A Gay Dad’s Requiem for Robin Williams, the Icon of the Modern Father

 How Robin Williams Influenced Modern Fatherhood More Than Any Other Person in Today’s Culture 081214 robin williams dad

The shock of the news of his death will be forever carved in my memory. I heard it from one of my least favorite sources, Fox News. I was taking care of my elderly parents who insisted on having the conservative channel on, and the breaking bulletin interrupted their regular programming. Robin Williams was dead.

I had been filtering out the misinformation from the channel for the previous hour, but this report, sadly, had a ring of credibility. I jumped onto social media and announced it to my immediate base of followers. There was some push back as Williams had been the victim of previous hoax death announcements before. As more news sources picked up the story, it was confirmed. The unthinkable was true. Fox News went on to more disrespectful commentary of Williams, but I was too overcome to deal with small mindedness.

My instant grief over this celebrity was profound, but it took me a while to process and get some clarity as to why. Certainly, he was a man of incredible talent and accomplishment. He was a cultural icon and it is unfathomable to imagine the creative landscape without him. There was a deeper profound loss in the news for me, however, something very personal, and it took a night of sleep for me to fully get a sense as to what it is.

I am a dad. It is the part of my being with which I identify first and most strongly. As I awoke this morning, the first morning of a Robin Williams-less world, I felt a loss in the definition of what it is to be a dad. The icon depicting the spirit of the modern dad is gone.

The tapestry of Robin Williams characters had given me the rich definition of what it took. His enormous resume had everything on it, from alien to robot, to mythical genie, but , unlike any other artist, the golden chord running throughout was a comment on what was required to be a dad. Titles of his lesser known movies “Fathers Day” and “The World’s Greatest Dad” seem to underscore the point.

In the decades before Williams we had the Spencer Tracey style dads who ruled homes from a detached but lovable distance. We had the hero dad in To Kill A Mockingbird with Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch. In television we had Ozzie Nelson and fathers knowing best, culminating into the first significant depiction of all dad parenting in Fred MacMurray’s My Three Sons.

Fred MacMurray’s father image also carried into films such as the Flubber movies, and fittingly, Robin Williams was the modern heir who stepped into the Flubber dad shoes.

My first recollection of Robin Williams as a dad was in The World According to Garp. It was in this first venture in which he depicted the true complexity of modern fatherhood. Garp was a dedicated dad, but he was tragically imperfect. He had failure, guilt and resurrection. His story was strange and atypical, yet the spirit of what many good men, and good fathers felt was true.

Even monumental roles where Williams did not literally play a father still spoke unflinchingly to the behavior of fathering. From Aladdin to Good Will Hunting, Williams embodied the influential fathering figure inspiring a young man to be himself. In Dead Poets Society, he inspired boys whose actual fathers had emotionally abandoned them. William’s character taught them to not only “seize the day” but to look at life from different angles.

It was this concept, of not being constrained by predetermined limitations, that infused itself into what was, in my opinion, William’s most significant redefinition of fatherhood. His dad characters never stayed in their limited boxes, but broke free, challenged perceptions and grew.

Robin Williams was the most visible gay dad in cinema history to date. In The Bird Cage, he took a role that had been played by others in French cinema and on stage. He brought it the widest visibility in popular culture. In the film, his character navigates a very human fathering path with his son, one which speaks to me as a gay man raising my own sons. It is a path where “being there” for his son seems to include denying his own identity. From boy scouts to introductions to my sons’ newest best buds’ families, that path is all too familiar. Williams taught me how to bring life’s audience to the realization that being gay and being a father are far from mutually exclusive propositions.

Williams most compelling impact on the true nature of modern fatherhood was not as a theatrical gay dad however. It was also not as the dad who searches for his children in the afterlife, or as the dad who is a grown up Peter Pan, choosing fatherhood over the ability to remain a little boy forever. Those held additional insights to the modern dad, but not the greatest.

Williams most profound impact as a dad was when he donned a skirt, a fat suit and bifocals. It was not that he became Mrs. Doubtfire, it was that he was a divorced dad willing to become Mrs. Doubtfire. The Williams portrayal of Doubtfire said more about a man’s ability to break free of conventional wisdom and be a full nurturing parent than Sally Field’s Norma Ray said about women being union leaders.

The cultural persona Robin Williams brought to modern fatherhood was not the guy with all the answers, and the demand for authority. He was the all human guy who was learning to release his boyhood, and throw his full intentions to the well being of his kids, for whom he would make any sacrifice. His characters loved their kids beyond anything else. They trashed their own egos and identities for the sake of their kids and in the process evolved into better men. Modern dads have learned – – – we have a lot to fight, but if we stay focused on that love for our kids, we’ll be better men.

