joins us today here in Studio 3A. Nice of you to be with us today.

Mr. BOB ELSTON (Blogger; The Rain Racer): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And we should point out this was several months ago that this lunch happened.

Mr. ELSTON: It was a couple of weeks ago.

CONAN: Oh, really?

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah.

CONAN: Oh, I apologize.

Mr. ELSTON: First week of football season.

CONAN: First week of the football season. And not just the boys but your son's grandmother?

Mr. ELSTON: That's right. It was myself, my parents and another dad and then our two boys. In our house, we live three generations under one roof, so we have a lot of adults around that go to football games and stuff.

CONAN: And it is - Hooters, though, some people might not think of it this way, they advertise themselves as a family place, certainly for lunch.

Mr. ELSTON: Well, I know we were surprised when we walked in that there was a lot of kids and families there. That was the first reaction that my son had. He told me that he'd heard of Hooters from his friends but he'd never been there. He was a little curious to see what it was all about. And when we walked in the door, he was surprised to see a lot of kids already there.

CONAN: Uh-huh. 11, on the age of puberty.

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. I would say all ages.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Mr. ELSTON: You know, it was a, you know, a family environment. I don't think there was any age restriction or anything like that.

CONAN: Well, to encapsulate many of your blog responders, what were you thinking?

Mr. ELSTON: Well, I mean I think that one of the main criticisms of me as a parent from people who read my blog was that by taking my 11-year-old son to Hooters, I was encouraging him to objectify women.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ELSTON: And so, I had a discussion with him about the issue of objectifying women. And I actually found it a fairly hard concept to explain to an 11-year-old because I don't think that he grows up in the kind of world where he sees women being objectified in a way that - I mean, he, for example, he lives with four women. He has a sister. He has a mother. He has two grandmothers that live in the house. They're all fairly strong, independent women. And he has women for teachers. I mean, women are all around him in all his life. And I don't really think that he - it was hard for me to explain how people would be concerned that an 11-year-old boy would look at women in any sort of a lustily way.

CONAN: Lustful way.

Mr. ELSTON: Lustful way.

CONAN: Sorry, once an editor, always an editor. I apologize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How did he describe the experience? Did he have a good time?

Mr. ELSTON: You know, I think that he was - I think he thought of the experience mostly as awkward, which is probably natural for an 11-year-old boy. I mean, I think that the fact that he had heard about it from his friends and was curious was a good enough reason for me to take him because as soon as he walked in the door and took one look around, he said: I'm done. And he felt fairly embarrassed through the whole meal. And I think he was probably happy to go back home to his Xbox and back to playing touch football in our cul-de-sac. So, I don't think that he really took a negative message from it.

CONAN: You took a picture of him and his friend with one of the Hooters waitresses who apparently teased him about the football game.

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. That's right. My mother actually took the picture.

CONAN: Uh-uh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And indeed, you ran into some of the coaches of his football team in the restaurant.

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. My son doesn't like to be teased about that sort of -about girls or anything like that - girls, or cheerleaders…

CONAN: Hardly any of us do. Yeah.

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. And so, when he - when his two coaches - the Hooters was next to the field. So when the two coaches walked in after the game, I think he went from embarrassed to mortified.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Has he gotten over it?

Mr. ELSTON: I think he has gotten over it. Yeah.

CONAN: It does happen when you're 11 too. All right. Here's an email from Vanessa(ph) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Where would you have taken your daughter, she asks.

Mr. ELSTON: That's a good question. I brought my daughter along with me. And she actually sat and read through the comments on my blog and asked me some questions about it. At one point she said, people are really angry with you, dad. But I think that, you know, I'm no less interested in my daughter's sexual development and guiding her through these deep waters. So - if there is a female equivalent of Hooters, I don't know what that is exactly, but I…

CONAN: I think we're in Chippendale country here. But that's maybe a little bit more extreme.

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. I think that - well, I think that that's actually one misimpression that keeps coming up is that people assume - people are kind of lumping Hooters in with strip clubs and exotic dancing. And…

CONAN: One of the emails said, are you going to have hookers for his 13th birthday?

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. And my son, on the way down here, commented, he said he could see more at our neighborhood pool than he could at the Hooters.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Our guest is Bob Elston, a blogger who wrote an op-ed for USA Today called Sex Ed and a Trip to Hooters.

