I cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up without a dad.
Not just the physical absence of a father, but with a workaholic, all-too-serious sort, that just so happens to have his name on your birth certificate. The jerk that chooses conference calls over chanting at a Twins game. The idol that forever promises a fishing trip that never happens. The drunk that just spent away your soccer money.
I have been so blessed.
See, my pops is the total package. If you think yours is better, you are so wrong.
The most magical memories of my childhood consist of him chasing me around the house, falling asleep while he yawned through Bernstein Bears, and sitting securely in his lap as sirens rang. Beyond being the playmate of my siblings and myself, he was always our biggest fan. Whether it be in sports, music, school plays, or video games, he covered us in his confidence.
But, being an unathletic son of a father who loves sports, my performance as a player was always a sensitive spot.
There was one time in particular.
I am a slow runner. Known this since I was little. Just an accepted fact of life. So, it makes perfect sense that in 5th grade I signed up for track. The consequences of this courage were not fully realized until I faced my first meet.
There I was, waiting for the shot of the gun in my hurdles heat, looking right and left at the boys and girls gritting their teeth as if they had waited their whole lives for this moment.
First hurdle knocked.
Last in the pack.
Everyone is watching.
Across the line, all alone.
I think, in those seconds of slow moving shame, an emotional instinct kicked in and I involuntarily looked up for my dad. Feeling like a failure, I imagined that maybe he would give me an “oh well” look or some sort of pity eyes. But the moment my eyes met his, I knew I had won something.
He was all smiles.
Laughing, not insultingly, but in a “way to finish!” way.
And forgot about failure.
He wears the cape better than most, and walks more humbly than I wish he would.
In the moments after I came out of the closet, that same dad swept me up in his arms. As I cried and cried, he whispered “I love you!” “I love YOU!”. He was more than just the dad I needed him to be in that moment. He was more. He is more.
As these things commonly go in the post-closet period, we sought out resources as to what we should next. After much searching, a good friend that was heavily involved in the ex-gay crowd recommended that my parents, especially my dad, watch a video entitled Homosexuality 101. It’s a short, 20 minute show that can be accessed online.
Sitting in the family room with my older brother, I heard sniffling and staggering steps approaching me. It was my dad. He was weeping. He started telling me how sorry he was that he failed me as a father. He spoke of how he pressured me too much to succeed and how that probably created a distance between us and how there were so many unmentionable mistakes he made. When asked, I couldn’t get an answer as to what they were. He was heart broken, and more miserable than I had ever seen him. I can’t even imagine what his thoughts were at that moment.
See, he had just watched a video that explains the reason why a young man develops same sex attractions is because his father never established a close relationship to his child at a young age. He did not express his love fully enough for the young boy in question to reciprocate, and in turn, trust him. The mystery of homosexuality could all be tied back to the dad that wasn’t there.
In layman’s terms: Dad, you fucked up. The pain your child feels is a direct result of your refusal to display a love that the child could believe in. You probably didn’t take him to enough hockey games, or ever confront a scraped knee with “rub some dirt in it.” You made yourself an enemy to your boy and now the consequences of your ineptitude have made him into a homo. Go sit in the corner and think about what you have done.
The daddy who kissed me on the head every night before I fell asleep and, without fail, told me he loved me every chance he got? The man who ended any argument with another reminder that he loved me? The guy who was always there? At every sports event? Every play? Every recital? Every trip? The dad that abandoned his job whenever I took ill? The father that rocked me in his arms at my most vulnerable moment?
There was never a single second (unless I was behaving horribly) that I ever ever ever felt like a disappointment to him or wasn’t loved by him. There has never been a deficiency in our relationship at all.
Despite the evidence of this theory being fully debunked and labeled a made up myth, the church continues to call it Truth. And being a man of the church, my dad bought it.
The paralyzing guilt of imaginary memories of running away from his paternal role has landed him in church-inflicted purgatory.
Even as I fight with reason, faith, the American Psychiatric Association, my mom, his friends, therapists and every piece of rational data out there, I have yet to fully uproot his convinced culpability. He has started to parse out fact from fiction, but the trauma of that video still haunts him.
And I don’t know why.
I don’t know why the church pedals reparative therapy as an answer to their theological dilemma, despite it resulting in countless suicides.
I don’t know why they think its fit to equate gays to rapists and murders.
I don’t know why they say dads make kids gay.
I don’t know why they flog my father.
But I do know how I am to respond.
Even if its through clenched teeth.
“Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”