Father to the Man

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Yesterday, on a picture of my grade school, Washington Elementary, that I had posted to Facebook, my friend Julie commented that she had a picture of me that had been taken years ago on the playground of that school.  I’d love to see it, I told her and a few minutes later, she posted the picture, this picture, in the comment section.  I had not known exactly what to expect and yet, I was not completely prepared for what I saw.  A t-shirt that clung to my chubby stomach and love handles, oversized glasses, Sears “husky” jeans, shaggy haircut and an extremely effeminate pose.

What was I thinking, I wondered.  Did I think I was Kelly Garrett or Kris Monroe?

I looked at this little guy and thought, well, I can’t let Eric see this.  In fact, I can’t let anyone see this.

Julie told me that written on the back of the photo was, “Ray Louis Barnhart Jr, 6th, 1980.” I would have been 11.

And while I was afraid for people to see this picture, I couldn’t stop looking at it myself.  I found myself awash in memories of those years.  Like the time I told Julie and another friend Jennifer that I wanted to lose 10 pounds in a weekend and Julie gave me a list of the foods I was allowed to eat.  The only item from the list I remember was pickles and now, to this day, I think of Julie every time I eat a pickle. Also, I remembered attempting a fast and shamefully breaking that fast with a cold roast beef sandwich and a sleeve of Thin Mints.

In my mind, I remember those grade school years as a time when I was anxious or depressed about any number of things: my weight, being called names, feeling like I didn’t have a lot of friends, feeling different, being unskilled at sports.

And yet, this picture is proof that I must have had some good days, happy days, gleeful days.  I’ve tried to remember what was going through my head on this day when I posed, and I do mean POSED, for this picture, but I just don’t know.

Our memories, they are sometimes so complicated when we take them out of envelopes in our chest of drawers and scan them to our computers and then zoom in on the details of afternoons from decades ago.

If this was a picture of a boy from the eighties that I did not know, that maybe I’d stumbled on it in a bin of old photos that antique stores and flea markets sometimes have with a sign that says, “25 cents or 5/$1.00”, if I had just randomly come upon a perfect stranger, I could have loved this kid without reservation.  I could have looked in those eyes and seen enough of myself to root for him and wonder how things turned out, hoping “it got better.”

At 11, I did not have the skills to take a dishonest picture.  As I got older, I learned to butch it up in photos, to affect a manlier pose.  My high school and college years, I have so many memories of modulating my walk or my speech in a way to come across as straight and masculine.  (Perhaps you knew me then and are thinking, well, you weren’t as successful as you thought.  And if that’s the case, that’s okay, too.)

Perhaps I have never taken a picture that reveals the me that is most me than this.  This guy loves chocolate cake.  He loves his hometown (orange and black t-shirt).  He loves playing with girls at recess.  His favorite part of the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog is the Barbie section. He dances and sings to Shaun Cassidy’s “Hey Deanie” and Leif Garrett’s “Surfin’ USA” in his bedroom. He loves being silly.  He knows he is not like everyone else and he revels in his uniqueness.

It breaks my heart a little to think that my first thought when I saw this picture yesterday was shame, that I needed to hide this.  That I had to take a minute and step away to realize how great this young man is.

Over three hundred years ago, William Wordsworth wrote a poem called My Heart Leaps up about his love of rainbows and realizing he’s always loved rainbows even since he was a small child.  That who we are when we are young sets the stage for the person we will be our entire lives.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I could not escape this kid if I tried, and I did try, and sometimes, I still do try.  I mean, I went to Bible college in an attempt to make myself straight, that’s how desperately I wanted to be someone else.  It’s been a long road to self acceptance and it frustrates me that at almost 50, STILL, some days are better than others. But I have to be honest, this guy, this spirited young fellow, he is my hero.  When I really think about it, I realize he is everything I aspire to be.  So, despite some hesitation, I am sharing him with all of you.  I hope you love him as much as I do.

 

 

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A Little Bit Lost

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A few days ago, while waiting to catch my plane back to Los Angeles at Kansas City International Airport, I noticed a young man in a bright red polo shirt as I walked to the restroom.  He must have been around twenty, thick glasses not unlike mine.  Skinny and walking around in his stocking feet and carrying brand new sneakers.  It took me a minute to realize he had just come through his security screening.  He looked lost and I wondered if maybe this was his first plane trip.

With some confusion, he looked out the windows to the part of the terminal where family waits for and bids farewell to their loved ones.  Finally his eyes landed on something or someone and he immediately smiled and waved.  His mother and father were outside waving back, his mom jumping up and down a bit. So lucky to be so loved, I thought.

