Monday, August 13, 2012
Parenting: Fair warning - I'm going to break away from the usual videogames and TV talk tonight in order to tackle something much more serious, and more personal. I'm not sure if I should put some sort of trigger warning here for those of you who look out for that sort of thing, but just be aware that this blog post might be not for everyone.
So, THIS LETTER has been making the rounds on the Internet over the last week or so. If you haven't seen it, it's a handwritten note from a father to his son, effectively disowning him for being gay. It's a pretty terrible thing to see, and ever since I read it, I've been thinking about something that happened to me in my own past... not quite the same thing, but along similar lines.
I must have been about six or so, and I was living in California at the time. My father called me into the living room and said he wanted to talk to me about something.
If I close my eyes, I can recall many small details about that exact moment. The way the furniture was arranged, the sunny day outside the window, my toys scattered around and under the legs of the dinner table where I had been playing. My dad was sitting on a chair, and I was on the floor in front of him.
This talk we were about to have was a short one, but I've never, ever forgotten it. I have absolutely no idea what made him want to have this talk on this day, but he wasted no time in getting to the point.
“If you turn out to be gay, I will kill you. I will blow your head off with a shotgun.”
That was the entire conversation.
Was I in trouble? What did I do? I didn't say anything at the time, but I remember breaking out into a sweat and nodding my head, then immediately wondering if I should be shaking it instead of nodding. Whatever response I was supposed to give, I ended up just wandering back over to my toys and staying out of sight.
I don't think the subject ever came up after that day and we never had this talk again, but I lived in constant fear of “being gay” for quite some time after wards, despite the fact that I knew I wasn't. In fact, as far as I could tell, I had never given my parents any reason to think that I might be. Even so, I was utterly frightened that I would one day wake up, discover that I was gay, and then... what?
I'm not sure, really.
Was I convinced that my father would actually murder me with his gun?
It's hard to say. Part of me wants to think that it was just talk, but the very fact that he took the time and set me down to inform me of this extreme viewpoint gives me pause, not to mention that my father actually did have a shotgun at this time. It was an older double-barreled model that he kept in the garage near a box of shells, stored out in plain sight. I would touch it sometimes… I was always a little surprised at how cold the metal stayed, and how long the gun was.
And heavy. It was quite heavy, at least to my six-year-old arms.
As I look back on it now, though, I don't think it was really the threat of death that bothered me the most… I think what disturbed me more was the underlying message. The same core message that’s illustrated in the letter I mentioned at the beginning of this post -- the idea that a son could do something or be something so distasteful that a father would cut all ties one way or another, and be done with him.
Would that happen to me? Would I have to constantly mind my P's and Q's for fear of no longer having anyone to count on? Would I mistakenly fuck up one day, and then find myself all on my own? Knowing that this bond could be severed so casually rocked my world, and put my entire life into a different perspective.
It's been more than thirty years since I had that talk with my dad, and I'm now a father myself. I've got two boys, and every single day I remind myself that I want to be a better father to them than mine was to me. It may be a cliché for someone to say "I'm going to do the opposite of what my parents did", but in my case, that's what I strive to do, and it leads me in the right direction.
When my wife and I talk to our kids, we make a point to tell them over and over that no matter who they are or what they do, we will always support and accept them. When we talk about their future and the possibility of them getting married, we always say "when you find the right partner" instead of "wife", just in case. When we are out with GLBT friends, we take time to talk about them with our kids in a positive way, accepting the differences and showing that they are wonderful people we are glad to have in our lives, and that there's nothing wrong with them in the least.
It's utterly heartbreaking to me to see that there are still men in the world who dare to call themselves fathers while drawing these arbitrary lines between themselves and their children, commanding that they not be crossed. I know firsthand the damage these lines can cause, just as I'm sure the man who posted that letter does as well. It's a terrible, terrible thing to do to someone, and knowing that your parent is capable of disowning you, hating you, or even worse creates a kind of loneliness inside you that doesn't ever get filled.
If you're a parent or someone who would like to be a parent someday, I hope that sharing this story means something, and that you choose a better path than my dad did. His selfish, conditional “love” was just another kind of hate, and there's already plenty of hate in the world to go around as it is.
If you really, truly love your kids, then be there for them, support them, and let them know how much they mean to you, even if they turn out a little different than you expect.