This, for me, is the heroic contribution of Robin Williams. He was the imperfect dad, but the dad who would do anything to get it right. He was my cultural role model dad, and what he depicted is what I have grown up to be. He earned respect while never pretending that he was anything more than human.

Dear Mr. Williams, I am a stranger to your real life and the demons you could not overcome. I mourn you, and I will miss you for what you contributed to me in my life, nonetheless.

Speaking for many modern fathers, I would like to say, “Thank you, Dad. We salute you and we will never forget you. The love our kids freely experience is all the better for having known you.”

 

 

For some other thoughts on Robin Williams and being a dad with depression, please read this important article

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Posted in Entertainment, Family, Living | 11 Comments

A Gay Man Searches for the Dad He Lost to Homophobia

A post by guest blogger Hart Reiniger

080614 looking for dad

My dad grew up in an isolated, rural community on the high plains, the eldest of six. His own father was absent for the first two years of his life, off in Belgium and Germany fighting Nazis and facing horrors as a POW that he rarely spoke of while he was alive. My dad didn’t know his father at all when he came home from the war in 1945.

My grandfather severely abused my dad physically and emotionally throughout his childhood. My dad used to tell my younger sister and me stories of that abuse that seemed surreal to my young mind. Even though my grandfather loved me very much, I never grew that close to him; I always held him at arm’s length. I had heard too many of my dad’s stories of a painful childhood and adolescence. I loved my dad very much and I was always angry with my grandfather for hurting him.

Perhaps because of the abuse, my dad learned to be extremely self-sufficient growing up. He would escape the pain of home regularly by disappearing into the smoky hills and windy bluffs of southwestern Kansas. He also had many stories of adventures along the many creek beds around his hometown. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time, especially once he was old enough to drive. He fished and hunted for food. His knives and guns were his lifelines. He knew which plants were edible and which were poisonous. He tanned hides and built fires without a match.

My dad was a scrapper and a survivor.

He sought solace with his paternal grandparents who lived in the same small town. They knew their own son’s penchant for narcissism and anger and they took pity on my dad, putting him up and feeding him for weeks at a time during my grandfather’s many extended rampages. My dad loved his grandparents more than his own parents. They were kind and supportive, nurturing in a way his own parents were not.

My dad never respected his mother. He told me so on many, many occasions. In his stories of growing up he often expressed disdain for her because of what he saw as her impotence in the face of his father’s rage. It was clear to me from a very young age that he bore much anger toward her for not stepping in, for not being the mother he desperately needed as a child. He rarely had good things to say about her.

As a child this confused me. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. I thought she was the greatest grandmother anyone could have. We always lived far away from them and only saw them once or twice a year. As a child I longed to go to grandma’s house and literally grieved when we would leave. My grandmother loved me unconditionally and doted on me whenever we were there.

Over the years, my grandparents changed a great deal. My grandfather frequently expressed regret to me over the way he had treated my dad all those years ago. My grandmother expressed sorrow and shame for not defending my dad more from my grandfather’s abuse when he was young. But for my dad, it was too little, too late.

My dad married my mom when he was nineteen, she eighteen. I came along a few years later, my sister three years after me. Both my parents were high school graduates, my dad coming close to being valedictorian of his class, just missing it, though, because of a rebellious streak that frequently landed him in the principal’s office. He played hookie an awful lot to be outdoors, raise hell and chase girls. He always seemed very proud of that.

My dad was always infinitely capable, forever indomitable. His self-sufficiency was at once a necessity for his survival and his “fuck you” to a world that was hostile and to people who were never there for him. He didn’t need anyone and he had no qualms about saying so. My dad was a man’s man of the first degree, and most of the rest of the world was weak and stupid. Growing up, it was clear to me that you didn’t have to do much to end up in the ignominious club of the soft and reviled. My dad didn’t suffer fools lightly. Common sense was always more important to him than book smarts. You might not be able to quote Chomsky, but if you had a sense of adventure, an eye for the ladies and could survive alone in the wilderness with nothing but a Buck knife, a few fish hooks and some twine for a week, you were worth your salt in his eyes.

Growing up, my dad inspired awe in me. I looked up to him and respected him above all other men. He could take the worst of situations and turn it around for his family. Despite not having much money, we never lacked anything. I had a magical childhood in my dad’s shadow. He was affectionate and never afraid to say I love you. He was supportive and protective and gave me my freedom at the same time. He was masterful at comforting us after a loss.

