Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Provider/Nurturer

In August 2006, I had a spiritual experience while attending Church with my parents in Springville, UT. The Spirit very clearly told me that I needed to open myself to the possibility of having children. This seemed like an odd prompting to me at the time. When I came out back in the late 1980s, I simply assumed that children would never play a significant role in my life. I actually went through a kind of grieving process, and said goodbye to the idea of fatherhood. When -- decades later -- the Spirit prompted me to open myself to parenting, I still didn't see how that would be possible. Göran and I have both found it necessary to work full time jobs, and I've never seen much point in adopting a child unless we somehow might find the means for one of us to quit work. But by the time I had this experience, I was growing in my ability to trust the promptings of the Spirit, so I responded by promising God that I would do as he asked, and open myself to this.

Some months later, a social worker friend of mine asked me if Göran and I would consider becoming foster parents. Had I not received that prompting and responded positively to it, I probably would have dismissed my friend's request without giving it much thought. But thanks to the Spirit's encouragement, I discussed the request with Göran and we mutually agreed to look further into foster parenting. Long story short, in December 2007 Göran and I became foster dads, and our lives have been forever transformed as a result.

My life acquired a new purpose. Once our foster son was placed with us, we both realized that from that moment on, he would be our top priority. Sacrifices of leisure and money I once never would have believed myself capable of became taken for granted. The way our home life was organized, the kinds of activities we would be involved in, our finances -- every aspect of our life together -- would now be arranged with the idea of providing nurture and support to our foster son, doing everything possible to help ensure his greatest future growth and happiness.

There have been times when I felt that -- if called upon to do so -- I would willingly give my life for him. It amazed me that such powerful feelings -- feelings I had never imagined possible in me -- could come into play in my life. And in such a short period of time! One moment, this boy was a complete stranger to me, and within days of meeting him we were bonded for life. It amazed me. Is it that the parenting instinct I had somehow suppressed, once given an outlet, welled up with extra force to make up for lost time? But needless to say, I have discovered a new richness in my life. I now can say I literally can't imagine what my life would be any more without Glen.

As time passed, we began to make more and more choices that have enhanced our capacity to function effectively as parents. In September of this year, for instance, I was finally able to persuade the managers of our law firm to allow me to work out of a home office, to enable me to be more available for our son, and to manage our home life better.

My involvement in the LDS Church also became a resource to me as a parent. With Glen in our lives, I participated in Priesthood and Sunday School lessons and discussions on parenting with heightened interest and a sense of urgency. The principles of family life taught in the Church -- principles of self-sacrifice, of putting others before oneself, of patience, chastity and fidelity, humility, persuasion, discipline, and the outpouring of love that effective discipline requires, of the need for prayer to find strength from beyond oneself, the gift of discernment, and trust in the guidance of the Spirit -- these principles have been my guiding lights in the journey of parenthood. I find myself on my knees, again and again, asking for help in developing the virtues that being a father and husband require. And the Lord has never left a single one of these prayers unanswered. In fact, rarely do I seek my Heavenly Father's guidance and help in such matters but that I am solemnly impressed by the Spirit that there is almost nothing in my life more important than to be an effective mate and dad.

Of course there is irony in this... Another one of the more powerful spiritual promptings I've received came in June 2008, when it became evident that a Supreme Court ruling in the State of California had opened to me for the first time ever the possibility of being legally married. The Spirit immediately prompted me to go and get married as soon as possible, not to wait. And so we did just that. Our wedding itself was a mountaintop spiritual experience for me. It was a time in my life overflowing with the warmth, light, and love that accompany the presence of the Spirit. Through the Spirit I felt with immediacy and power the approbation of my Heavenly Father. I knew he was very pleased with me -- with us -- for making this commitment.

We were blessed with an outpouring of rare spiritual -- and physical -- gifts as a result. After returning from California, as I prayed for the first time back in our home in Minnesota, the Spirit instructed me that because of the obedience I had shown in obeying the prompting to go to California and get married, I would be entitled to special gifts in my efforts to father Glen and nurture my spouse. What I asked in Christ's name, in my capacity as a father, to bless and strengthen my family, would carry special weight, so long as I honored all the promises I had made to my spouse and to God. And since then, there have been numerous situations in which I have seen that promise fulfilled. It has certainly strengthened my resolve to resist certain kinds of temptation -- to keep my mind and my heart pure, to avoid anger and impatience, to keep working even through the inevitable stresses and strains of life. (And teenage-hood!)

These mountaintop (and valley) spiritual experiences of course have contrasted sharply with the messages coming from the Church leadership in conjunction with the campaign to deny me and my partner the legal rights and recognition of marriage. I still don't completely know what to make of the contradiction. To say it is painful is an understatement. But I have received comfort and reassurance from the Spirit in proportion to the difficulty of that contradiction, and in response to the occasional pain caused by unthinking and insensitive statements made by members of the Church that I love. God is my refuge on this (as he must be in all aspects of my life). When I have made efforts to forgive, to love, to have patience, even in the face of misunderstanding and injustice, I have been blessed beyond my ability to receive.

