Disowning A Disowner Is Not the Answer

By now most of you will have seen the news of the grandfather who disowned his daughter because she disowned her own son when he came out as gay to her. This has wildly circled blogs and news sites being heralded as "Today in awesome parenting" and a "beautiful letter." While I completely understand how this feels like sweet and karmic justice, I also feel like this letter and the collective jubilance around it could use some more thoughtful reflection. 

As a parent myself, celebrating any parent disowning a child seems problematic.

When we disown the disowners, even on grounds that feel so justified, we perpetuate the cycles of rejection and shame. First, let me make clear that this mother did a very harmful, damaging, wrong in disowning her son, and there is no doubt that this young man is going to be far better off because he has an advocate in the family willing to not only shelter him but speak up for him.

Far too many LGBT youth are homeless because their families disown them. (In San Francisco, where I live, a full 30% of homeless youth are LGBT, and in other parts of the country, that number is even higher.) Her rejection of her son is an ugly and deep wounding act. The grandfather's anger and disappointment are well deserved. This young boy did not choose to be gay, and yet she chose to be cold-hearted and rejecting of her child. It is a violent act that will no doubt impact him for the rest of his life. The Trevor Project and other organizations offer much needed support to young adults experiencing this kind of rejection.

But I would like to consider the grandfather's reaction as a fellow ally, and in this case, the bridge between his hurting grandson and his daughter. By this grandfather's own words, "A parent disowning her child is what goes 'against nature.'" And yet, just a few lines later, he does that very thing to her, his daughter: "So, while we are in the business of disowning our children, I think I’ll take this moment to say goodbye to you." And he continues on saying he doesn't have time for a "heart-less B-word of a daughter."

While it feels justified, disowning the disowner is not the answer.

This young man, who so needs to see unconditional love modeled, is only seeing retribution and additional shaming to his "B-word" of a mother. Particularly in the context of Christianity, this is not the love we are called to model.  

There are some incredible families that I've met working on our documentary film, Seventh-Gay Adventistsand the families I would like to see held up as models are those that have loved each other through difficult times, even times when they have deep differences. Their path is the way forward. Unconditional love isn't a door mat, and it does not keep silent or passive in the face of wrong. But it also does not shame. It does not other those who other, or when does the cycle end?

Let me also add that we are seeing very little of the context of this letter or this family. I do not know how this letter got to the press, and it might not even be helpful for those involved that it is receiving so much attention. I am a great believer in trying to give all of us, even myself, as much grace as possible. We all do what we think is best with the tools we have at the time.

And this grandfather has stepped in to care for his grandson, an act of love and sacrifice that I affirm.

I wish I could ask him if, upon reflection, he thinks he wrote that letter to his daughter out of anger and might change it now. Here is an attempt that I hope I would be able to write, should I ever be in this situation: 

Dear Daughter,

When Chad told me today that you disowned him and kicked him out of the house when he found the courage to tell you he was gay, I felt deep sadness and anger. You are right that you didn't raise him to be gay; he was born this way. He did not choose this, but you are choosing to cut your son off from you, and this is deeply hurting him.

I have told him that he is fully welcome to live in my home. For now, I am advising him to stop any communication with you for his health and sanity. He needs time to heal from this deep wound your choice has made. Maybe one day he can forgive you, but this is a wound he will bear his entire life.

In truth, I am also feeling disappointed in myself because I would like to think we raised you in a home of unconditional love. I deeply disapprove of your actions and words towards Chad. You have done a great wrong. But here's the thing, daughter, I still love you. I will always love you. If you have not always felt my love, even at times when I might not have agreed 100% with you, then I am sorry. 

Families can love each other through really difficult times. There is no doubt this is a difficult time. I imagine you are feeling bowled over by emotions, reactions and questions. Maybe you feel at fault because you've only thought that children are gay because of something their parents do. I have a whole stack of books I'll loan you to help you learn more, if you are willing. This is not something you did. This is how Chad was born, and I love him just as he is. I hope you will take time to do some very serious personal work and realize how wrong you have been in your actions. 