When I came out of the bathroom, the kid with the red polo was nowhere to be seen.  I hoped he’d finally put his shoes back on. I walked back to the chairs where Eric and I had been sitting, waiting for our flight.

This had been Eric’s first trip to Kansas.  And Missouri. And Oklahoma.  I had been excited to show my partner the world that raised me.  The discussion of moving to the midwest has come up occasionally this year as my parents and I and Eric navigate the place where they are in their lives.  While they are able to live alone, it just seems they have hit a stretch where they need a bit more help.  I know they have family and friends who help them in many ways, and I’m grateful, but so many times, a situation arises and I think, I should be the person to do this for you.  And in the last few months, by taking time off work to be with them in Kansas, I have been able to do some of that.

A not completely unrelated sidenote: they loved Eric in Kansas.  And Eric had a great time, too. Enchanted by the Nelson-Atkins, admiring of the Christmas lights on the Country Club Plaza, awestruck by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower.  He met friends of mine from several points in my life and it seemed to me, they all really loved him. On Sunday morning, we walked around the periphery of my now boarded up grade school.  The classrooms were so tiny in contrast to the rooms of my 40 year memory. I gazed into Miss Boner’s third grade class and could not stop thinking about how the idea of growing up and falling in love and building a life with another guy would have seemed so foreign and impossible to the 9-year-old me.  But here I was, showing my hometown to my love.  Like any other couple.

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My parents call Eric their family.  In seven years, their relationships have developed.  They know foods and hobbies the other likes, the things they don’t.  What makes them laugh. Monday morning, as Eric and I said our goodbyes to my parents before we drove our rental car back to Kansas City, all four of us, we took turns hugging goodbye.  As long as I can remember, my ritual has been one hug to Mom, then one to Dad, and then a followup to Mom. But this time, I hugged both my parents at least twice.  When Eric released my Mom from their hug, there were tears in each of their eyes.  “No crying,” I joked.  I looked at my Dad and we kind of laughed. Everyone in the family knows how much I cry.

My Dad, he cries too.  A few weeks ago, his voice broke when he told me that a young mother that he’d been a youth group leader for when she was a teenager is naming her son after him. Solomon Ray.  Wise King.

At MCI, as my plane took off and steered its way west, I couldn’t stop thinking of the boy in the red polo shirt.  The kind of lost, kind of sad look on his face.  I remembered my first night in my college dorm, anxious for my parents to leave and go home, then heart-ached the second they’d left and I was alone in a dingy, institutional dorm room, knowing no one. Afraid that I would not be able to make friends in a new place.

Every time I’ve gone a little too far from home, I’ve felt that ache.  New York, Los Angeles, summer camp.

The good news about being a little bit lost, is that whether you realize it or not, you’re also a little bit found.  The young man, off on his adventure, had a family cheering and bolstering him just beyond the glass.  And when his plane was in the air and the parents were driving back to St. Joseph or Harrisonville, or Fort Scott, they were still cheering and waving and loving the kid.

Clearly, I was that skinny four-eyed kid once upon a time.  And my Mom would shed many tears when we said goodbye at airports.  And my Dad would hold my Mom and the two of them would wave until one of was out of sight.  Even now, I can still see them waving, “We love you, Son. Call us when your plane lands, even if it’s late.”

Still, a little lost, but also, found.

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Guest Blogger Matthew Miller: ‘One Team! One Sound! One Family! One Regiment!’

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My cousin Matt sent me this piece he wrote about his recent trip, with his son’s marching band regiment, to the Band of America Grand National Championships.  I appreciate him offering his insights and pulling back the curtain into a world I know very little about.  So much work goes into these competitions, these entire seasons, and it’s nice to be reminded of how hard everyone, students and parents alike are working.  Great stuff, Matt and Congratulations to Renegade Regiment!!

 

This past weekend we attended the Bands of America Grand National Championships for high school marching bands held in Indianapolis.  This is the competition for elite level bands from across the nation.  Of the thousands of marching bands and of the 500 or so highly competitive programs, this event was for the top 100 in the country.  It is the Olympics for the marching band world.  Marching band has come along way from just doing parades and doing straight line drills.  There is pageantry, athleticism, and musicality all being wrought by students from grades 8th through 12th.  The Renegade Regiment, my son’s band, has been a finalist 11 times since the beginning of the Grand Nationals competition, at least once in every decade.  Our bordering neighbor, Broken Arrow, has been the champion twice in the last five years.  Other programs in our area are gearing up for the elite level competition.  Steel makes steel stronger!