My dad instilled his values in me and taught me many of the skills he had learned as a boy out of necessity. To this day I can hunt and fish. I can build a lean-to in the woods. I can rappel down the face of a cliff and I know which rope knots to tie to ensure my safety. I know how to coax a channel cat out of shallow waters with just the right bait. I know how to walk silently in the woods and how to prepare cattails and dandelion greens with wild onions for a delicious, nutritious meal. I can skin a jack rabbit and a rattlesnake. Drop me into any wilderness, and I’ll find my way out. I am the best navigator I know.

Some of my fondest memories are of the days he would take me bow hunting in remote areas of Routt and Moffat counties on Colorado’s western slope. We would start the day before sun up at Daylight Donuts on the west end of Steamboat. I would always have a bear claw and a chocolate milk. He would take his coffee to go. We would drive for what seemed like an eternity, park the GMC Jimmy and hike into the wilderness. We’d spend hours on hilltops looking into ravines with binoculars for mule deer and elk. Those days with my dad were like a real-life Wild Kingdom, full of every mountain creature imaginable.

During all the hunting trips I took with him, I never once saw him take a shot at anything. Once, toward the end of one season, just before dusk when the sun shone low through fall aspens, casting a golden aura across the entire world, we came across a doe, completely unaware of our presence. We had gone the entire season without bagging a deer, and my dad asked me if I thought he should take a shot at it. I said yes.

My dad drew his bow and took aim at the doe. He was ready to release his arrow when a fawn slipped out of the underbrush behind her. I cried out for him not to shoot, and he lowered his bow to the ground. We both breathed a sigh of relief and set out for the truck to go home. That was the last hunting trip I ever took with him.

My dad wrote poetry and played the guitar. My dad taught me how to be a man. He taught me how to think. He taught me how to question what others accept at face value. My dad taught me that a forest clearing is just as good a church as any cathedral, probably better. He taught me to take risks, but not to do so haphazardly. He taught me to be conscious of the results of my actions and how to think strategically. He taught me that I’m going to get hurt sometimes, and that all wounds heal. He told me once he thought I would make a good Buddhist. My dad’s favorite saying: it’s a good life if you don’t weaken.

When I was thirteen my dad began traveling abroad for work. His job was to bring power to places in the world that had never had electricity. It was his dream job. My dad spent the rest of his life traveling to exotic lands far from civilization on every continent, learning new languages, traversing terrain a mountain goat couldn’t climb to build steel towers and string high voltage electrical cable. He earned an amazing living for his family by being an adventurer. He also took us many places with him.

Thanks to his air miles, I traveled alone around the globe when I was nineteen. At one point on that trip I met up with him in Indonesia and followed him to remote regions of Java to train crews of men to maintain electrical high lines without shutting down the power. Dangerous work, for sure. But what else would Superman choose as his career?

I met him in El Salvador on two occasions in the 80s, traveling to once war-torn areas, to ancient Mayan sites, to pristine, undeveloped Pacific coast beaches. He visited me once while I lived in Costa Rica for a year, too. We traveled to an active volcano and explored the jungle together along the Pacific coast.

During my college years my mom and dad lived in east Africa for two years. I got to live with them for a couple of months the summer before I went to grad school. My dad was working on a long-term project to electrify remote areas of Tanzania, taking advantage of hydro-electric projects financed by the IMF and the World Bank. The three of us went on safaris. I filmed a lioness killing a zebra from the rooftop of a Land Rover, not 30 feet away. I stood atop that same vehicle in the bottom of a gigantic volcanic crater surrounded by a herd of wildebeest that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. We traveled to Zanzibar where I explored the ruins of a sultan’s palace now claimed by towering mango trees.

During my brief stay with them I fell ill and wound up in a Nairobi hospital, subjected to tests involving blood draws, injections of dyes and x-rays. My dad was by my side the entire time, looking out for me, worrying about me, telling me how proud he was of me and that he loved me. I recovered and was able to set out again on new adventures.

I hiked to a waterfall at the base of Kilimanjaro. I witnessed a flock of flamingos take flight from a salt marsh at Lake Manyara. I followed herds of elephants and families of giraffes as they meandered in an endless search for the greenest acacia leaves at Ngorongoro.

My dad nursed my mom back from the brink through two bouts of malaria while they lived there. He built a water tower and filtration system for their expat house and three others on the same compound. They enjoyed the cleanest, safest drinking water in the entire town. He worked doggedly day in and day out to come home to his wife and a beautiful, rustic house at the foot of a mountain that supported an ANC military training camp. The two of them survived cobras, green mambas, dysentery and potholes the size of craters. They were the happiest I had ever seen them.

My dad was beyond compare. He occupied an unreachable place in my mind. He was the ultimate, my hero. He was the die I would cast myself from. His was the standard to which I would hold all other men. He was the man of steel, beyond reproach, indefatigable and larger than life. He was self-made and followed no one. I loved him with every fiber of my being. I love him more now than I will ever be able to express.

