what the heart wants
cross posted at the exponent
it was a small gesture i had seen hundreds of times before, my father pausing for a brief moment to appreciate a thing of beauty. this time it was an arrangement of lilies that he had stopped to smell as he walked towards the pulpit to bear his testimony. i smiled to myself, it was so uniquely my father. But from behind i heard an unmistakable snigger as a girl from my laurel class leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “your dad is so gay.”
I idolized my father. He was and is a quiet man, gentle and kind, one of the most Christ-like I know. He taught me to seek after goodness and beauty, to have faith in myself and to follow my heart. My father nurtured my delicate soul, encouraging me to blossom, something I’m not sure would have happened had he not been my father.
I was a painfully shy child, one that was deeply unsettled by the world. When it was discovered that I had a naturally pretty singing voice my father decided that we should sing duets together in church as a way to help me overcome my fear. These performances terrified me but I trusted my dad and soon I developed a confidence that has stayed with me throughout my life. We share a love of music, poetry, art, nature. Together we went to operas and symphonies, roamed museums and picked up pretty stones on the beach.
It was quite obvious to me that my dad was not like other fathers. My friends’ dads were overtly masculine–something that always intimidated me so I was grateful for my sensitive and artistic father. But I had never even considered the possibility that my dad might be gay until my friend mocked him in church. Even then I quickly dismissed it as impossible since my parents were, at least from my perspective, happily married. She had to be wrong.
As it turns out, I was wrong, my dad is gay. I was married and had a child when I discovered the truth and to say it was world-shaking would be an understatement. Everything that I had always believed about my father, about my family, was now forever changed. I felt a range of emotions, anger at having been lied to and gratitude that my parents had stayed together despite impossible circumstances. I cried for days, not because I was heartbroken over my father’s sexuality, but because I was completely bewildered at how to make sense of my life’s history. I went through memory after memory, re-writing my life to include this one unknown thread.
My father’s revelation illuminated a dark undercurrent in our family that I was always aware of but didn’t quite know how to articulate. As the oldest child I was somewhat of a confidant to my mother so I would hear about the persistent dreams she would have of my father cheating on her. When my dad was away on business trips she would become visibly anxious as if her life were about to come crashing down around her. And then there was the jealousy…
My parents–my family–are victims of a time when the Church’s prescription for curing my father’s “deviancy” was heterosexual marriage. My father was obedient, more obedient than most are asked to be, and took a leap of faith. But that leap of faith has not spared my parents or my sisters and I any heartache. Neither of my parents has known the joy of loving and being loved by another for their whole self. My father was denied the intimate connection with a man that his heart and soul crave. My mother was robbed of a husband who truly desired her. Their marriage would most likely be considered a success story by the church; my parents have been married thirty years and will remain together until they die. They truly love each other but both are, I think, apathetic about an eternity together.
Homosexuality and mixed orientation marriages run deep in my family; my father, grandmother and, most likely, my great-grandfather are or were homosexuals. All were married to a member of the opposite sex because no other choice existed for them. I have been a front row witness to the devastation caused by ignorance and bigotry and I am not left unscathed. Pain and lack of trust are difficult narratives to rewrite and they have negatively affected my sense of self and my own marriage. If scientists are right and there is a genetic aspect to homosexuality then there is a possibility that one, or all, of my children could be gay. I cannot wish this life for them.
I cried tears of joy last Tuesday when President Obama vocalized his support for same sex marriage. I realize how controversial this issue is but I cannot bear the possibility that my children might face the same heartache from lack of choices that faced my father, my grandmother and great-grandfather. My own heartache has been mostly healed by the love and stability mr. mraynes provides me. To love and be loved by the partner of one’s choice–this is the most beautiful thing in the world. I want my children to know this same beauty, to have the freedom to follow their hearts. I want their chosen relationships, regardless of their sexuality, to be respected and equally valued. I want them to have what I have.