I was a college professor for many years, and really tried to connect with students as people at my mid-sized university which was a "conservative church" sponsored school.
One day one of my students, a 19 year old man, and one of my academic advisees, told me, rather suddenly, that he was gay, and had known he was gay since he was 11, but that he could not tell his parents. He said it in a flat voice, a sad voice, but no anger, no tears.
We chatted about this. I assured him that no one at our university, despite its affiliation with the church, would have a problem with this. I got him into contact with a support group on campus and a good counselor. It was in the support group that "Alan" met "Bobby." and while I know it is trite to say this.....it is pretty clear to me that they were meant for each other. Alan came alive (Bobby already was a live wire!).
At the mid-year Alan went home for Christmas with plans to tell his parents. He had worked out a strategy with his counselor, with his support group, and had even included me. The results were mixed.
He first told his brother and his sister, both older than he was. Their reaction was basically: "Well, DUH! About time you told us. They told him not to worry about his mom but his Dad was another matter."
Alan spoke with his mom in a drive to a shopping mall. Alan told me: "I asked mom if we could go shopping for some things. She gave me an odd look but played along. I told her the story with the car parked in the mall parking lot." His mom was very understanding and let him know that she had pretty much known for years. When he asked how long, she said...."Since you were about 9. At 10 or 11 I think you realized that other kids and your Dad were not comfortable with your being so friendly with other boys and you started to imitate your big brother." He told me that she cried and said that she should have spoken with him about this but couldn't get up the courage.
As Alan feared and his siblings warned, his dad was unaccepting and in fact overtly hostile.
He told his son that "in this house there is a right way and a wrong way and this is wrong. The door only swings in one direction, son, and if you can't accept that you need to leave." Apparently, his Dad was a man of his (totally unreasonable word) and he sent Alan packing at 10PM.
He returned to the University that night and got an ok to move back into his Dorm. The Director of Residence Life contacted his counselor who saw him the next day, Christmas Eve, and got him to connect with some friends from his support group. No surprise, Bobby's family asked him to stay with them. I heard about this weeks later. Alan had been very depressed but seemed to be coping.
This was his Sophomore Year. For the remainder of that year and into the next he did not go home. He saw his mom and a sister every now and then at a restaurant usually. He changed majors moving from the liberal arts field where I had advised him to Business so I did not see much of him in his junior or senior year. I was told by those who knew him that he was dong ok but that he really missed his family. His father apparently knew that his mother was continuing to support him financially and there some hot arguments at home about this but with his academic scholarships, his job and his mom's help he made it.
He did well academically, very well. I e-mailed him two or three times when grades came out to congratulate him and to say I hoped he was doing well. He e mailed back to say "thanks", brief me on his academic and career plans, and to say that his personal life was good except for the "big mess" with his family. He and Bobby remained very close.
The last contact was at the end of the summer semester of his Junior year. His Senior year, I knew, would be full of internships etc.
Then come the graduating student honors banquet in the spring. He was being honored by the College of Business for his Senior Thesis Project.
I was astounded to see him sitting at a table with his boyfriend, Bobby, AND what I assumed were both of his parents, sister and brother. They were all chatting away and clearly comforable and happy.
Later I got my former student aside and asked him what was up. He said that at Thanksgiving earlier in the academic year, his mom had insisted that he AND his boyfriend be invited to the house for Thanksgiving Dinner. Mom, and the siblings it seemed had ganged up on Dad.
It was not an easy or pleasant afternoon but they made it. Alan and Bobby drove down and back the same day. "Let's just say there were a lot of awkward silences. My Dad only showed up to eat and then disappeared in his home office. He was really pissed. I told my mom and my sister and brother that I was sorry I had ruined Thanksgiving. My mom was unbelievable. She said that this was Dad's doing. I didn't feel good about her saying that either. I felt like I was getting in the way of their marriage."
At Christmas, Mom and his brother and sister invited Alan and Bobby to stay for a week. Alan asked if they could share a room, the mom said they could if they were "discreet." She told Alan that she had told her husband that her having a relationship with her youngest kid was not negotiable and he should just deal with it. If that meant that he spent the week in his office (sleeping on his couch) then so be it.
Dad grit his teeth and accepted the situation. Again, lots of uncomfortable silence, scowls and comments muttered under his breath. Christmas day was a complete fiasco. Alan told me he wanted to leave but Bobby said there was no way that they were going run away.
AND THEN IT HAPPENED......
On New Years Day, Dad ended up spending the better part of the day with his son and his son's partner. It turned out that Bobby, who was majoring in aeronautical engineering was an excellent mechanic and came to Alan dad's rescue when a bit of home repair went very wrong.
Alan told me that he discovered his Dad and Bobby on mechanic's skids under his dad's antique car. Their talk was all business but they were getting along. Alan asked if he could help. They both laughed because Alan was about as unmechanical as anyone could be. They assigned to the role of "tool fetcher" and "cleaner upper."
That night at dinner, the dad surprised everyone. Dad had sad quietly through the meal. But he wasn't angry. He was just watching his son and his son's friend. He stood and made a toast to the two of them saying that working with Bobby made him see Bobby as Alan's "good friend, his best friend" for the first time and that made him remember how deeply he loved Alan. He wished them both great happiness. There were many tears.
Alan told me that he looked up and asked his dad: "I thought the door only swung in one direction?" His dad grinned back, also through tears and said: "It did. So I got a new door."That was nearly 15 years ago. Alan and Bobby lived in a committed relationship for most of that time and got married last year when that became a possibility under the law. I was there. They had already adopted two kids who called Alan "Pop" and Bobby "Dad". Those kids have a very proud and loving set of grandparents including that man who bought a new door.
Let me back you up on this....last year at the (71+ / 0-)
At the wedding I got a chance to talk to the Dad. He knew who I was and the small role I played in getting his son the support he needed so long ago. At one point he just stopped talking, and looked over at his son and his son-in-law....and their kids....laughing and loving each other and he said: "To think I almost missed out on all of this.......so stupid, so wrong...." That got me teary-eyed....again.
Diarist's Note: This remembrance, one of the most important from many years in the classroom, is written in response to http://www.dailykos.com/... by dhuiz23, whose own "coming out" story triggered the memories.In this week of the 4th of July is their any better hope for our country than this:
TO A NATION FULL OF NEW DOORS!
(with thanks to raptavio for these fine words)