My dad hasn’t spoken to me since 1997.

That was the year I came out to my family. I had gone to Naropa to get a second master’s degree and was living in Boulder. By this time my parents were living in rural central Missouri. My dad continued to travel abroad, only now he had formed his own company and was working for himself. I came out to my mom first over the phone. My dad was in Spain at the time. I couldn’t tell him myself because I was too afraid, too ashamed. I made my mom tell him for me. She resents it to this day.

You see, my dad is his father’s son. He can be prone to anger. He doesn’t go on rampages like my grandfather. Instead, he goes inward and seethes in his rage, fleeing the scene when it becomes too much to contain. His career of foreign travel has always served as a convenient excuse for him to be alone. Sometimes he’s gone for up to a year at a time.

My dad will be 67 this September. His body has begun to betray him. Decades of hard physical labor and even harder self-imposed exercise regimes have taken their toll. He has skin cancer, kidney problems, a chronically painful and debilitating condition in his lower spine and now, according to my mother, he’s developing macular degenerative disease.

I haven’t been face-to-face with the man since 2000 when my grandmother was dying. Watching her die in their home was surreal enough. To top it off, my dad refused to interact with me the entire time I was there. I had just started a new job in Boulder and had to come back home and get back to work. She died the day after I got back. My dad was alone with her when she passed.

Since ‘97, my life has been about reconciling the ideas of the loving dad I knew as a child and the dad who has abandoned me as an adult. That contradiction informs everything about me to this day. When he dies, I’ll go to his funeral. But it will be a unique experience for me, to say the least. I’ve been grieving the loss of him for thirteen years now. The rest of my family hasn’t had as much time to get used to the idea of him being gone. I don’t know what that day will look like, but I’m sure it will change me profoundly. I feel that sea change welling up inside of me already.

Every Father’s Day brings me another opportunity to go deeper into reconciliation with the idea of my dad. He was an amazing father growing up. He has been a heartless, cruel bastard since I’ve been an adult. It’s impossible to convey completely the complexity of family dynamics in such a short piece, but you get the gist of my experience. I love my dad more than I’ll ever be able to express. I also want to pound his face into a bloody pulp for abandoning me. Those two extremes exist side by side in me. I never would have imagined they could.

This seems to me the ultimate in human contradictions; it has certainly informed everything about me for the last thirteen years. Contradiction has shaped the man I’ve become. Growing up, my love for my dad was always punctuated by not a small amount of fear. He beat me as a child (albeit infrequently), sometimes with implements. When I became a teenager he was very clear that there would be no more spankings. From that day forward, he would hit me with a closed fist when I deserved it. I tested him on that claim once. Just once.

My dad is a man of his word.

I don’t have children of my own, probably never will. I’ll be the branch that fell off my family tree. I’m okay with that. My sister has provided my parents with four beautiful granddaughters. They live very close to each other. My sister spends her weekdays working in my dad’s home office. They share a large tract of land in the country where they have horses and can hike and fish. I’ll admit I experience a pang of jealousy when my sister tells me about the latest arrowhead they’ve found along the creek. Arrowhead and fossil hunting was always one of my favorite things to do with my dad.

Things aren’t easy for my mom, my sister or my nieces in this mess. They endeavor to maintain a relationship with me while trying not to piss dad off too much by bringing up the whole gay thing in conversation. He won’t speak about it and shuts down when forced to. For the next year he’s in the Middle East. He won’t have to confront it or any of us for quite some time. That seems to make him happy.

He loves my mom, sister and nieces, and he can’t be around them for too long. He loved me more than life itself when I was younger. Now I don’t exist. That contradiction is the air we all breathe.

I’ve had my theories about his vehement reaction to my coming out over the years. I’ve invented all sorts of stories in an attempt to make some sense of the senseless. In the end, none of the stories matter, though. Just like my dad, the events of my life have forged my personality. I am where I am because of them. As a Buddhist, I have obsessed on the karma that led me to this place of contradiction. That kind of obsessing has never gotten me anywhere good. It just leads to more suffering. Over time I’ve learned to choose how I will react to my world, to act in a way that hopefully sows karmically positive seeds for the future. Meditation has taught me how to sit in the midst of contradiction and allow it to be what it is.

My dad is an awesome man, and I love him more than words can say. He’s also a cruel, abusive asshole I’d like to see groveling at my feet for mercy some day. I love you, dad. Happy Father’s Day. And fuck you, motherfucker.

It feels good to say both those things. It also hurts. I won’t pretend it doesn’t.

This, too, is the Dharma.

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Freedom Reigns Over Hate

Let’s pause to celebrate another victory, where human rights wins over hate.

