Next week I'll be traveling to Utah to present a paper at the Sunstone Symposium (part of the reason I haven't been blogging so much the last couple of weeks--too busy working on my paper). But as much as I'm looking forward to Sunstone, I think what makes me most happy is the thought of seeing my parents.
My dad is one of the most loving, patient dads I have ever known. As I was growing up, he frequently made a point of taking one-on-one time with each of us, taking us out on special Saturday afternoon outings to a ball game or to the film developing lab where he worked (my dad worked for Eastman Kodak Company his whole life). He played games with us. He had a standing challenge that if we could ever beat him at chess, he'd pay us a hundred dollars. Nope, I never got my hundred. My dad is smart! I was never so much into sports as my dad was. But the greatest love of his life was also the greatest love of mine as a youth and young adult: the Church. We both loved the Church with our whole hearts.
When I left the Church, it broke Dad's heart. Now I weep to think how much that must have hurt him. I remember one time sitting in the kitchen, shortly after I had left the Church. There was so much hurt and anger in me, and I was self-righteously venting and tearing down the Church. Dad got up and left without saying a word. Dad, I am so sorry! There are few things I wish I could take back more than that moment.
I have not come back to the Church for my parents' sake. In fact, at first I kept it a big secret from them, because I did not want to get their hopes up. And maybe also because I realized that, given my present circumstances, I could never be the kind of Mormon son they might have wanted. But just imagine the joy of the father in the parable of the prodigal son when his son came back, magnify that about a thousand times, and that's how my parents have been toward me. They did not care that I could not be a "perfect" Mormon son. The love they have shown me is beyond words.
A year ago in February, I went out to Fresno, California to join my parents in visiting my grandmother who was gravely ill at the time. And one of the mornings we were there together, my dad and I went for a walk, just the two of us. We talked about lots of things. Mostly we talked about the Gospel. We had rediscovered our great, common love. I was telling him about some books I had read recently that really gave me insight into the apostasy and the restoration. We arrived at a park and just stood there together, and then I bore my testimony to him and he bore his testimony to me, and then we hugged and wept in each other's arms. There can be no Heaven sweeter than that moment in my memory.
Mom and I struggled in our relationship too, after I left the Church. But when it came to dealing with me and my anger at the Church, Mom was always the more steady one. My teenage years were really tough -- ironically not because I was a rebellious teen. I was the opposite. My teenage trials had to do with the fact that I was so committed to the Church, which made me stand out in some rather unpopular ways in our worldly, affluent Rochester, NY suburb. It probably also had to do with the fact that I was somewhat bookish and sensitive. (My sister later told me that it was considered common knowledge in my high school that I was gay.) High school was extremely lonely and isolating for me. Mom says every day of my first year in high school I came home either crying or on the verge of tears. Mom was always there for me, comforting me and helping me through those trials, reassuring me that in the end, my goodness would pull me through and my faithfulness would all be worth it.
After I left the Church, it was Mom who most consistently reached out to me; who made the earliest overtures. Never with strings attached. Always, it became clear to me, Mom loved unconditionally. She wished I would come back to the Church, that was always obviously true. But it didn't matter if I didn't. Mom was always the same, sweet Mom.
After I came out to my parents, Mom says that, as they were driving me to the airport, she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, filling her with a sense of perfect peace, and telling her that she had no need to fear for me, that everything would be OK. It was Mom who made it clear, when I started bringing my partner Göran home for holidays or to family reunions, that he was as much a part of the family as I was. If my dad and I had our books and our interest in intellectual pursuits in common, Göran and Mom had the kitchen in common. Every time we visit my parents, Göran is not happy unless he's been involved in some cooking project with Mom, or learned some new Finnish recipe from her.
I do not take for granted how lucky I am. So much of what is good about me, I owe to them. There is a long journey ahead for me, but if I ever get discouraged, there's one phone call I know I can always make.