When my husband and I became parents for the first time, we knew this new role would change our lives forever. Our Catholic faith told us that we had been given the opportunity to become co-creators with God. Gazing into that innocent face helped us to realize that the unconditional love that we felt for our little one was merely a glimpse of the perfect, unconditional love that our Heavenly Father has for each one of us.
As parents, my husband and I knew it was our duty to teach our children and mold them into successful, decent human beings.
We read parenting books on how to deal with everything from raising a well-behaved child to achieving good grades in school. And since we were active in our parish and the wider Christian Church, we thought that we could lead our children into having a relationship with Christ and learning to know the fullness of the Catholic faith. After all, a parent’s ultimate job is to get their family to Heaven one day!
We told ourselves that communication was key to healthy family relationships and that love would take care of the rest. But for us, and for our youngest child—our only son—no parenting book could have prepared us to face a challenge that pitted our love for our son against widely held assumptions and wrong information.
After my son ended his relationship with his first girlfriend, he became increasingly depressed and stopped going to school. We were truly worried about him. He seemed to have a very low opinion of himself and talked about not going to college, moving to New York and being homeless and even ending his own life. We knew our son was crying out for help, and we wanted to do all that we could to help him.
About a month later, his girlfriend’s mother came over to my house and told me she knew what was causing my son’s depression.
She said that he had told her daughter that he was gay. This was supposed to be a secret but this mother didn’t want to take the chance that our son might harm himself. She felt that she had to tell us what he was going through. I am so glad that she did. As difficult as it was to hear, at least we had a reason for our son’s depression and turmoil. It was sad for me to think that our son was dealing with this dilemma and this new awareness about himself all alone.
My husband and I wanted to help, but it wasn’t easy for us to talk with him. We were poorly informed and relying on societal and religious prejudices about gay people, so at times, we ended up saying stupid and hurtful things. We couldn’t figure out why he would “choose” this “lifestyle.” I worried about everything from promiscuity to HIV, to his future career and whether he was planning on taking his own life. All of my dreams for his happiness simply seemed to vanish.
During one of our first conversations about his sexual orientation, I tried to talk “rationally” with him and ask him if he was “sure” that he was gay. But somewhere in our conversation, there was a reversal of roles that took place. He was barely seventeen, but I felt like the child, and he felt like the parent. As my worries spilled out, as I cried and tried to understand—he was calm, seeing my fears, and he tried his best to assure me that everything was going to be all right.
I don’t remember all that we talked about, but I remember feeling his love, his warmth, and his compassion for me, his mother.
As we talked, he dispelled myths that I had come to believe and gave me hope for his future and our future. I remember saying: “But you’ll never be a father.” He put his arm around me and said: “Mom, there are some states where gay couples can adopt. You know, there are many children who need to be adopted by someone who will love them.” And with that, I knew that someday my son would be a great father!
Our son was patient with us and with our need for understanding, and he had some very courageous conversations with us. I am happy to say today, that through it all, our love for each other has prevailed and we all have grown beyond our wrong assumptions and misinformation. Our son knows that we love him and will not reject him, but it was a frightening process since we surely did not understand the trauma that often occurs when a gay child grows up in an unaccepting home.
I sometimes wonder why I still attend a church that has made some very unkind statements about gay people. About my child. Otherwise, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence and nobody wants to talk about it. Perhaps all gay people have already left. But what about the families of gay people, like us? What kind of a choice do they have? How do they decide between loving their children and their faith?
The simple answer is: they shouldn’t have to choose between their children and their faith.
Change comes from within and from speaking out and education. I’ve come to realize that gay people don’t want special rights, they want equal rights. Marriage equality has come to many states in the last ten years, and I hope that this is the year in my state that non-discrimination protection for gay, lesbian and transgender people will become the law of the land.
I would love for my son to be able to come home to Pennsylvania and work and live without the possibility that he would be fired from his job or denied housing. And one day, I pray that my church will welcome him and realize that he has gifts to offer and is not an “abomination.”
Photo via Flickr user Vcheeseman