October 7, 2006, at the Retreat For Gay and Lesbian Catholics and their Parents at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio.
I felt myself becoming more apprehensive as the retreat date neared. I was a teacher for many years and was accustomed to giving presentations; this, however, was going to be different. I was asked to give a presentation on how I felt when my daughter came out to me.
When you talk about feelings, you are on the soul level and that was becoming a concern. A retreat also by its very nature calls us to make a change in one or more areas of our lives. Perhaps a change in attitude, life style, making more room for the spiritual, and so on. Often, change is a difficult thing to ponder.
I am retired and I work a part time job. This allows me more time to tend to the spiritual and I often attend daily mass. A few weeks ago while at morning mass I was thinking about the upcoming retreat. The priest in his short homily opened with a statement I knew I had to use in my presentation. It just seemed to sum up my thoughts about the concept of change. He said, “ For the most part, the only people who really welcome change are wet babies.” I thought, “Yes! When you change that baby you end up with a happier baby and when you make a change for the good, even a small change, you end up with a holier and happier you!
With this thought in mind, I walked up to the podium to give the presentation that promoted me to do so much soul searching:
In February of 2001, my daughter Alice called us from Ohio Dominican College and told us she was coming home to speak with us about an important matter. Alice came with her older sister, Christine, and told us she had been in counseling at college for the past several months and was home to tell us that she is a lesbian. A number of thoughts went through my mind, the first two were safety and salvation. I also experienced surprise, confusion, sadness, guilt, aloneness, and anger with God. In this presentation I would like to share with you some of these feelings and tell you where I am today, five years from where it all began in 2001. I never fell out of love with Alice, she is and always will be, my beautiful daughter, but it hasn’t been easy to deal with all the fears and emotions surrounding the gay issue.
Almost without exception, parents I’ve met are most concerned about safety and acceptance. Many in society dislike and even hate gay people and freely make fun of them. I’ve heard many gay jokes often told with heterosexual superiority. Then there are the crimes and persecution, the Matthew Sheppard story and the hate scenes in Brokeback Mountain. What’s a father to do?
I was with Alice one night when she was a student at the University of Dayton and working with the, Student Allies Program. (This program, which is making its way on to many college campuses, is made up of straight and gay students for the purpose of improving communication and understanding among the students.) Around 11:00 pm, we were cleaning up from a street festival when a vulgar scream came out of the darkness followed by the shattering of glass as a beer bottle exploded on the street close by. My daughter, my child, a target of hate and fear. What’s a father to do?
Today I still fear for Alice’s safety, I don’t think this will go away. I don’t have to tell you that society is very far away from understanding and accepting gay people.
There are many churches which preach rejection of the “sin” of homosexuality as well as rejecting the “sinner.”
I am 64 years old and have heard and read the gospels many times and do not find any references to Jesus casting aside any gay children. Jesus invited all of us to become part of the Kingdom of God, God’s household on earth.
Today I realize that sexual orientation is not a choice. I have come to learn religion involves a personal relationship with God by each of his children. In this relationship of father God and child, conscience comes into play, and each person must strive to be true to his or her conscience and work on developing this personal relationship with the Father. We are made in the image of God and we are expected to use our intellect and will to live out our spiritual life. In the end, God alone is the judge of the human heart. And how will He judge us? In the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 25, we get a glimpse of the final judgment…….”I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me……” we will be judged on how we responded to God’s people, God’s household on earth.
When a difficult situation arises, most of us feel, why me?, why us?, why my family? This is how I felt after Alice came out to us. Then I turned to my family and we helped one another come to grips with this emotionally charged issue. Shortly after Alice told us I made a call to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and was referred to a support group for parents which meets at St. John Vianney Parish in Mentor, Ohio. I called the Church and left a message and within the hour, Fr. Tom Johns called and invited us to join with other parents of gay and lesbian children. We are not alone after all. In the support group, parents can freely express their feelings and seek help from other parents who are experiencing the same feelings and fears. I have seen fathers and mothers break down and cry, overloaded with feelings that rush upon them as they attempt to deal with all the issues of gayness. It takes much time, sometimes years, for parents and children to work out all the issues of gayness. I’m so grateful for the parent support group, it has been such a help for me. When Alice first told us, I thought we could keep this as a family secret, but fortunately that didn’t happen. Extended family members often ask me how Alice is doing and when she is home she is always welcome at family events and treated lovingly. Like other families, there are relatives whom we chose not to tell for various reasons. Perhaps in the future they also will know.
