Friday, February 10, 2017

Dear Patrick: I would like to open a conversation with someone I hurt a lot in the past. I rejected him for being gay even though I loved him very much. He quit speaking to me because I was so harsh in condemning his “sinful choices.” Not having him in my life just about killed me. I was so depressed. But I clung to my religious point of view. My pastor told me I was doing the right thing every time we prayed for my son to come back to the church and be cured or learn to be stronger in the face of temptation.

This man was my son. Over the years, I have come to believe that I was wrong to be so cruel to him. I no longer have the same religious convictions that led me to try to convert him to my point of view. I also have learned a lot more about homosexuality. I no longer feel that my son had any choice about who he is.

But it has been a long time since we spoke on the phone or wrote each other a letter, and I don’t know how to express myself to him. I was recently able to locate his address and phone number. What is the best way to do this? I am so concerned that I will make a mess of it again.



Dear PFLAG Mom:  I wish with painful, bitter intensity that my own mother had written somebody a letter like this one and gotten in touch with me before she died. We had a lifelong battle over my sexuality, and it did immeasurable damage to both of us and to the rest of the family. I continue to be absolutely confused and bewildered as to why churches that claim to be pro-family would tear people apart because somebody isn’t heterosexual or cis-gender (non-transgender). There is little or no scriptural basis for these prejudices. Even if there were, I fail to see how a decent spiritual life could be based on hatred.

It doesn’t much matter exactly what you say to your son as long as you convey a couple of simple truths. (1) You feel very sorry for having hurt and rejected him. (2) You no longer feel that homosexuality is a sin. (3) You have missed him a great deal. (4) You are not assuming he will want to forgive you or see you again, but if he is open to a reunion, you are available.

You could even print out this column and send it to him. Just write, “I sent in this question” in the margins. That way, you don’t have to search for any words of your own. I know that when a person feels very emotional, it can be quite difficult to find your own words. You are especially afraid of hurting him again. Even though your message is one of joy and not one of pain, I can understand that it would just wither you to feel that you had done any more harm.

Unless he is a vengeful and mean-spirited person, I think he will probably be open to some form of communication. He might be wary in the beginning, but if you continue to be open-hearted and accepting, there could eventually be some sort of reconciliation. You may need to listen to his story of what coming out was like for him, what his life has been like in the time you were parted, and how he has been affected by being pushed away and condemned. But that’s okay—it fills in the missing details of his life for you, and gives you an opportunity to lend a healing ear. There is enormous power in simply being with somebody while they tell you about difficult events, even if you have taken responsibility for causing some of their pain. Nothing else shows more clearly that you are serious about making amends and taking a new path.

If you contact your son and find that these conversations are too difficult to manage on your own, there are many trained family therapists who could help the two of you to process the past and put it to rest. This doesn’t mean you need to be in therapy for years and years, but it would probably take more than one or two visits to learn the skills it takes to manage grief and forgiveness.

As I see it, the biggest problem here is to make sure your son reads the letter. If he has already heard religious condemnation from you, he might be inclined to just toss it so he can avoid more painful evidence of your alienation. Put something on the letter to let him know this is a different kind of communication. You could write something like “love makes a family” or “equality now” on the flap of the envelope or just draw a rainbow and a smiling face. The statement “things have changed, please read this” on the flap of the envelope might also help him to understand the contents will not be upsetting.

I hope you will take this step as soon as possible. Don’t count on you or your son being around forever! Too much time has already gone by. Please write to me and let me know how it goes. I hope it is okay to say I am praying for you and your son.

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