Another irony is in the kinds of discussions that occasionally crop up in Church contexts, usually when the Proclamation on the Family is brought up and discussed, particularly in the characterizations made in the Proclamation about gender. When I listen to the Proclamation (or excerpts from it) read in Church, I mostly find myself nodding in agreement. I have a testimony of the importance of family, and my experience as a same-sex husband and as a parent has strengthened my testimony that the most important work that we do and the most important things that we learn, we learn as members of a family. I also have a sense of the importance of having a parent in the home who functions as a provider, and a parent in the home who functions as a nurturer. Though I find myself shaking my head a bit at the insistence that only a man can play the former role and a woman the latter.

I shake my head, first of all because in our home life Göran and I each at turns and in our own ways both function as provider and nurturer. We both work. We both care for household maintenance, for meals, for clothing. We both have functioned at times as disciplinarians. We both have had to provide emotional comfort. As I am sure most heterosexual couples do. There are times when the mother must work and discipline. There are times when a father must comfort and do household chores. Isn't that the way all families work?

I also smile, because, if I had to pin a role on my lapel, I'd say that I would probably wear the "provider/disciplinarian" button, and Göran would probably wear the "nurturer/comforter" button. Its just the way we work, the way our personalities mesh, the ways we compliment and interact with each other. Glen recognized it immediately. Within weeks of including him in our household, he was (with an impish sense of humor) introducing Göran to his friends as his "mom" and me as his "dad." He was just joking! (he felt it necessary to explain!) We're both his dads. But there was a grain of truth, if ever so small, in the joke. I enjoy doing more "daddy" like chores -- like scraping and painting the house, which was "my" project this past summer. Göran does more "mommy" like stuff -- planting a flower garden, and playing hostess when we entertain guests. I generally take a "head" approach to things, being more philosophical and rational. Göran tends to take the "heart" approach, following his feelings and occasionally getting impatient with my "intellectual" ways.

Earlier today, a friend of mine asked me if we had Halloween plans. I said (truthfully) that we are thinking about attending my ward's Halloween party. He asked me what costumes we would wear. I said (jokingly) that I would wear a suit and tie, and Göran would go in drag, and our costume would be called "one man/one woman." The Devil made me say it. But it was my way of acknowledging that from our perspective, gender seems so much more flexible a thing than the wording of the Proclamation would imply. I see the evidence of gender's flexibility both in gay and in straight couples, both Mormon and non-Mormon.

And yet, there's a principle in the Proclamation that I know is true. I know it from promptings of the Spirit. I know it from mundane, everyday, nose-to-the-grindstone-of-life experience. Every family needs a provider or providers, every family needs a nurturer or nurturers. And to accept those roles with a loving heart, with humility and prayer, is the highest, noblest, greatest and best thing we can do with our lives. Of that I have not the least doubt.

6 comments:

MoHoHawaii said...

What a beautiful family you have! You are blessed, and so are Göran and Glen.

J G-W said...

Thank you! You and your family are in my prayers too.

Quiet Song said...

Mere words cannot describe the comfort and hope your blog has given me since I started reading it. Thank you.

As to the proclamation, I believe it is is formulated in the most broad way possible to serve a worldwide church. Some of us will never ever meet all the ideals put forward in that document regardless of what type of relationship we are in. Marriage between a man and woman is still going to be the dominant form of marital relationship even if every nation on the earth embraced gay marriage.

Also, I think there are very few other spiritual paths that require members(and especially priesthood holders) to nurture the way the LDS church does. So, the word actually may not have quite the same meaning for us that it does for others.

I also think that there are things, that in retrospect, that I learned from my opposite sex relationship that I could not have learned in a same sex relationship, despite my own gender "fluidity." I do not know if my experience could define anyone else's and am not trying to be presumptive in anyway.

GeckoMan said...

Congratulations on becoming a 'stay-at-home Dad.' Sounds like you both are so happy and fulfilled in your roles together and that makes me glad. I praise God for His multitude of tender mercies upon your family. You give me hope in a much more inclusive future in the Church.

J G-W said...

Quiet Song - Thanks for the kind words... I think your take on the Proclamation is right. The Proclamation itself states that individual circumstances vary. The whole concept of personal revelation, furthermore, comprises the notion that we each can expect guidance from the Lord that is tailored to our individual, unique circumstances.

I also agree that a careful study of the principles of priesthood and family as described in the scriptures would suggest that worldly models of masculinity, femininity and gender are out of sync with divine models... (Nothing that should surprise us.)

Finally, I'm not surprised that your life with a woman would be very different from your life with a man... Though I'll go out on a limb here and say that your life with one woman would be very different from your life with a different woman, or your life with one man would be very different from your life with a different man. I also suspect that the gender dynamics between a straight man and a straight woman will be very different from the gender dynamics between two gay men, or between two lesbians, or between a gay man and a straight woman or a lesbian and a straight man.

Before I settled down with Göran, I dated a number of other men. The man I came closest to establishing a relationship with was a lot more stereotypically "masculine" than Göran. I think that had I ended up with him instead of Göran, the kinds of roles we would have had to play in order to make a successful, nurturing family would have had to be quite a bit different. I suspect that we would each have made a variety of adjustments to do what needed to get done.

That's my sense... That if you want to have a good home, a spiritual home, there are certain tasks that need to be achieved. And a good couple will step to the plate and accomplish those tasks -- play the roles that need to be played, in order for everyone to be nurtured and provided for the way they need.

Is it "better" if a man and a woman do this? Well, I suppose many would insist that it is.

J G-W said...

Geckoman -- thanks again for your kind words. Yes, this is a blessing. Being able to work from home has been a tremendous help to us!!!