April 25, 2024 

Welcome to Bursting Through’s Love Stories.

Love Stories come from Bursting Through members like you. Each Love Story reveals a personal journey that resulted in an expansion of love—how it is defined and how it is lived. Bursting Through Love Stories are not romantic love stories, they are stories about love.

This week’s Love Story originated a year ago during a discussion with Wes, a Midwestern dad of three. Our discussion was originally published as an interview in Bursting Through’s Connections Magazine and is republished here because this message is more important and more timely than ever.

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Q. Tell us about being a dad.

A. Being a dad is weird because I can close my eyes and see a 24 year old as a 3 year old, my 21 year old as a little guy and my 20 year old as an infant. All my kids are grown, but I still remember and time travel back to when they were little. I can see very specific things about the past but I know it’s not that time anymore.

If you want to know what makes life go fast, it’s kids. The time is just gone. I had dinner with my oldest son the other night and he is talking about getting married and buying a house. He’s got a great job with a great company and I’m like, “Where’s the little kid that just took his first steps and was bald until he was four?

I realized it was me as a parent that got to help shape my kids and that’s the best thing in life. It’s such a cliché but it really is an honor to be a parent to my kids.

Q. How would you describe your relationship with each of your kids? What are the similarities in each relationship and where do they differ?

A. Wonderful, but also hard. I had to let them be who they are and parent them accordingly but also balance how their actions affected us as a family. The hard part is letting them grow and letting them succeed and fail on their own.

One of the things I read before I was a parent was if you want to have extraordinary children, you have to let them be extraordinary and that has influenced my parenting. Should I squash a really annoying habit of one of my kids or is that the thing that is going to make them the next Steve Jobs?

I had to let them be who, what and how they are and try not to tell them who, what and how they are. I tried to not limit them based on my expectations as a dad and let them experiment, play and live in the real world and to think for themselves.

How that surfaced in each child was different because they are different but the foundation we laid as parents was the same for each. One of my kids said the other day, “Hey, one of the things you and Mom did for us was made us think for ourselves and that shaped everything I think about.”

We had a rule that carried through every level of their upbringing. We would give our opinion so they would know what we thought, but taught them they needed to think for themselves.

We believe that free thinkers and free spirits kind of rule the world and we wanted to create that in our kids. It’s been an interesting ride.

Q. Tell us a bit about your feelings and responsibilities being a dad to a gay son.

A. Again, I needed to let him be who he is. I did that with all my kids and felt a responsibility to pave the way for each of them. We chose a parenting style that created an environment and family culture that allowed our children to express who they are.

Our parenting style had nothing to do with one child being gay, we were doing that before he came out. My gay son and I talk about why he has to be the gay son, why he just can’t be the son. My gay son is no more special than my straight son or daughter.

There is a story that comes to mind from when he was going through confirmation. I was raised Presbyterian and my wife was raised Catholic. At the time we were practicing Catholics and that was important to my wife’s family and us to a degree.

As he was going through confirmation in 7th and 8th grade he was already out. He came to me and said, “Do you know what they say about gay people at our church? I’m not going to sit there and say yes sir to bad things they say about me and people like me when I know it’s not true. I’m not going to continue with the classes or get confirmed.” My wife and I accepted that.

Around this time, my mother-in-law came to visit. In general conversation she asked about confirmation and we let her know our son would not be getting confirmed. She asked why. About the same time my son appeared. At that time, he always wore a pink ID bracelet with HOMO beads that a friend had made for him.

His grandma noticed the bracelet and said, “Oh, what’s that?” and he showed her. She read the word homo and you could almost see her mind working and her processing what she had just seen. That is how my son came out to his grandma and also let her know he wasn’t getting confirmed.

We were all naturally worried about what she, a 72 year old very Catholic grandma, was going to think, feel or even say. To her credit she took it well and simply said, “That’s great. You be who you are.”

We didn’t make him hide who he was from his grandma to make it easier for her. In that instance and always we let him be who he is. The family culture we had created allowed my son to have that uncomfortable but necessary moment with his grandma instead of cutting her off or making him hide himself while she visited. 

