Friday, June 19, 2009

Fathers Day (or why this father's day didn't feel so good)

Father's Day has never been a big deal in my family. The Hallmark Holidays-Father's Day, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day were all more aknowledged than celebrated. Besides, Father's Day is always on a Sunday. My dad works on Sundays. He's a pastor.

But this Father's Day was different. For the first time, my dad and I aren't talking.

The silence has been my decision. Maybe I'm being too hard on my parents. But our relationship got to a point where it felt distructive and hurtful to include my parents in my life.

It all started with the Christmas Letter. Or maybe that's where it ended.

I'm from the mid west. In the mid west, we send Christmas letters. The letter is usually two typed pages that chronicle the activities and achievements of the family over the past year (on paper with snowflakes, glowing north stars, snowmen or manger scenes). Trouble is usually whitewashed (Brenda had cancer, but she went thru treatment and guess what?! She fell in love with her Oncology nurse. They are planning a wedding for next fall!) A very posed photo of the always happy family is often included. This letter is then stuffed inside the 50-300 Christmas cards the family will send out.

Last December I received the Christmas card and letter that my parents sent out. In the letter it said:
Jacquelyn owns a gift and book store in Baltimore that has won several awards.

That's it. No mention of my partner S or our new house. No mention of what I actually do. As far as we can tell from the Christmas letter, I own a Hallmark store.

The next paragraph was about about my ex-husband's kid. Which was good. My ex-husband (J) and I are still very close friends (we got divorced because I'm a dyke). He and his GF had a baby - who is freakin adorable. We'll call the baby Paul. Paul is being raised to consider my parents his grand parents, and I'm Aunt Jacq. Sure it's not a traditional relationship, but it works for us. Babies should get more ink in a Christmas letter than adults. But, by the end of the paragraph one could draw the conclusion that J had given birth to Paul all by himself (although they did clarify that I was not the mother - cause you know, i'm a straight girl who owns a Hallmark store that wanders back to Minnesota and gets knocked up by her ex husband - which frankly would make a good movie...maybe with Sandra Bullock or Renee Zelwigger?) No mention of J's GF who actually gave birth to their grand child. Or of Paul's two older brothers (the GF's from a previous relationship).

The paragraph had a footnote that said the following:
J recently graduated from law school and passed the NY and NJ bars! He is working at the ***** (very specific, glowing description) He will be taking the MN bar in January - prayers and good thoughts would be greatly appreciated. And on and on.

So. My parents had lied about my job. Omitted my partner. Omitted important details about J's family - like the mother of his child - but they aren't married so I guess she doesn't count.

I have no need to be in the Christmas letter. It would have been fine if they had just left me out. Especially if they had called and said, "hey kid, we can't deal with the fallout from some of the conservative folks on our Christmas letter mailing list, so we are going to leave you and S out of the letter. We love you both." That's not what happened.

Although I've been out to my parents for more than a decade, my father has chosen to avoid the issue with his congregation. He feels that if the congregation knew that his kid was gay, they would write off anything that he says about including the GLBT community in the church. Because of his decision, I've been avoiding going home for years. The town my parents live in isn't that big, the church is large and the service is broadcast on a local radio station. Its hard to go anywhere without running into people that they know. And well, let's just say that a friend of mine in high school went to a motel with her boyfriend just outside of town. They were in the room for less than 15 minutes before her dad was knocking on the door. Word travels. Fast. I've been in positions in which I've had to lie or avoid the truth in order to not out my dad. It didn't feel good. So I stopped going home. And I told them why. They don't like it. When they aren't in town, they've been great about supporting me. They came to my wedding ceremony. My mom spent all day at the booth at Columbus Pride. They've been sweet to women I've dated. They say they're proud of me.

And then the Christmas letter happened. They don't send the letter to anyone in town.

The letter sent a clear message.

Lying (which includes omission) is absolutely the worst thing a person can do in my family. Nothing ever got me in as much trouble. Or created that deeply disappointed look on my dad's face.

For them, lying about me and my life was preferable to telling the truth. Even outside of the congregation.

I'm not straight. I work in sex. And I don't have kids.

The only conclusion I could draw was thatb my parents are ashamed of me, my job, my sexual orientation, my kid-lessness.

I cried a lot. S was hurt too. She had believed them when they told her she was part of the family.

I called my dad and read him the riot act (he wrote the letter). I explained why I was hurt. He told me that he didn't mean to hurt me and that he would talk to me about it later. I waited. Thru December, January, and into February. J (who never gets involved with me and my family) told my dad that he should talk to me about it. He didn't.

I thought and thought about it. And came to a place that felt ok.

I'm not ashamed of me. In fact, I'm pretty proud of most of me. And I'm definitely proud that I'm out and gay. The store - well, it's one of the best things I've done in my life.

By choosing to have my parents in my life, I was choosing to allow myself to be hurt, to let in deeply entrenched lies and shame. I could make a different decision.

So, last February, I did. I sent my parents an email (my parents and I are all passionate people, I was concerned that a phone call would get heated, I didn't want to be mis-understood). I explained that I love them very much and that I'm grateful for all of the ways that they have supported me in the past. But, that having people in my life who feel the need to lie about me is not ok. I asked them to not contact me until they were willing and able to tell the truth.

My dad wrote back a long email about why it was ok for him to lie. I didn't respond. Since then, they have tried to contact me a few times. Mostly, they have respected my request. I hear about how they are thru J. I miss them.

I am disappointed in them. I don't know what happened to the people who raised me. The people who believed in truth telling.

So Dad, happy father's day. I miss you. And I sincerely hope that after you retire next fall you find the courage to tell the truth about your kid. You see, i'm not something to be ashamed of. You and Mom did a pretty damn good job raising me. Thank you for that. I love you.

1 comment:

The Other Richard said...

I don't have anything to say- there isn't anything I can say. Just wanted to offer my sympathy and support to you and S and even J. And the hope that you and your parents will be reconciled sooner rather than later.