Scott Lively’s race to spread hatred around the world has been stopped in Uganda! Let freedom reign high, but the vigilance to keep hatred from ruling and ruining people must never let up. One more victory for humanity came true today.

Uganda

Southern Poverty Law Center ran the story here.

Posted in Civil Rights, Equality, Hatred, News, Politics, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Mom’s Perspective is Profoundly Changed by Amazing Closure With the Bully of Her Past

Bully Closure

Guest blog by Mindy Forsythe, author of  How My Eleven Year Old Son Taught Me That Having a Gay Character in ‘Train Your Dragon’ is Important

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, so I was told a very long time ago. Today I know that words not only wound and scar; sometimes they leave young people feeling so alone and unloved that they turn to suicide. The LGBT community is sadly and painfully aware of how bullies crush spirits and ruin lives. I know firsthand how gay kids can be driven to suicidal thoughts when attacked by bullies. My son was one such kid. Thankfully, our intervention came in time to save him. His pain etched itself deep into my heart; it was a pain I knew very well.

Middle school involves the most awkward years of growing up when hormones are raging and self confidence is lacking. Those years were a living hell for me . I was quiet and studious with a bad perm and thick glasses and very poor fashion sense. I was being raised by my single mother who worked menial jobs for our survival while living with my grandparents. I was still reeling from the death of my beloved step-father and I was struggling to understand the abandonment of my alcoholic, biological father. I was a constant mess of raw emotion. I listened to the saddest music I could find, read the saddest books I could get my hands on, and wrote dark, soul searching poetry. I was described by the adults in my life as smart, talkative, and mature beyond my years. It was true; I was most comfortable around adults. Around kids my own age, I was a different person altogether.

At school I was painfully shy. I was the kid that walked through the halls with her head down hoping not to be noticed. Grades came easily to me, but I had nothing else…no extracurricular activities whatsoever because I was too afraid to try anything new.

I had few friends, but I did have one very important and special friend. I can’t even remember how we met, but from the moment I met her, I loved her. She was everything I wasn’t. To me, she was confident and beautiful; she played the saxophone and excelled at sports; she intrigued me. She was protective of me, and she knew all of my deepest secrets; she knew my heart. She held me when I cried and listened to me when I talked. She needed me too; she had her own amount of sadness, and she let me in to share her pain. She valued me and told me I was beautiful. When she said it; I believed it. She was the only person that kept me from losing myself to a very dark place. We were inseparable.

Looking back, I see that she was as lost and as vulnerable as I was. Although she was popular and well acquainted in school, our peers teased her relentlessly for her masculine tendencies. Sometimes their teasing was gentle and friendly, but by some people, it was mean and ugly. One time she wrote me a note, and it was signed, “Love you more than a sister.” A girl next to me, who I will refer to here as “Tormentor”, saw the signature and laughed, and a whole new hell engulfed me.

Her laughter was not the giggling, mouth covering, titter of adolescent friendship, but the ugly, hateful, vengeful sneers of hatred and disgust. “You’re gay!”

Her words, or rather the way she spat them at me with such utter disdain, sliced me. I had never even considered that I might be gay. I knew most of our peers suspected my best friend was homosexual. It didn’t matter to me.

I loved my friend with all of my heart. She told me she wasn’t gay even though I suspected she was, but I trusted what she told me to be true. I felt that only she would know.

Now with this sudden accusation towards me, I was 13 years old, and questioning my own sexuality. We had held each other through many nights of tears; I always found her closeness comforting. We often cuddled up for a movie night, but all of my other girlfriends did that too, and they were straight. I knew I loved her intensely, but I had a romantic crush on the eighth grade quarterback. No, I knew I wasn’t gay…even if my best friend was.

Yet, the acidic attack stung me. My world was turned upside down…not because this girl thought I might be gay, but because the daggers she spewed could kill the only person keeping me sane on this scary journey of growing up. I quickly came to assert myself and protect my friend. Something changed for me in that moment. Her words were meant to defeat me, but they helped create me. In that moment, despite being unwilling to reveal what I suspected to be true about my best friend, I became a lifelong LGBT ally. Meanwhile, Tormentor became obsessed with the idea that my friend’s outward expression of love made me gay and rallied her troops against me.

Unfortunately, Tormentor and her posse of followers rode my school bus and got off at the stop just before mine. One day soon after the note reading incident I noticed her crew did not get off at their own stop. I knew what was coming, and it was not going to go well. Sure enough, as I stood to get off at my stop, Tormentor and her lead follower I will call “Lackey” stepped into the aisle. I could feel my heart pounding as I hugged my books to my chest and rushed to make it home before they could attack. My haste was wasted because they were on me before the bus was even out of sight.

