The Love of a Proud Father
It isn’t every day that a proud father gets to write about his son, a son he loves very much. Born and raised in an active Catholic family I went to Catholic schools, university, became a Catholic teacher and later completed a Masters in Theology at Regis College of the University of Toronto. About the same time I was hired by my pastor to coordinate the RCIA and later went on to work in two other parishes. All in all, a very Catholic background.
Currently my wife and I have a blended family of five children and six grandchildren. It’s my eldest son, Stephen, that I’d like to tell you about.
When Steve was 22 and I was a single dad, he told me he had something very important to tell me. He’d flown back from Vancouver, B.C. where he’d been working as a child and youth worker, and we were out for the day catching up on news. I was just about to drive him home when he asked me to stop the car. I pulled over to the side of the road and he turned to me and said, “Dad, I’m gay.”
I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting it and I turned to him and asked, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes Dad. I’m sure.” Somehow, God was present and I thank God that I had the presence of mind to say, “Well you’re my son and I’ll always love you.” Then I said, “Steve, this is all new. I’m going to need some time to digest this news and maybe we can talk about this later.”
Over the next few weeks, it really hit home. Several feelings started to well up in me. First there was grieving. How could this be? What about the wonderful image I had of Steve as a father and husband with children, MY grandchildren. Now that wouldn’t be. And my grief turned to pain. How can I live with this news? Then I began fear for Steve’s physical safety. What happens if he gets beaten up? I’d heard stories of gays being attacked just because they were gay. What would happen to Steve? What happens if he gets AIDS?
My next feeling was shame. I was embarrassed. I certainly couldn’t tell anyone about this. What would people think of Steve, or me? I wasn’t willing to run the risk of scorn or rejection, especially from my Catholic community. And then I felt guilt. Was there something wrong with me? Did I give this to Steve?
I told no one! Steve had come out of the closet, and I went in.
Several months later, Steve returned to Toronto to work. By this time I was in denial. I still couldn’t get it into my mind that this was real and I became more and more convinced that Steve was mixed up here, that he must be just thinking he was gay, but that he wasn’t really gay. Maybe in high school he had been teased by the other kids who told him he was gay and he just started to believe it. Or maybe it was the result of our separation and divorce that happened when he was seventeen. Every possible argument showing that Steve wasn’t gay flooded my mind.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more and I invited Steve to go to counselling with me. Steve was not dating at the time and I thought I might just nip this in the bud. Steve and I went three times to a Catholic social worker. At the third visit, after being pressured by me from every angle, to reconsider and not be gay, to not give in to these feelings, Steve burst into tears and said, “Dad, I didn’t want to be gay, but this is who I am.” After collecting himself, he said, “I knew in high school and fought the feelings. I tried to put them out of my mind. But I can’t deny them any longer.”
And I finally heard him. Who was I to be challenging this loving, caring, discerning adult? And I believed him. From that moment on I accepted that Steve was gay. My denial was resolved, but shame and fear hung on.
Here’s a story that paints the true picture of Steve’s character. Before Steve left Toronto, to go back to Vancouver to work, he telephoned me to say good-bye. I was at the family cottage. After chatting for a bit, he asked me to pass the phone to my sister. The two of them spoke for a while and then Steve came back on the phone. He said, “Dad, I just told your sister that I’m gay. I knew you wouldn’t tell anyone and I wanted her to know so that you would have someone to talk to.”
I am convinced that God was present. What a blessing to have such a loving and considerate son. Steve did this out of love, out of selfless concern for me.
Telling others was a problem for me. I was under pressure from both Steve and my sister to share with other family members. The first people I told were my parents, a full eighteen months after I first knew. They were not shocked. On the contrary, they were accepting and supportive of Steve. They told me that they had suspected this news for years. I began to wonder if others had suspected. How blind I felt!
Sadly I held on to my shame for seven years. My wife read in our parish bulletin an announcement about “A Day of Reflection for Parents of Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons” and the day was entitled “Seeing With Heart.” She strongly encouraged me to attend and I was finally ready to deal with my emotions around my son’s sexuality. I
couldn’t believe my ears when I sat in a circle with other Catholic parents telling their stories of their shame, fears and denial. I wasn’t alone! I was waking to the knowledge that there were many other parents with similar experiences. As a result of listening to all the other parents, I finally confronted my shame and I felt real guilt for being so embarrassed. I decided to act.
The first person I sat down with was my parish priest. Although it wasn’t easy in the beginning, over time we had many conversations about children and homosexuality, and since, both of us have grown as a result. Next, I picked up the phone and called all the rest of my brothers and sisters who it turns out had known for some time. None of them were shocked. They too were very supportive and encouraging.
A few months later I attended a Knights of Columbus meeting at our parish. They were gathering signatures to oppose proposed legislation for same-sex marriages. During our final prayer I decided to share with my good friends what I had been hiding in my heart for so long. I asked them to pray for the parents who were attending the next Day of Reflection because many of us were still coming to terms with our children’s sexuality.
I told them about my gay son. And I asked them to pray for our gay and lesbian children who were feeling rejected by the Catholic Church. This was my “coming out” to my parish friends. I could no longer allow shame to keep me quiet. I realized that my shame was wrong. God had given me a gifted and loving son and my shame was hindering my gratefulness.
Moving forward I have many hopes for the future. First, for the Catholic Church, that it would be open to listen to the stories and struggles of gay persons. Tragically the suicide rate of gays and lesbians is much higher than their heterosexual counterparts. Gay and lesbian people need to have a place in the Church that is welcoming and non-judgmental. Second, my hope for my own son and all gay and lesbian persons is that they will come to know God’s love for them and seek out a welcoming Catholic Church.
I told Steve that I was going to write this article and asked him if there was anything he would like me to say. So I think I’ll give him the final word. He said that when children, especially teenagers, talk about their sexuality, parents should know that it is a vulnerable time for them. They should receive them with openness, gentleness and love.