Until you are ready to love him as a mother needs to, I will be here. 

With love, even though I am deeply disappointed at your actions,


Maybe this seems a bit idealistic, but here's the thing—I have seen this happen.

I have seen it in very conservative religious families who choose love over shame. I wish this grandfather could have both protected his grandson and expressed his disappointment to his daughter over her damaging behavior without returning her vitriol.

Even though I deeply disapprove of the actions of the daughter/mother, calling this "awesome parenting news" and a "beautiful letter" gives me great pause as a parent, a Christian, and as an advocate for full inclusion in faith communities. Disowning the disowner is not the answer.

Related: Mental Health in the LGBTQ Christian community.

Image via flickr user Transguyjay

Comments (6)

Thanks, Daneen, for taking all the hype in this story and bringing us back to the way Jesus would have dealt with it. You sample letter from Father to daughter is truly beautiful! We are all flawed and need the love and forgiveness of others. As forgiven Christians our only option for dealing with other faulty people is the same one that Christ has extended to us--love and forgiveness. Claude Steen

However, it is to be noted that the grandfather did not seriously cut all ties with the daughter, and told her that she could call them once she has realized her mistake of her child abuse, and had a change of heart to start being a responsible parent who gave birth to her child.

That is conditional love. You do what I want and you can have a relationship with me. You don't, then you can't.

Thank you for bringing this into light. While reading the original letter, I felt a little unsettled. I felt a little like it was battling anger with anger. Of course I'm so happy with what the grandfather did and the mother has MUCH to learn, but cutting off ties and raising walls doesn't stimulate needed progress that it takes to change minds. I hope that this family opens up a clear, loving dialogue with one another. It'll clearly take a long time, and a lot of frustration. But I believe that even this mother can be brought into the light that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her beautiful son. I'll keep them all in my prayers.

Ummm, I feel him disowning her is VERY MUCH the way to deal with this. It sends a loud statement to HER and to all of her hate-based allies she will undoubtedly get that will wage a hate-based jihad now against the Grandfather at the Son, and probably start threatening their lives, that their hate WILL NOT be tolerated. You CANNOT negotiate with bullies. They must be confronted with force.

Thanks all for your input. I think moments like this are really helpful for us to really reflect and think about what we believe and how we act on those beliefs and values. I want to make clear that I think this grandpa is a hero. He has done an incredibly good thing by not only caring for his grandchild but being a fierce advocate for him. I am trying to walk a fine line here, and maybe I'm not fully succeeding. I am not an apologist for this mother. She is absolute in the wrong. I'd probably go so far as to characterize her actions as evil. As a mother myself, I cannot fathom her actions. And yet, it's that same disbelief in how any parent can ever disown a child that makes me want to reach out to this grandfather and gives me pause when, as an internet community, we celebrate any parent disowning a child, no matter how justified the reasons. I hope my imagined letter makes it clear that I deeply disapprove of this mother's choice. And yet, I don't think my choice is simply between being an apologist for the mother or disowning her. I must choose a third way. And I think this is a moment for all of us to ponder what we think unconditional love is, particularly between a parent and child. As I tried to articulate, I don't think unconditional love is a door mat. It does not stay silent or passive in the face of wrong. And yet it also does not shame or where does the cycle of rejection and shame end?

My daughter, Lily, and I had a really tough day yesterday (she's 4). She's suddenly moving into a new stage, and she's struggling. We are struggling to adjust. She threw such massive tantrums that I was sure the neighbors would be knocking on the door any moment. I was really thinking even more deeply about what I meant when I told her (later when we were calm and processing) that there was nothing she could ever do that we keep me from loving her, even if I was angry, upset, or frustrated. Maybe this grandfather/father feels the same way, but I don't think I could have read that letter as a daughter and felt that (even the sign-off about calling if she has a change of heart felt very conditional). I hope we--as parents and people--can find ways to still love and demonstrate that love even if we strongly and passionately disapprove of a loved one's actions.

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