I refused to cry. Lackey pushed me…hard. I stumbled back, and she told me to take my glasses off so she could hit me. I snickered and told her she was nuts to think I would remove my glasses SO she could hit me! I wanted to hit her but could not. I found myself feeling sorry for her. Tormentor ran her mouth, but she made no move to help Lackey with her dirty work. Eventually they gave up on trying to get me to fight back. They left and I walked home telling nobody. From that day forward I avoided Tormentor and Lackey as best I could. They still found opportunities to throw obscenities my way, but eventually my lack of response bored them. By my freshman year they had found new targets, and I was safe from their attacks.

As high school unfolded, I found my identity and so did my best friend. We drifted apart. By college she was an out lesbian, and I was married. We reconnected after high school and had lots of good laughs about those tumultuous years of self discovery. Even then however, the memory of the biting words from Tormentor and Lackey made me sad and angry.

It turns out, however, the conversation was not yet over.

Twenty years after our original encounter, Lackey “friend “ requested me on Facebook. I laughed at the thought of her daring to request my friendship! Then I realized we were children when I knew her last. Curiosity got the best of me, and I accepted her request. As I perused her page, I saw that she was married with children and still living in our hometown. Everything on her page looked so peaceful and normal. I laughed at my surprise that she wasn’t a hardened criminal. She was a mom and wife just like myself. Then I got a message from her.

“I don’t know if you remember this, but I do and even if you don’t, I need to apologize for my behavior! This one day we got off the bus at your stop and I was being mean to you for absolutely no reason in this world! I just want you to know that I’ve never forgotten about that and I’m so very sorry for being like that to you. I had no reason to as you have always been so very nice, kind, sweet, and one of the most good-hearted people in this world. I just want you to know I’m sorry. I know it was a long time ago but I’ve thought about it a million times. And why would I do that other than because I was being pressured by Tormentor to do it and prove that I wasn’t afraid to fight someone. Actually, I was afraid, I was and still am NOT the fighting type, it’s just not me. I’m so very, very sorry, again, for my behavior. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me someday! You’re so sweet and have always been nothing but nice to me. I’ve wanted to tell you I’m sorry for years! ”

There it was. Did I remember? Yes, of course I remembered. I remembered so well that I had even shared this story as a teaching tool with my own children, and now here I was filled with emotion, crying my heart out over an apology so long overdue. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. She was scared. She was sorry. She did it because Tormentor told her to. She had never even known about the note! She bullied me because she had been trying as hard as I had been to fit in. I accepted her apology, and as we continued to chat, the news she shared with me left me sobbing deep retching sobs.

Tormentor’s true target was not me at all. It was not my best friend either. Her intense homophobia was for herself. Her own self loathing had eventually become so engulfing that she took her own life widowing her girlfriend and leaving behind a daughter.

My heart shattered for a lost, teenage girl that read a note over my shoulder and much to her own dismay, recognized herself. I became the target so she could send herself a message that she wasn’t the way she was, and by hating me, she would not have to hate herself. She feared herself so intensely that she had forged a war against anyone who represented what was inside her own heart.

My heart broke for her. All I could feel was a sense of mourning for another life that homophobia had taken. I was filled with a new perspective on my past, one colored, now, with forgiveness.

My scars began to heal .

More on Mindy’s story here:   The Real True Story About How Parents Adopted Out Their Child When He Told Them He Was Gay

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Why I Write as a “Gay” Dad

073114 why i write as a gay dad evol

I did not intend to write about this topic. A friend of mine, Henry Amador, blogger and founder of Dadsquared, addressed it in a piece called “The Battle Cry of the Gay Dad” for The Next Family. He captured the essence of the extra effort those of us who are gay dads have gone through to become fathers. He said, in part:

Only now we too are grown. We finally fit into our skins. We have passed your foolish tests and questions with flying colors. If we made it and we are here and we have children that call us dads then we have leapt over hurdles never imagined. We, like all other groups that have suffered at the hands of another, have risen above it. We have taken ownership of who and what we are. We have come to identify with what we are. We have come to be proud of what we are.

So you ask, why do I call my self a Gay dad? Well because I made it and that is what I am.”

I felt moved by his words and related to them. I felt compelled to share them, and soon thereafter, was being called on to defend them.

Another blogger and supporter of equal rights sent me a text. “Where does the battle end? Isn’t the ultimate victory call to call yourself a dad—without a qualifier?”

Here is my response, to him and to the world.

