“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
My Dear Readers,
There comes a time when a parent may have to choose between their spiritual and cultural beliefs and their love for their children. There are times where we as parents get stuck in the darkness of our beliefs. In these times, we should look to the wisdom and strength of our adolescents to show us the light.
This is such a story…..
Dear Dr. Kane
I hope you can help me. My husband and I have prayed, we’ve met with our pastor, and we are now considering seeking counseling. My 15 year-old son has recently informed us that he was gay. Needless to say, we were shocked, as was the core of our family unit shaken. We are a strong Christian family, and we attend church services regularly. My husband is a renowned senior deacon and I am the director of the Sunday school my son has attended since kindergarten. Due to our positions and standing within our church, we are concerned about the response this will cause should anyone find out this information.
He brought us together and told us after last Sunday’s meal. The first thing my husband said was: “You’re telling me that you are a faggot?” I just burst out in tears.
My husband and I are confused. Our son is very masculine. He’s on the first-string varsity teams in both basketball and football, and he is co-captain of the football team. While he was growing up, we never saw any indication that he was interested in other boys. Since the announcement, my husband remains emotionally distant from our son. He avoids speaking to him more than is necessary. As a result, our son is devastated and withdrawn. It is difficult for me to watch, because I know how much my son admires his father.
My son told me in confidence that he is attracted to another boy who is in his class. He asked him out on a date to the first school dance. The other boy said yes, and the look on my son’s face as he was telling me was priceless. I want to tell my husband, but I am concerned as to how he will react.
My husband is a good man. I know he loves our son and is proud of his achievements in his academics and sports. He is always bragging to the other fathers in the church about him. Now, he comes up with excuses not to attend his football games.
My son tells me that he has already told his close friends, who also attend our church. He was happy when they reacted positively by giving him fist bumps. However, knowing how our community feels about homosexuality, I am fearful of what will happen should the church members and our close friends find out.
Please advise me what to do. What do I say to his younger brother, who looks up to him? How do I address the relationship between my son and his father? How do I bring them together? Can counseling help? What would you do if you were in my place? I would appreciate any resources or recommendations you have.
Fearful Mom, Federal Way WA
My Dear Woman,
Before I begin to respond to your concerns, I want to applaud the maturity your son has shown in his actions and behavior. I can only assume he is fully aware of your strong religious beliefs. Understanding this, he chose not to hide and instead brought the two of you together as his parents to share this part of himself. For families, the home must be seen as a safe and secure space where the individual can find shelter from an often hostile external world. When the safety and security of the home has been psychologically impacted, it is essential that harmony be reestablished.
I have a therapeutic model that can assist in responding to this situation. The model is called S.A.F.E.T.Y:
(S) Slow down your mental and emotional processing. Work towards calmness in the psychological self.
- Statements and actions coming from reactions of panic and desperation may create more stress and have long-term implications.
- For example, being asked a derogatory and vulgar question about his sexual identity by his father may have a detrimental impact on your son’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
(A.) Acceptance that the experience that has created moments of emotional unbalance. Moving forward, focus on healing and not removal of the experience.
- The experience is now a permanent fixture within the psychological self. It cannot be removed, replaced or transformed.
- This is the time that your son needs his parents the most. Do you think it was easy for him to bring his parents together and tell you his truth? Especially, since he knows your beliefs about homosexuality, your elevated positions in the church, and in the African-American community?
(F) Focus on the choice of living with fear instead of living in fear.
- You and your husband have to choose whether to focus on what the church community and your friends will say once the “word” gets out, or not. If you choose the former, then you will have chosen to live in fear of the gossip and how it will impact your standing in the church and community.
- If you choose to focus on the wellness of your family and to be physically and emotionally available for your son, then you have chosen to live with fear and not allow the gossip to hold and control you and your relationship with your son.
(E) Empower the self to transform. Where change can be temporary and thus unstable, moving back and forth, in transformation there is no going back, one can only go forward. You move forward with a sense of direction and permanence.
- Your son showed incredible courage in sharing his sexual identity with you, knowing that he will be subjected to rude and mocking remarks.
- Consider the pressure and stress that your son endured knowing once he made his sexual feelings/identity known, there was no turning back. Understanding this, he still chose to go forward, sharing awareness and not maintaining secrets from you.
(T) Trust and listen to your own inner voice. Allow the self and its love to guide you.
- Consider the willingness of your son to have trust in his direction as he steps out into the unknown.
- Consider the belief and faith that you had in getting to where you are today. Have the willingness to trust what may become a new journey.
(Y) Your journey; you are standing at the crossroads and only you can decide in direction you will travel.
- If your church and community is unwilling to accept your son, you may have to choose between your church, your community, and your son.
- Identify your true friends and support base as you continue to ponder your decision. Will they continue to stand by you? Or will they be silent?
My Dear Woman,
When your son’s date accepted his invitation to the school dance, your son shared his joy with you. You saw the joy on his face. He shared with you a very special moment. In doing so he gave you a gift. The fact that he told you is meaningful and special. Are you willing to accept it?
Resolving the relationship between father and son.
What can you do regarding their relationship? Answer: be a bystander, do nothing. Your focus should be on building a closer relationship between yourself and your son. Do not allow yourself to be placed in the middle and be forced to choose sides. You cannot win, and you will not be able to navigate the distance between the two of them. Your husband may be experiencing an internal conflict between the societal and cultural meaning of maleness as it relates to African-American fatherhood and his love for his son. He may also be responding to feelings of shame and humiliation in relationship to the other fathers involved in church and sports activities. If so, only he can bring resolution to these feelings.
Furthermore, both your husband and son may have unresolved feelings regarding the derogatory and vulgar question your husband asked when your son came out to you. However, your husband does not “owe” your son an apology. If he truly has such a derogatory view of his own son, then he should stand firm on what he said and in doing so, allow the son to see his father as he truly is, a bigot who is unable to love his son for the person that he is instead of the person that he wants him to be. However, if your husband sees and accepts that he has committed an injury to his son, then he should extend to him the “gift of an apology,” as an apology is a gift from one to another and not a debt that is due or owed.
Relationships among family and friends
Your son is moving towards developing a healthy sense of self as well as positive self-esteem. He has informed his friends and in doing so, he took the risk of losing those friendships.
In regards to his younger sibling, given as to how much his younger brother looks up to him it is highly unlikely that your son’s sexuality will change the love that thrives between the two. Of course, you can assist in this by working to resolve your own feelings about your son’s sexuality.
Recommendations & Resources
- I would recommend family counseling to assist the family members in exploring ways to communicate openly as well as explore concerns relating to sexual identity
- Contact the PFLAG chapter (i.e. Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) nearest to your community
- List of resources available on the website of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Health (LGBT Health) located on the home page for Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
Finally, you asked, “What would you do if you were in my place?
If I found myself in a similar situation, I would embrace my son and continue to assist him in preparing to live openly in a world that may not be welcoming to his sexual orientation or racial identity. I would move forward with him on the journey of self-discovery.
“One does not go back. Time cannot be reset. One can only go forward and in doing so, focus on the journey of self-discovery.”
-Dr. Micheal Kane, The Visible Man