I've got something to tell you, Mom and Dad
From a friend of an STA parishioner
It was Sunday evening in the fall of 1990 and, for once, there was no conversation beginning, “I'm the only kid in town who has to sit down and eat a meal every night.” We three had just joined each other at the round oak table when Liam said, “I've got something I need to tell you” in a tone of voice that evokes for parents something like, “I'm flunking 3 subjects” or “My girlfriend is pregnant” or “I got a DWI last night.”
Bob and I straightened and looked at him questioningly. “I know I'm gay,”our beloved son blurted out. I sank back into my chair with a tornado-like mix of panic, disbelief, fear. My mind whirled—“someone is going to hurt my beautiful son.” As I worked to absorb the shock of what he had just said, Bob, recovering from mouth cancer surgery, rose from his chair, walked around the table, circled thin arms around Liam, managed to lift him bodily from the chair as he sat crying and said in a broken, hoarse voice, “I love you. I have never loved you more in my life. I love you.”
How many times have I replayed this drama. How many times have I blessed dear Bob who instinctively did the right thing at just the right moment. While I felt that a part of my soul had been snatched from safety, Liam's father saved the moment and, I believe, gave our only child the most precious gift of a second birth, total unconditional love and acceptance.
Fear kept me awake all night as I sat in our living room, processing and imagining the worst. In the morning, as soon as Liam had left for school, I called Catholic Charities and asked what help they could suggest for parents who can hardly fathom this reality, but who want to do what is right and best for our son. They had no resources, but directed us to Lutheran Social Services, where we learned about PFLAG. As ill as he was, Bob insisted on attending meetings 50 miles away. Once again, we learned we were not alone.
Wingspan, a youth program in Minneapolis, was recommended for Liam. He had not been interested in getting a driver's license and so I had to drive him 100 miles round trip to meetings on Sunday afternoons. I'd drop him off, turn the corner, park and cry--so doubtful of his words and so fearful if they were true.
Picking him up a few hours later, I couldn't help sensing the joy in his demeanor and words. “Mom, these are just the kind of kids you'd like--into music, drama, like books, museums and galleries.” My lad had found his niche.
It took many months for Bob and me to get off the roller coaster of emotions. Aunts and uncles, half brothers and sisters each had a different take on the story. “He's too young to know.” “You know, he has always marched to a different beat. Maybe this is just a phase.” “I don't believe it. Look at all the girl friends.” “Oh, he just revels in high drama.” One time I said as much to my son. “Do you think this might just be a need to be different; an attention-getter”? And, his wise response, “Mom, why would I choose to be something that most people hate?”
Finally, the PFLAG message seeped into our consciousness and his father and I began to live the new reality. Our task was to believe him, to accept and to continue to love and support him so he would be able to face whatever the world outside threw at him.
The first test for me was the evening I invited the women from our small circle of friends to my home. I needed to practice saying the words out loud and began with the safest group I knew. “I want to tell you something we have learned recently.” My serious voice brought them to attention. “Liam has just told us he is gay.” Crying as I expressed the truth, I blocked any recollection of how they reacted. A few weeks ago, at a Sunday morning coffee, I asked if they remembered that night. Their recollections were thorough, contained similar threads, yet varied. One said she did not speak, but disbelieved it. One had guessed it; one was doubtful, but asked questions. And the one who knew our son the longest-- whose own son was his best friend-- told me she said, "Well, that's OK.” She remembered mostly my response, “That's just what I'd say if it was your child, but not mine.” At this last meeting, she said that was memorable because she definitely knew how hard it would be to accept that one of her children was “different”; that life would not follow an “expected” path.
My own journey of acceptance has not been linear, that's certain. I've actually grieved that I won't have a daughter-in-law; that it is almost certain that all my wonderful genes won't be passed on (she said with tongue in cheek). When the friends regale me with the gifted, brilliant, hilarious grandchildren stories, I try hard to listen even as envy catches up with me and I ache with loss.
Writing this November evening, however, I'm struck by how far I've traveled. In my mind's eye are all the delightful men who have come into my life and are a part of our family story. I see my son with the most interesting zigzag life. Thanks to his dad's first reaction and our unconditional love of him, Liam twists, turns, dodges along his own path, handles what he's thrown and manages with wit and smarts to land on his feet. What more could an old mom ask?