Q.  Current social and political issues make it a difficult and complex time for everyone and being a member of the Queer community adds another layer to that.  There are many well-documented statistics that support that such as:

40% of LGBTQ+ youth have considered suicide in the previous year.

16% of gay and lesbian youth and 11% of bisexual youth have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, compared to 7% of straight youth.

29% of gay or lesbian youth and 31% of bisexual youth have been bullied on school property, compared to 17% of straight youth.

When you hear these facts, how does that make you feel and where do those feelings take you?

A.  WOW! Those statistics bother me. They should bother everyone.

I remember when we found out on social media that our son was out publicly but he hadn’t come out to us. My wife started crying and I asked her why. I said, “Are you crying because he is gay?” She said, “No, I’m crying because I don’t want him to have a hate crime against him.”

My reaction was different. I reacted with I don’t care that he is gay, I just don’t want the world to treat him like shit and then I moved on to how I help him live in the world as it is.

How do I let him know he is accepted and loved while also letting him know the world is not always going to be a safe space for him because he is gay?  That was and is my biggest concern.

I know what is happening is real and we have first-hand experiences of things that confirm that reality. It’s just part of his and our life.

One of the things my wife and I learned was that we had neighbors and friends that presented as very supportive and open about our son being gay, but when their family member or close friend’s kid came out their behavior was very different. They treated it as a tragedy.

Apparently, it was ok for my kid to be Queer, but it wasn’t ok for theirs. I wondered if their support all along had been performative? Finding out we had people in our lives who lived an “I’m supportive but . . .” lifestyle has been really eye opening.

I don’t go around telling people I have a gay son but I always let people know I have a gay son. It’s like a flag I wave to let people know to not say anything stupid but it doesn’t always work, especially at work.

I have a 72 year old co-worker that consistently drops the “F**” bomb on me during team meetings. He uses, “Hey F**” to begin a conversation because he thinks it’s funny.

I have had two or three conversations telling him it isn’t funny, it’s inappropriate. He knows I have a gay son and even if I didn’t it wouldn’t be cool to say that word to me. Nobody in the company will do anything about it because “that’s just him.”

Long answer short, these statistics scare the shit out of me for many reasons but one is because I don’t think my family is done growing. I hope to have grandchildren someday. I could have grandchildren who are gay or trans and who knows what kind of country they will be born into. 

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Q. How does all the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, violence, political and cultural attacks on the Queer community affect your family as a whole?   Is it something you discuss as a family?

A. We actually have discussed this a lot as a family. Some of the most difficult conversations we had as a family were about our values, our actions, how we vote and how that affected someone we love. We started looking at things through a different lens and became a family of activists.

For example, we were always pretty conservative politically but we had a conversation that led us to actually read the Republican Party Platform. In doing so we realized that we actually didn’t agree with ANYTHING we read about the Republican Party.

We don’t march and carry a flag in the Pride Parade but we have taken the time to educate ourselves. We have learned what companies and organizations DO NOT deserve our support and hard earned money.

We decided as a family to not go to Florida or Texas for anything. We used to be three times a week Chick-fil-A people and now we eat at Cane’s. We no longer shop at Home Depot.

As a family we have all these quiet little protests and we don’t have to announce it to the world. We learned we don’t have to be vocal or verbal to be allies, we can just do the right thing and shut up about it.

The biggest impact LGBTQ+ hate has had on our family is that our gay son moved out of the United States. He now goes to college and lives in Montreal, Canada. There are pros and cons to him living in Canada but he doesn’t feel like he is going to get hate crimed everyday, he feels safe.

Having a child and a sibling live in a different country so they can feel safe has an impact on a family .

Q.  As a dad with a gay son, what do straight allies, other parents and Queer kids need to know that they don’t?

A. You have to change your behavior if you want to see change elsewhere. It takes effort to do the right thing and not be concerned about what others think but it’s worth it.

Everyone in the Queer Community already has a bumpy road ahead of them, they don’t need their parents making it bumpier.

Thanks to Wes for sharing his story, his family and teaching us about the importance of approaching activism as a family.  We wish health and happiness to him and his family.

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