These days when we talk about bravery, it often involves a mass shooting and first responders. The hero who flung himself on a gunman in a North Carolina classroom last week saved lives. I asked myself, would I have had the courage to do that?
In the same newscycle, a young man named Matthew Easton stood up in front of his graduating class of 10,000 students and announced he was gay. Coming out under any circumstance is a challenge. Doing so as the valedictorian of a university in Utah whose honor code explicitly prohibits homosexual behavior is in a whole other league. I wept as I watched this courageous kid’s remarks. I could palpably feel the release he must have felt as the words tumbled from his lips. I’ve been there, though not quite in such dramatic fashion. My parental moment of reckoning came over an episode of Law & Order.
“Hey Dad, got a minute?” my teeenaged son asked.
“Sure. What’s up?” Liv was busy meting out TV justice while I was packing for a two-week trip to Africa. I am not an organized guy.
“You know, since you’re going to be away for my birthday, there’s something I want to tell you.”
“Uh-huhhh.” Jeez, where did I stow my passport?
“You know I’m gay.”
“Hmmmm.” I counted the pairs of socks in my suitcase. I hate doing laundry in hotels. Finally I looked up at him. “Say, do you think we can lower the television?”
That talk was over two years ago and truth in advertising, it was not a complete fall-off-the-sofa moment. I’d had my suspicions and my wife was all but certain, long before me. Still, when that little boy you urged to play soccer (miserably so) for three seasons in elementary school pulls you aside and announces he is homosexual, it does get your attention. The second you hear those words, all your pre-conceived notions about his future fly out the window. Then, a moment later, you realize your future also just did a 180. Everything you thought, said or did is now filtered through a different scrim and lesson #1 is that you have to adopt a radically different view.
I am not writing this column to out my son (he gave me the okay before I crafted a single word), but to share a wakeup call with anyone who is raising a child. Whether you think you know your kid or not, you are now a full-fledged member of this brave new world! Your child – gay or straight, bi or trans, or just not sure – is coming of age in far more accepting times. Some of you are already there with your own children. You speak the language of gender fluidity, sexual identification, and a whole slew of pronouns that are awfully hard to fit into sentences. You are at the intermediate level and working hard to understand.
We have kids like Matthew Easton to thank for bumping it up a notch. It is their earth they are inheriting and they are already better stewards than we are. They scoff at global warming doubters, ridicule Donald Trump’s tweets, and don’t need anyone to tell them black lives matter. My stepdaughter and her peers are brimming with confidence because no one told them girls can’t succeed. Our children will be able to choose between candidates of color, gender and sexual identity. Is it any surprise they’re not getting all bent out of shape over who kisses whom?
My son, now a sophomore in college, gave me his blessing to write this piece as long as I promised not to make it cloying or precious. No tear-stained pages professing that I love him even more because he’s gay. I get it. This generation is losing the word “alternative.” With Matty’s bold Law & Order admission he was not asking for permission. Neither was Matt Easton of BYU. “You are seen,” he said to his classmates. “You are loved.”
My Matthew and I were driving home from a trip to Chicago not so long ago. It was the middle of the night and I was just doing my best to drive safely and stay awake. Out of the blue he announced, “I can’t wait to meet a great guy, Dad.” I glanced sideways at him across the front seat, his face illuminated by the glow of the radio dial, In just a few short months he’d be leaving for college. I thought to myself, God I’m going to miss that little boy. And in the same breath, I can’t wait to meet his first serious boyfriend. I wonder what I’ll make for dinner.
Parts of this story were adapted from the author’s previous piece for Inspirelle Paris, where he writes the “Man in the Kitchen” column.