Instinctive to parenting I think, is the desire to have grandchildren. I feel sad that Alice may not have children of her own and I know she feels this way also since she dearly loves children. This is a sadness we both can share.
As Alice’s dad I was anticipating her growing up into a beautiful young woman, falling in love, and having a family of her own. During her childhood, Alice was very athletic and didn’t fuss much about how she dressed. I remember as it was getting close to her high school graduation day I was hoping and looking forward to how pretty she would look for the event. I had some extra money put aside to buy her a graduation dress. I was confused by her lack of interest. I even offered to take her to the store myself, and I hate shopping. (I’m what you call a focused shopper, I know exactly what I want, I go to the store, get the item, and I’m out of there). In the end, Alice wore a dress her aunt picked up. It wasn’t very attractive, and the dress was quickly covered up with the cap and gown. It was immediately discarded after the ceremony. I felt sad that day, I so wanted to see Alice dressed up for graduation and that didn’t happen. I now realize that many of the things that make me sad also make Alice sad. By staying in touch we can help each other cope with these feelings.
I would have, I could have, I should have, and now I can’t. Like many parents the tape played over and over in my mind. If only I had done this or avoided that, it may have made a difference. I know now that this is not true, but feelings often crowd out our intelligence. I never gave much thought to the gay situation until I had to. I realize now that I did not cause Alice to be gay by my actions or inactions. Orientation comes with genes and a complex of factors still not completely understood. I can’t change my blood type which is controlled by genes and people can’t change their orientation which is also controlled by genes.
At first I felt embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the questions and I felt I had failed somehow as a parent. This has changed. Just this past week when I checked back with my boss about taking Saturday off for the retreat, I told him I had a lesbian daughter and was attending a retreat for gays, lesbians, and parents with gay and lesbians children. Not only that, I was giving a presentation as a father of a gay child! I also told my co-worker. I was happy that they were very supportive and I used that moment to express my feeling about homosexuality. I have come a long way from how I felt five years ago. I have also discovered that I receive more support than I expected when I talk with people about this issue.
I do feel guilty that it took me a long time to accept Alice’s girl friend Audry. I apologize to you Audry. You are a beautiful young person and I am happy Alice has you as her girl friend and I welcome you into our family, and said that she had purchased an engagement ring for Audry. If Alice had been dating a young man I’m sure the news of her engagement would have flown around the family with great speed. I find it very difficult to adjust to this new situation. I again apologize to Alice and Audry, it will take this old person a little bit longer to feel confident and comfortable to share this good news….
ANGER WITH GOD
Life is difficult and has many challenges. Why do people have to endure gayness in a predominately “straight” world? I was mad at God. Why does my Alice have to live with so many problems? It would have been so much easier to have a heterosexual daughter. After much prayer, thought, and sharing with other parents, I realize that we live in a very imperfect material world. We cannot count on anything: Cleveland weather, our dreams fade, our health falters, our career may go south, a friend or family member dies, and so on. The only things we can count on are: bills, taxes, we keep getting older, we will die…..AND, AND… God our father loves us deeply, every one of us, we are all part of his plan and members of His household here on earth. He will answer our prayers. I take great comfort in the story of a very old man reflecting on his long life. He said, I now realize that every one of my prayers was answered. I couldn’t see it at the time when I didn’t receive exactly what I asked for, but I can see it now as I look back on my life. Things turned out well in the long run. I was blessed. We can count on God our father to be with us every step of the way. We are His pride and joy and we have been made in His very image and likeness….. every one of us!!
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