This the backstory to when my son, Timothy, came out as gay (here is Part 1).
Timothy and I have always spent a lot of time together. I stayed home with him full time the year after he was born while Katy finished up her medical residency. As he grew up I took Thursdays off so we could have what we called ‘big adventures’ (even though they were more like feeding the ducks at the pond). As time went on, that morphed into ‘hot chocolate walks’ where I’d make him hot chocolate early in the morning and we’d walk around the neighborhood and talk.
One of the things we talked about was sex. On one ‘hot chocolate walk’ in 6th grade we went through the whole sex ed curriculum that his school was about to do with his class. On another we talked through pornography and what it is and what to do about it. By the time he was thirteen I would occasionally ask on a walk about how much skin he was seeing on screens and how it made him feel and which girls he thought were cute.
Gradually I realized the things he was sharing didn’t line up with my experience as a teenager. He was a lot more pure than I was by far, but that wasn’t what gave me pause. It was the direction of his impulses, the questions that he was asking, and his persistent lack of interest in girls. Katy and I would debrief those conversations at night when the kids were in bed, and I started to wonder. And to dread.
Then the day came. We’d gone to the Apple Store at the mall and on the way out passed two huge posters of models not wearing much clothing. I dragged my eyes away from the scantily clad girl in the one in time to notice Timothy absorbed in the scantily clad man in the other. It hit me like a ton of bricks. My son is attracted to men.
The story for me splits in two at that point. One piece of the story is about me and God; the other’s about me and Timothy.
What Happened in my Relationship with Timothy
I realized that Timothy didn’t know how to articulate his sexual development and that it was my job as his father to walk with him on that journey. That meant asking a lot of questions, creating space for him to ask his, and doing a whole lot of listening. As I prayed about it and as Katy and I talked it through, I realized that I did not want to ‘out’ my son to himself. He needed to go on his own journey and figure out his own attractions. I didn’t push him to make conclusions about himself; instead, over the course of the next 18 months or so I continued to be a conversation partner and I tried to resource him in a number of ways.
One of those ways was to provide some reading material. I started to become aware of some thoughtful authors on Christianity and LGBTQ issues, so I left books around the house and he’d pick them up and we’d talk about them (Love is an Orientation by Marin; Homosexuality and the Christian by Yarhouse, Torn by Lee, Washed and Waiting by Hill). One night he was processing about how his friends were expressing their sexuality, and he was curious if there were other ways to think about attraction, so we talked through the Kinsey Scale (though imperfect, it’s a helpful analytic way to look at sexual attraction on a continuum instead of the usual binary). Since I led the youth discipleship group he was in and they wanted to talk about hot topics, we covered the six main Christian views on the morality of homosexuality.
By this time, our ‘hot chocolate walks’ had transitioned into coffee dates, and the conversations continued to deepen. Those were rich times, leading up to the conversation at Starbucks I wrote about HERE when he came out to me and Katy.
What Happened in my Relationship with God
The second side of my story was with God. It wasn’t a very pretty season for me spiritually.
I just about lost my faith.
As I think back now, there were three main things going on for me: guilt, fear, and sadness. Like any good American male, I expressed them primarily as anger.
The guilt came from worrying that I had caused Timothy to be gay. In the 1990s I read all of the Christian reparative therapy material and followed Exodus International closely. It was the company line that a distant father was the primary cause of homosexuality. Today, even good conservative researchers like Mark Yarhouse have debunked that theory, but I hadn’t read Yarhouse yet. I was wracked with guilt that I was a terrible father – that I had ruined my beloved son.
The fear came from my experiences with other Christians who had come out as gay – they had all given up their faith. Nothing is more important to me than knowing and loving Jesus, and so I couldn’t imagine anything worse than my son turning away from him. I would lie in my bed at night staring at the ceiling thinking about this – it just about ruined me.
The sadness came from the loss of my dreams. So many of my dreams for Timothy were dreams that included him being straight. When he was born I’d written a letter to his future wife. When he turned 13 we climbed Cloud’s Rest Peak in Yosemite to talk through how to find and court a godly woman. I was all geared up for the dating talks. Not to mention dreams of having the ‘traditional’ family. All those dreams evaporated and I was left with wet cheeks and a snotty nose from crying so hard.
Jesus and I had some very direct conversations those months. Early on I was not above bargaining, begging, screaming, blaming, cursing and threatening. I said some things to him that I never dreamed of saying to anyone, much less to the living God. I suppose that might come across as childish or theologically immature or perhaps dangerous. So be it. I don’t regret it.
For me, there was and is real loss in my son being gay. It’s not the way I wanted it to be. Facing that reality has been perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and, strangely, I would say that it’s been the very thing that has brought me closer to Timothy and closer to God.
There’s more to this journey that I hope to post in the next week or so.