I’ve had what most would call a highly unusual and unorthodox upbringing. I remember the conversation with my father vividly. I was 6 years old and didn’t understand what he was telling me.
I didn’t know what “gay” really meant. The only response I could form in my adolescent mind was simply, “Whatever makes you happy, Dad.” Those words mean more to me now than they did back then.
My parents divorced when I was very young. The only reason I memorized the order of the days of the week as a child was because I needed to know what house I would sleep in that night.
On one hand, I grew up in a very liberal environment. I learned to play chess before I started elementary school. I was taught to converse like an adult and allowed to read anything and everything I could get my hands on.
I was encouraged to expand my mind and to be who I wanted to be.
On the flip side of that coin was an upbringing I’m not proud of. I hated the screaming, I hated the nonstop rotation of endless stepfathers (eventually it was easier to just refer to them by number instead of name). I hated the violence and the vitriolic words, all of which were justified through a veil of moral superiority.
I was born conflicted. When I told my mother about the conversation my father and I had, she responded in her usual malicious form and fashion by saying the exact words: “Your father will burn in hell, and the flesh will melt from his bones.”
I cried for days, I couldn’t get the image of my father burning out of my head.
I just couldn’t understand it, my father burning for the simple act of accepting himself and wanting to be happy? It didn’t make sense. I questioned everything after that: religion, faith, life after death and, most importantly, myself.
My world crumbled in response to a decision that wasn’t even mine to make, a decision that was never a choice at all.
I felt like I had no one to turn to, like I was alone. But I had my father, I had unconditional love, and it came from the side of my family that many told me to be ashamed of. The “heathens” and the “sinners” were the only ones who showed a young boy compassion.
A few weeks later, I still couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. My head was filled with the image of flames. In-between sobs I begged my father to stop being gay. Like it was a choice. I told him I didn’t want him to go to hell. I told him I didn’t want him to burn. I can’t imagine how much that hurt.
That night, he calmly found one of the many Bibles throughout the house and turned to the book of Leviticus. First he found the words “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Then he went on to find numerous examples of rules forgotten by modern society within the same book. Rules that forbade things like the eating of red meat and the intentional marking of ones own skin. Rules that even instructed parents to stone their disobedient children in the street.
Why were all of these rules discarded and forgotten, while that one statement concerning homosexuality was so heavily quoted and emblazoned on flags of intolerance and willful ignorance? Why was love so great a sin in the eyes of God and the Bush administration? I was finally starting to understand the hypocrisy.
Since then, I’ve watched a 20-year relationship blossom for my father while my morally superior mother jumped from one dysfunction to the next. I learned what so many children of divorce never do; I learned what a happy relationship actually looks like.
In a world consumed with hate and judgment, through the eyes of a child, my father taught me acceptance and love.