There are many paths to fatherhood, and there have been many great types of fathers. Unfortunately, there also have been the accidental and unwilling fathers, as well as the fathers who showed up and then checked out. Do we need to qualify each dad as to which of those groups he is a member? No. It is true that gay dads by definition are “intentional dads” in the vast majority of cases. Not only must we have sought to become one, but we usually had to plan, invest and sometimes train to qualify to become a dad. Does this inherently mean that a “gay dad” is better than a “regular dad”. Not always. I trained for three years, and fostered a number of children before getting my own. When they came into my life, I was not a parenting novice. That being said, there are no dads that I care to go up against in a competition. I know many awesome dads, most with some talent or other that I do not possess.

I do not call myself a “gay dad” because I think I am better.

Many dads walk into roles in their families that are handed to them. Parents of previous generations, popular culture, televisions, movies and even self-expectations have molded the roles. Gay dads have the entire parenting spectrum as an option. Gay dads may be “bread-winners”, “home-makers” or a combination. We work with our partners and pick up the parts of the parenting role that suits our talents or abilities. Many modern families with more and more stay-at-home-dads are doing the same.

I do not call myself a “gay dad” because I feel freer of gender identified roles.

Science is now telling us that gay dads are neurologically different than either straight moms or straight dads. A new study by neuropsychologist Ruth Feldman and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences observed that “gay fathers raising children with their husbands seemed to be both mom and dad, brain-wise. Their emotional circuits were as active as those of mothers and the interpretive circuits showed the same extra activity as that of heterosexual fathers.”

I do not call myself a “gay dad” because my brain apparently resembles the breadth of both a mom and a dad.

It should also be noted that I also do not call myself a “gay dad” in the day-to-day activities with my kids. In my talks with my boys I do not say, “Well guys, it is because I am your gay dad.”   I am just “Dad.” I do not walk into my son’s classroom and introduce myself to the teacher by saying, “Hi! I am Jesse’s gay dad.” I am just “Jesse’s dad.”

I do not call myself a “gay dad” every day.

Throughout the 1990s the Catholic Church called gay people “intrinsically disordered”, and declared that same sex parents were doing “violence” to their children. There are many who still believe these concepts. Currently, if I moved my family just a few hundred miles east, because I am a same sex parent, our legal family protections would be thrown into turmoil and protections for my sons would change. In Texas, two partners fathered a set of twins and neither of them were permitted to be listed on either birth certificate. Throughout the country, many kids who come out to their families are not only not told that someday they too could become “gay dads” if they wish, they are thrown out of their homes and make up the largest percentage of homeless teens in the country. Last year the Boy Scouts of America sent a survey out to all its participants asking whether I was worthy to be considered safe around other families children. The answer they got was “no.” Often when my writings are published, I am criticized by strangers who say things like “your children were underprivileged by being placed in foster care, haven’t they suffered enough without you depriving them of a mother?”

This is why I write as a “gay dad”. I write as one because gay dads are criticized, demoralized and discriminated against. I write as one because gay families are not yet seen as equal legally or socially. I write as one to give hope to any young LGBT people who are inspired to hold parenthood as a goal in their hearts.

I will write as one until a whole generation of people do not see being a “gay dad” as any different from any other parent. I will lay out the details of my life so that “gay dads” can become known and seen for the blissfully ordinary creatures that we are.

I will write as a gay dad so that if it turns out that one of my sons identifies as gay that he will not feel that life has dealt him a raw deal. In that moment he will see himself as completely whole and able to achieve his dreams.

He will see that, if he wants, he can grow up and be… just like his dad.

 

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Posted in Family, Hatred, Marriage equality, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Letter to the Evangelical Christians Who Recruited Him When He Was Nine Years Old

071214 good news evol

The headline pissed me off when I read it in my news feed.   “Evangelical Group Plans to Convert Children as Young As Five at Portland Parks”. As a dad, an interest group, any interest group, going after kids is unacceptable in my book.

As I read the article further, I found out that the evangelical group in question was the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club. Suddenly, the brakes came to a screeching halt in my head. My parental outrage was not gone, but it suddenly was awash with a quick douse of memories.

The year was 1966 and I was nine years old. We lived in a little town on the coast of California. I say we, meaning my family, but one significant member was missing—my dad. He was stationed in Viet Nam, in the line of fire.

It was a year when I grew up significantly, and had to stand on my own in ways I had not previously in my young life. It was a year that I needed to believe, more that all else, that there was a God, that we were being watched over, and that everything was going to be all right. I did not have use for a realist view that for some families in other places things were not all right and tragedy was in the air.

Christianity was not a new thing for me, even then. I had attended Bible camp the year before, and held the mantra before me, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” I was still a good year or two away from feeling the sexual instincts that intellectually might counter that conviction.

One day at school, someone invited me to their home for “The Good News Club”. I am not typically a joiner, but felt compelled to go. When I informed my mother that I had gone, without asking, she grew concerned, made calls and investigated what it was all about.

