I saw a link to a Huffington Post article today that is about a letter a man sent to his gay son, “disowning” him. I feel like I need to add a little context to this. It’s a shame that hurtful things get said and even worse when they get put into writing, but to take a snapshot of one moment in time and broadcast it can distort reality. And every day when I open my internet browser I see more and more people distorting reality, either for personal gain or to promote their cause or their beliefs or their politics. ENOUGH!
I came out to my parents in 1990, about a week before my 26th birthday. To say it was traumatic for me understates it along the lines of “getting run over by a train is painful”. I literally pissed myself in my sleep the morning I was going to tell them.
(About the song: I chose this mostly because my dad loved this song
and I love songs that make me think about him)
My dad was pretty stoic, with a response that was approximately, “I had a feeling that might be the case.” My mother however, whom I actually told first, sobbed uncontrollably for about 20 minutes. Then when I was trying to have the conversation with my father, she got up and started unloading the dishwasher and putting everything away – not at all quietly. It was 5:30 am.
I went back to California and we pretty much didn’t mention it again for more than two years. That was when I told my parents that I was going to have a commitment ceremony with my partner. I did it in a letter because I had no idea how to open the conversation on the phone when none of us had said the word gay to each other since the day I came out.
A couple of weeks went by. The wedding day was getting closer and I was getting more than a little apprehensive about the reply. It was probably the end of August when I received a letter written by my mother (she signed it "mom and dad") that was only slightly less intolerant than the one on HuffPost, but a page and a half longer. That was August of 1992.
All hell broke loose. I cut off all contact with my parents. My feeling was they had disowned me and I wanted no part of people who wanted no part of me. It was very difficult, but rage is good for giving you resolve. The commitment ceremony came and went in October with no detente in sight.
Then, a week after we got back from our Palm Springs honeymoon, there was a card in the mailbox that was unmistakably my mother’s handwriting. My hands were shaking the the whole way back to the apartment. I had no idea what was going to be inside, but I was imagining the absolute worst.
My partner (it seems somehow not right to use the word husband since we weren’t legally married) offered to open it, but I figured it was unlikely to be anthrax (especially since I didn’t even know what anthrax was in 1992) so I just did it myself.
I don’t remember exactly what was on the front of the card (actually, I remember distinctly that it was Winnie the Pooh sort of walking away looking over his shoulder, but since I don’t have it in front of me I could be remembering totally wrong), but on the inside it just said: We miss you. Love, Mom and Dad.
I’d like to say everything was peaches and cream from that moment forward, but that’s how chick flicks and TV dramedies end. In reality, everything’s a moving target. But we talked. Well, my dad and I talked. My mom was still really uncomfortable with the whole thing, but let’s be honest here. How many people who were raised Catholic aren’t uncomfortable thinking about their parents or kids having sex? And little by little things changed.
When Jody (I’m pretty sure than only his grandmother ever called him that so it seems like a pretty safe pseudonym) and I went to Philly to visit in August of 1993, there were some awkward moments for sure. Like my mom wanting to make sure we didn’t hold hands when we were coming from the car to the house because she didn’t want the neighbors to see. The joke was on her. By that point we were about a month away from breaking up so not holding hands wasn’t much of a burden.
Also, she was apparently more comfortable with my 18-year-old sister’s 28-year-old boyfriend sleeping in her house than she was with us, so we stayed at his apartment and he stayed with them.
However, we had dinner at my parents' house just about every night we were there. My dad spent a good deal of time getting to know Jody (I know that because years later when I would mention him my dad would ask questions about things he knew about him from that visit).
We also spent several nights playing Hearts with my dad and siblings till after midnight. My dad didn’t play cards with just anyone. In fact, if I’d been there alone I probably wouldn’t have been invited – rumor has it I suck at cards.
I was going to start this sentence with “My point is …” but seriously, do I even have to. People do fucked up things. Parents do fucked up things to their kids. Kids do fucked up things to their parents. It doesn’t always mean that those people are fucked up permanently. The problem with uploading that letter onto the internet with no context is that this guy’s dad now has to be that guy forever, whether he wants to be or not.
Sure, he might reconcile with his son. But that letter is going to be showing up for years on social media sites and blogs and whatever technology we invent next month, as a way to beat up on people who are anti-gay. And virtually no one that reads it will have any idea what happened to that family even two hours after the son opened the envelope, let alone 20 years.
20 years after I received my letter, I love my parents. I try to get home to see my mom at every opportunity. I’m pretty sure she knows how much I love her.
Anyone that reads this blog knows that my father is like a god to me. I still miss him every day and I’d give just about anything to spend one more night on the back porch smoking cigarettes with him. I’d even start smoking again if that would do it.