And we'll talk first with Jessica(ph). Jessica with us from Bedford in Virginia.

JESSICA (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JESSICA: I'm not going to say I necessarily agree with what your guest did. However, I'm a mother of three daughters, ages six, eight and 10. And they are constantly inundated with sexuality and sexual images now. And to me, that's not a big surprise for children to have that interest. My six-year-old has even put on costumes and says, mom, does this make me look sexy? And so, that just kind of blows me away because that's a very strange conversation to have with a six-year-old, trying to explain what sexy is and what sexy isn't. So I think Hooters is a bit overt in terms of sexuality, but I think children are faced with it everyday already.

CONAN: And any effort to - do you try to use those moments, Jessica, to try to demystify this if you can?

JESSICA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I suppose everything should be a teaching moment. I work in the field of health and health promotions, so I really try to stress to the girls that the physical aspect of things is not it. That there's a lot more physically inside that is good and good to focus on. And I also try to explain to them that TV and magazines, that a lot of that is not real, that it's made up to look really attractive. And so, I try to stress that to them. Whether that sticks or not, I don't know.

CONAN: Yeah. It's difficult to figure out sometimes. And indeed, it took us - you and me, Jessica - a long time to figure it out, too, I suspect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JESSICA: Oh, yeah. Definitely.

CONAN: Yeah.

JESSICA: Definitely.

CONAN: I think I'm still trying to figure it out. Jessica, thanks very much for the phone call.

JESSICA: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye, bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Bob(ph). Bob with us from Aberdeen in South Dakota.

BOB (Caller): Hi. I don't think what Bob did was out of line. I think there's a fine line between celebrating the differences between men and women, and exploiting women. I think exploitation, a lot of times, is defined by the taboo that we've surrounded sexuality with in this country. We have more child molesters, sexual predators and everything because of the taboo that we surrounded sexuality with. And people are naturally drawn to the taboo. If you go to European countries, where children openly see nude women on beaches and on television, they don't have the taboo surrounded with sexuality. They don't have problems like we do with child molesters and the things of that nature, and sexual perverts. They grow up with it comfortably and they're experiencing it while they're with their parents.

CONAN: Having lived in London for four years with two small children, I think you may have an idealized picture of European society.

BOB: Well, you know something, I think it's kind of idealized calling England, part of Europe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOB: If the - but if you go a little more - a little deeper into real Europe, it's - for example, Spain and France and Italy, children grow up comfortably with their own sexuality.

CONAN: I regret to report that there are sex crimes committed in all of those countries, perhaps not at the same level in this country. I'm willing to grant you that. Nevertheless, it's not a perfect place. So, let's not get too carried away. But thanks for the call.

BOB: Okay.

CONAN: Bye-bye. There is all kinds of responses you got. And I must say not all of them were negative, Bob.

Mr. ELSTON: Yeah. I would say it was about split down the middle, 50-50. One of my favorite responses came from a mother somewhere who said that her kids play on a football - on a youth football team and their coaches had told them, the team, if they win the championship, they can all go to Hooters together and that their Hooters is about a hundred miles away from home.

CONAN: Oh, so that's a big trip. Yeah.

Mr. ELSTON: So apparently, I'm not the only football dad who, you know, stops at Hooters on the way home from the game.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Were you surprised by the level of response to this? I mean, does - anything else you've written got anything similar?

Mr. ELSTON: Well, I mean, I think that - I knew once you put 11-year-old and Hooters in the same sentence that the responses would be larger than what anything else that I can write about on my blog. But, you know, there are so many interesting parenting issues out there that are probably more important than this one, but they don't get the same kind of bounce that this one does because of the sex element is involved.

CONAN: We're talking with Bob Elston, a blogger, who wrote an op-ed for USA Today, Sex Ed and a Trip to Hooters. He's been kind enough to join us here today in Studio 3A. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION which is coming to you from NPR News.

And let's go next to Britain(ph), I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly, in Reno.

BRITAIN (Caller): Yes, you are.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

BRITAIN: I really didn't want to call and say if I think it's a good or a bad thing that he did. Personally, from my point of view, I just like to say that I'm glad that you took a parenting aspect of this and actually addressed the kid's curiosity, as opposed to letting them, you know, try to figure something out on their own, or let their imaginations run wild. I thought you took it head-on and addressed it as a parent. And myself, having two boys that aren't quite at that age, you know, people forget what it's like to be a kid and, you know, everyone's going to be curiosity and they have somebody next to you to work you through it, I think is a wonderful thing.

Mr. ELSTON: Well, I think that, you know, no matter what side of this issue that you come down on - all of us who are parents all have the same goal and that is to raise our kids to have a healthy attitude about sex and to have the ability to make good decisions further down the line when mom and dad aren't there to hold their hand. And all of us parents have to figure out, you know, our own separate routes to that common end goal.

CONAN: And whether they're - and none of them, I suspect, will be perfect.

Mr. ELSTON: No, I mean, I think if - you know, there's no magic formula for parenting. And if we weren't allowed to make mistakes as parents, then, you know, what fun would it be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Britain, thanks very much for the call.

BRITAIN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Sara(ph). Sara's with us from Chouteau in Oklahoma.

SARA (Caller): Yes. I love your show, by the way.

CONAN: Thank you. That's kind of you.

SARA: I have two young children, they are six and five, and they're boys. And my six-year-old likes a little girl because her eyes are sparkly, you know, that's what he tells me. And we take a religious aspect and it's very important for us when we talk about people and when - and because, you know what, he's six years old. He notices, you know? It's obvious, you know? Everyone's attracted to a pretty face. And as long as you make them human beings and - that they have a life and that they have emotions, and I'm speaking of women of course, that it is almost impossible to objectify when you view someone as a person and when you look at them individually and in that manner. That's really the aspect that my husband and I try to take.

CONAN: That's an interesting call, Sara. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

SARA: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. One of the things you said in your blog was that in fact, your next effort might be to talk to some of these women who work at Hooters.

Mr. ELSTON: I actually had a couple of Hooters waitresses comment on my blog, and so, I haven't had a chance to talk to one myself. But what they said was, I think that they took issue with the fact that some people who disapprove of Hooters also make the assumption that bad people must work there. And, you know, one of the people that commented said, hey, I love my job. I'm good at it and I'm making money to go to school, so, you know, who can fault her for that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We remember that Gloria Steinem, of course, the ardent feminist, as a younger woman, worked as a Playboy bunny.

All right. Here's an email. This from Christopher(ph) in Moorhead, Minnesota. Your guest commented, his son said that he could see more at the swimming pool. The difference is that women at the pool are there to swim and not paid to look sexy for men. So I guess that's a - that can't be disputed.

Let's see if we can get Jennifer(ph) on the line. Jennifer is calling us from Brighton in Michigan.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to, I guess, sort of - and this is even a little bit of a complicated concept for me to kind of tease out in my mind, but I sort of view Hooters and those types of phenomena as more of like a stand-in for sexuality rather than as any kind of like real sexuality in our society.

CONAN: Oh, they're hardly explicit.

JENNIFER: Well, yeah. Well, no, I mean, in the sense that it doesn't really have anything to do with, like, authentic human relationships, like the way people relate to each other, you know, in an intimate relationship. And so, I just - I guess, you know, I certainly don't judge the dad for taking his son to Hooters, and I would have no right to anyway because I actually don't have children of my own. But I just - I'm kind of wondering, I guess, how useful it is in terms of actually illuminating anything for his son about real, I guess, genuine human relationships. But the fact that it's sparked a discussion between the two of them about objectifying women, you know, certainly sounds like it was useful. So I'm not sure if I'm making any sense, but, you know…

CONAN: No, you're doing fine, Jennifer. Bob?

Mr. ELSTON: I would say, in my situation, my son, he knew about Hooters and he was curious to go there. But once he went there, he didn't think it was that big of a deal and is in no rush to go back. So, I mean, from the parenting perspective, that's a pretty good scenario. I mean, I have no regrets for taking him. And the fact that he walked in there, got a look at the place and made a judgment about it, is probably - you know, having the direct experience of doing that is better than leaving it to his own imagination and whatever his friends might be able to conjure up for him about what goes to a place - what goes on in a place that they've never been to.

CONAN: Yeah. Jennifer, thanks very much for the call.

JENNIFER: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Bob Elston, thank you very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. ELSTON: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Bob Elston's blog is therainracer.wordpress.com and he joined us today here in Studio 3A.

Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: Science Friday. We'll see you again on Monday. I'm Neal Conan, NPR News, in Washington.

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