What it was about for me, was education. I am sure there was some philosophical teaching there, but it was mostly a walk through of the Bible stories—all of them, not just the fable like ones pulled out of context. It included ones that were not conveniently explained like the walls of Jericho being toppled and families who did what were now seen as minor crimes being stoned. Through this information, I understood that the Bible was not a rule book, but an evolvement of human spiritual growth set in specific histories and cultures. I learned about Esther, and Job and Jonas and how David sent a man to be killed so he could marry his widow. I learned the names of the major prophets, and the minor prophets. Mostly I learned that I had the right to be as spiritual and as “saved” as anyone, no matter what my future intimate instincts might become.

So, now, flash forward to 2014, as I reflect on my experience of the past, recruited at nine years of age, I wish I could say that their current activities are healthy ones. With all that has happened over the last several decades, I can’t say that. This is my letter to them instead:

Dear Good News Club,

First, I want to thank you for the wonderful times you gave me as a child. You took a boy whose daddy was at war, and gave me hope. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I understand you are now targeting parks in Portland Oregon, looking to convert kids as young as five years old. You might think this letter is a vote of confidence, sadly, it is not.

I am extremely wary of your activities not because I fear that “The Good News Club” has changed per se, it likely has, but because Christianity itself, as practiced by so many in today’s age has changed. Core principles like the golden rule, the good Samaritan, loving one’s neighbor as one’s self and “judge not” are being completely ignored. “Turning the other cheek” has become having the right to throw the first punch and be protected under the misnomer “religious freedom”.

Where you taught me that the first chapter of the book of Romans was about idol worship, today it is construed to be solely about same sex intimacy. A story where Jesus defines divorce as only being available in cases of adultery, as it was practiced legally when I went to the Good News Club, is now been bastardized into being a declaration of opposite gender marriage only.

“The Good News” has become a message for those who meet the elite picture of a 1960s style family.  I got that message in 1966 because, that was who I was at the time and it is what my family looked like.

The message is no longer “good”, and not factual enough to be “news”. “The Good News” has been translated to become “One Mis-informed Message”, obsessed with maligning new family formations you do not understand.

I do not want my kids exposed to it. I do not want any kids exposed to it. I think of my sons at five. They were and are full of spirit and an amazing reservoir of common sense. They knew what love was, and more importantly, they knew how to express it.

When I thought of “good news” at that point in time, it would be whatever one of my boys whispered into my ear as I kissed them goodnight.

I am thinking back on my year with you in the Good News Club, and I remember a comment you quoted by Jesus.  “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “ It was a concept that was echoed by another holy man, one named Black Elk of the Ogalala Sioux, who said “Grown men can learn from very little children for the hearts of the little children are pure. Therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss.” Truth is truth.

If you insist in hanging out with kids at the Portland parks, Jesus, the Bible and the great spirit of the universe all are aligned, but, they would be telling you not to be there to convert anyone.

They would tell you that it is so you can be converted yourselves.

 

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Posted in Bible, Family, Prejudice, Religion | 10 Comments

If God Would Write

After reading a letter from Pastor Philip Hoppe and St. Paul’s Lutheran Congregation to one of their members named Scott, I wondered how God would write a letter to them about their sins. Here’s what came to me. First the letter that excommunicates Scott, a gay member of their congregation who had the courage to reveal his true nature to his church.

excommunicate

Dear St. Paul’s Lutheran Congregation,

At your voter’s meeting last month, you voted my child Scott out of my church. Although the thought occurred to me to excommunicate you out of my kingdom because of the sin you have committed in judging one of my own. Not only do you refuse to acknowledge your unloving actions towards Scott, you have not confessed them to me either. Rather, you have sat in judgment and prayed to me like the Pharisee in your bible. Regardless, I have forgiven you of your trespass, even though you will not forgive someone who had the courage to be honest and reveal his orientation to his brothers and sisters in Christ, and did nothing to harm you. There is no reason for him to ask for your forgiveness.

Excommunication is not my way. Let me be clear on this. My son walked on this earth and did not exclude the excluded. Instead, he welcomed each of my children. He spoke of love, forgiveness, and giving up your judgmental spirits. As you said in your letter to Scott, “ … if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Is that what you wish from me?

I take no joy in your votes. I am saddened that one of my own has been shunned from my house you call your church. You have turned your back on my creation. You see, I created Scott to be who he is. While you shun him, you shun me. I know Scott’s heart, you do not.  I have forgiven you, even though your actions harm another. Know this, he is not outside the body of Christ and is in no jeopardy of being removed.

You are welcome to contact me anytime you wish to reconcile with me about your treatment of my child Scott. I hope you do this soon, for my child is hurting from your unloving actions.

Your ever-loving God

Posted in Gay Christians, Hatred, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments