Why Does The Chicken Cross The Road?

by Donald Wilson on June 5, 2011


Eva's Lemon Chicken

It should not have come as a surprise.  After all, it’s the question parents either dread will come too soon or, even worse, too late.   I really shouldn’t have been surprised in what form the question came.  After all, I have a Latino son and the Latino culture long ago converted virtually every part of the chicken into a literary and graphic representation of our human parts that God chose to cover with fig leaves.   Still, I hadn’t been a dad for very long when Andrew decided to take our afternoon commute in a whole different direction.

“Dad, I have a question,” Andrew started off with what was his most common sentence starter.  “Son, I have an answer,” came my predictable reply.  What came next was not as predictable.

“Dad, why does the rooster climb onto the back of the chicken?”

And just like that, I was engaged in my first “father and son” talk about the birds and the bees.  Well, the roosters and the chickens anyway.

I knew this was a big moment and that NPR needed to quiet down so I could think about my reply.  I also knew enough to only answer the question asked.  Thus, I proceeded with caution and with what I thought might be an answer sufficient in breadth and scope.

“Andrew, do you know how baby chickens are born?”  “Yes, they come from an egg,” he confidently answered.

“Well, that’s why the rooster climbs on top of the chicken.  It’s how the chicken gets pregnant and has a baby chick,” I answered, all the while fearing that this wasn’t going to fly.  It didn’t.

“Yeah, but how does the rooster get the baby into the chicken?

“He doesn’t put a baby into the chicken,” I started to say.  Andrew cut me off, “Then what does he do?”

This I knew.  “You see, Andrew, we eat lots of eggs and none of them have chickens in them.  They’re just eggs.  The rooster puts a seed into the egg and when the seed mixes with the egg, a baby chick starts to form.”

“What kind of seed?”

My own oft given advice of only answering what they asked for didn’t work in keeping the conversation short with Andrew.   Bravely, I forged ahead.  I explained that males have special seeds inside them that have half of everything you need to form a baby.  Andrew likes science and I spoke a little about genes and chromosomes.  I also explained that the egg was the other half of the equation needed to form a baby… any baby.

“Oh, so that’s why the male turtle climbs on the female turtles back too?” Andrew asked as he started to connect the dots.  He sat quietly for a moment and I thought I was out of the woods.  Then Andrew came out with what he must have been wondering all along, “Dad, I get it, but how exactly does the rooster get the seed to the chicken’s egg?”

This was harder than I had imagined it would be.

I started to see why my own parents had chosen to have “the talk” by dropping off a series of books on my night stand, all with a variation on the same title: Dr. Spock Speaks to 6 Years Olds; Dr. Spock Speaks to 7 Year Olds, etc. The series went up to about 13 or so.  I was around nine and read the whole series in just a couple of sittings.  The next “talk” happened when I was twelve and got my hands on a contraband copy of the infamous “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask” by yet another doctor, only this one of dubious origins.  Dr. Spock would have rated it a “speaks to 25 years olds,” but I knocked that one off in one sitting.

It turns out this last doctor was wrong about so many things, and it would be years before I sorted out some of the books more erroneous ideas.  In one section he spoke about gay men having a “compelling urgency” about their love life that was ultimately devoid of love, or as the kind doctor described it “no feeling, no sentiment, no nothing.”  My twelve-year-old mind responded to this idea of “urgency” by deliberately walking “compellingly” slow everywhere I went so that nobody would find out I was gay.    I sadly wonder how the latter information may have affected me as I moved into young adulthood.

Understandably, I wanted to get this right for Andrew.  I was determined that he would always feel comfortable talking to me about anything and I knew this conversation was critical.

However, that wasn’t the only reason for my nervous concern.  Long before Andrew came along, I had given up hope on ever being a father.  I had come to terms with it by allowing the world to lead me to believe that I would not make a fit father.  Now with this precious opportunity to raise Andrew, I wanted to prove that a gay man could raise a “normal” child.  If I screwed up the sex part, I felt I was in big trouble.

“Andrew, you know what a penis is, right?”  “Yes,” came the quick reply.  I could see him squirm just a bit out of the corner of my eye, and now understood why a friend had told me that all the most important parenting conversations will happen while driving.  Hard questions can be asked and answered and you never have to look each other in the eyes.

It was time to go for it, “Well, roosters have a penis too (I was almost sure they do) and with that I launched into a discussion that led him through anatomy, biology, puberty, and every other Latin derivative important to the subject.  We passed through all the bases and I made sure he understood how to get to home base. I’m sure I did Dr. Spock proud, but baseball would never be the same for Andrew.

“Okay.  I get it,” was the extent of a reply that I got after all that work.

“Dad, I have a question.”

Seriously; how long can a commute be?

“How does the sound come on the radio.  Where does it come from?”

Suddenly the conversation was over.  However, I had one more point I needed to make.  Perhaps the one point that had been pressing me most throughout the whole talk.

“I’ll tell you in a second, but first I want you to know something.”  “All right, what?”

He was so over this conversation.

“I want you to know that you can ask me anything you want, no matter what it is.  I promise you, Andrew, that I will always answer your questions and that I will always tell you the truth.   I really mean that.”

I did mean it and I can honestly say that I have kept my word.  However, back then when I said it, I also knew that in the near future I was going to have to answer a much harder question that could shape the future of our relationship.  I was Andrew’s teacher when he came to live with me and second-grade teachers don’t make a habit of coming out to their students.  Andrew was now my son and this was a conversation that would yet have to take place.



My cafeteria manager, Eva, is a German immigrant as well as a passionate cook and we often spar over who cooked what on any given night.  When she first came to this country, she was young and an orphan and when she was seventeen, she ran away from her older brother and sister.  A friend of the family told them that he would find her and somehow he did.  She firmly told him that she was not going to return home.  He was twelve years her senior and told her that he would adopt her.  Her swift reply was, “The last thing I want is a dad, so thank you, but no thank you.”

“Fine,” he replied,  “then I’ll marry you.  You will live with me as a friend, and you will legally be allowed to live in my house.  You will go to school and finish your education, and I will give you a divorce when you turn twenty-one.”

Eva agreed and they married.  For three months they lived as friends, but when he met a woman and told her that Eva was his daughter and not his wife, she became angry and frantic.  Eva decided on another course of action; they will soon be celebrating their 43rd anniversary.

When they were first married, she was such a poor cook that she would make something in the kitchen and when it burned, she would just throw out the entire pan.   Eventually her husband caught on when he continually had to buy more pots and pans.  With his help, she eventually figured it out and went on to become a great cook with a lifelong love of the kitchen.

This past year Eva has relentlessly fought by her husband’s side as he battles cancer.  He’s doing much better, has regained much of his strength, and has a bright prognosis. I’m sure it’s due in part to her constant caring and love.

When you hear Eva talk about her husband, her eyes still sparkle.  I have rarely heard a love story as inspiring as Eva’s, and I hope all my talks about the birds and the bees with Andrew prepare him to someday have his own love story to share.  Perhaps we should change the name from sex education to love education, because from a parental standpoint, that’s really what this is all about.



Hard to photograph appetizingly, but so good when shredded and mixed with the sauce

This is a recipe that can be tinkered with for personal taste, but it is so full of flavor that it quickly became an Andrew Favorite.   The highest compliment that you can get around our house is the “It’s Like Crack” award, which means you can’t stop eating it.  This can be served on the bone with the sauce on top, but it becomes a very kid friendly dish if you take the time to “pull” the chicken before serving.

Eva’s Lemon Chicken

1 cut up chicken

Olive oil or butter for frying

2 onions, chopped

Juice from ½ lemon (see note)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (optional)

3/4 cup water

Freshly ground black pepper


6 egg yolks

Note: I use a lot more lemon juice than what is called for in Eva’s recipe. Andrew and I like a very lemony flavor and I use two lemons or about 1/4 cup lemon juice.  Play around with the amount of lemon to get the right balance for your family.

Sauté onions (and thyme if using) on low temperature until soft and translucent.  Raise the temperature a bit and add chicken and black pepper (we like pepper and I use at least ½ teaspoon).

Fry the chicken until brown, about three to five minutes per side.  Add the lemon juice, salt, and ¾ cup water. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.  It should be almost falling off the bone.  When the chicken is almost ready, beat the egg yolks until thick.  Remove the chicken and let sauce cool a bit.  While sauce is cooling, shred the chicken.  Whisk the egg yolks into the cooled sauce and return chicken to the pan to coat.  It’s important that the pan sauce not be too hot when you add the eggs or the sauce won’t emulsify properly.

Serve over rice or buttered noodles.






Kergan Edwards-Stout June 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Great post!! Can’t wait for the book!

Sarah Hunt June 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm

This reminded me of a friend in the UK who was sitting drinking tea with a girlfriend whilst their 9-year-old daughters played. My friend’s daughter suddenly burst through the door, tugged at her mother’s sleeve urgently and asked, ‘Mummy, mummy, where do I come from?’ My friend had always promised herself that she’d be open and honest when the time came, and so gently began talking about the ‘special cuddle’ she and daddy shared when they wanted a baby. Her daughter listened for a moment and then impatiently interrupted, ‘No, I don’t mean that, I mean where do I come from? Stella says she’s from Bristol originally and so I want to know if I’m from another town as well?’ As you point out, only answer the question your child actually asks!

Carol Wilson June 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Okay – I agree with Andrew….this is just like crack – you can’t stop eating it! Can’t wait to make it again. Maybe tonight? hmmmmmmm…………. And for my generation…thank God for Dr. Spock. 🙂

J Stroik June 18, 2011 at 11:58 pm

I think we underestimate how much children understand from observation and how little they are able to truly broaden that understanding into its full context. Coming out to a child must be fraught with anxiety but I doubt that any child is totally unaware nor totally understanding of the concept. Two stories that happened with my children (now in their mid twenties). I was driving my older son to school ( he was in second grade at the time). We passed a group of parents demonstrating against a gay teacher who taught at his school. He asked me what was going on and I told him that there was a teacher who loved a man instead of a woman just as his father loved me and this was what is meant to be a gay man. He thought a moment and said “that’s so mean of them. How would they like it if someone did that to them.” Compassion and acceptance are concepts that can be learned young. A few years later I was driving this same son and his two years older sister (I’d say about 9 and 11 years old). You are right that these converstations often took place in a car( at least pre cell phones and ipods they did). My son turned to me and said “mom have you ever had sex?” They both knew the basics from early on. My daughter turned to her brother and in her best “know it all older sister voice” said “Of course she has, she’s got three children..she’s had sex three times”. I saved my laughter and the retelling of the story until I could share it with my husband. I felt no need to answer any further at that time. We are brought up to believe that these adult topics we teach our children are the subject of a single conversation. As parents we know that they are a series of conversations and experiences that are built upon and broadened throughout your life with your children. I enjoyed your blog posts very much. All the best for Father’s Day and everyday.

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