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It is too large a task just for the school band directors to accomplish on their own.  Our school has a band booster organization established in 1979 with  23 board of directors to run an annual budget of close to a million dollars.  The board and other booster members are 100% volunteers, giving countless hours coordinating activities, fundraising, planning logistics for food, housing and travel, creation and movement of field props and being the behind the scenes crew.  These volunteers are mostly parents, guardians and grandparents of student participants.  Our club, the Union Band Parent Club, has been making strides to be inline with our band director and school’s vision and mission.  We do our best to remove the administrative and logistical obstacles, so the band directors can send the majority of the time providing quality instruction for our students.

I submitted the pieces below to our weekly parents newsletter.  The first was prior to our trip, the second was after riding the 13 hour charter bus ride back to Tulsa from Indianapolis.  These were to offer compliments, encouragement, thanks and realism for what we do as a parent organization to support our students.  Our band directors use a closing chant with the students: One Team! One Family! One Sound! One Regiment! I have incorporated the meaning that it has for us as parents, but it is more than applicable in anyone’s daily life.   I hope you enjoy and are enriched from these notes.

Reflection in Preparation

As we look forward to this busy upcoming competition week, take a moment to reflect.  The prospect of moving a small village to Indianapolis is a monumental task.  There are so many small details, logistic concerns, vendor issues, deadlines… the list goes on and on.  It is with good reason that we share this load of duties to make what we do, that allows our directors and students stay focused and primed for the competition.   Why do we spend the hours and hours each week to do this?  One reason: to let the students shine at what they do, at their highest possible ability.  Our students do their best at exemplifying our example: they are student leaders, athletes and scholars.  They work long arduous hours memorizing drill, music and choreography, all while attending school, completing homework, participating in other activities and working part time jobs.  In some cases, they are working  to pay their own way.  I stand in awe of what they choose to accomplish each and every day.  They do not hold back, in that way they stand tall against their peers.

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When describing what I do with the band to people, it is simple to explain that the time invested is going to our future leaders. Young people who know both victory and defeat and make the choice to continue to the best of their ability.  These young people will be the shapers and doers of our future, not just blind followers.  They have tasted the experience of being the best they can be and will not accept less.  The standards that they are learning now will carry them onward in the future paths that they explore.  They rest not on their accomplishments, but look forward to what they hold for the future.  Each of us that assist these students play a role in this achievement, be that involvement small or large.  Who is to say what they will accomplish, but be rest assured that it will be done with their personal best.

‘One Team! One Sound! One Family! One Regiment!’ is more than a chant or a saying, it is a way of living to the highest potential everyday.  Think on this as we prepare, can each of us make the same promise to be part of the One Team, One Sound, One Family and One Regiment.

Dignity * Grace * Pride

These are descriptive words for our Renegade Regiment students.  We received compliments from bus drivers, restaurant managers and employees, hotel managers, event workers, band directors and other band parents for our students.  They were outstanding ambassadors for the Renegade Regiment, Union Bands and Union High School. They embodied the points of the Union Band Parents Club Mission of having a culture of artistry, excellence and community.  These are the reasons that I am most proud of the students.

They exhibited  an infectious energy during performances and rehearsals.  In so many words they were fierce on stage.   Our students shined in the little things that they did.  They were humble, gracious and encouraging when interacting with other bands.  They shared excitement for other bands and their performances.  They upheld the Oklahoma spirit of community in cheering for Owasso and Broken Arrow band performances.

Most people will never know how the on-stage personas that were demonstrated are radically opposite from the students regular personalities. They are professional performers.  They did not show the shy and reserved normal personalities that some have – they were fierce.  The effort individually expended enhanced all of the performances.  The amount of energy expended was incredible – you did not see signs of illness or injury, just effort.  Performers quite  literally fell off field, having given all that they could.  There was not anything else they could have given – it was left all out on the field.

After all of this was done, the harsh realities of life were felt.  Injuries were attended to, sleeping and homework were started.  The joy of being an elite finalist in their field of performance was still present, an understated glow on each student.  For other students the reality came more harshly, an event of a restaurant patron being hateful and bigoted was overheard by our students.  The students exhibited grace and courage as they removed themselves from the situation, alerted the appropriate adults  so the corrective actions could be taken.  A bad situation was kept from getting worse by brave students knowing how to respond accordingly and where to turn to for assistance.

We are unable to shield our students from the world, but we can provide a safe environment for them to use in times of need.  We exist as a vehicle to provide encouragement and support as they students learn, grow and perform.  At times we provide the refuge from the realities of daily life.  I feel blessed to be part of an organization that has the passion and compassion to do what we do.  Thank each of you who are able to spend your time in the enrichment of these student’s souls.  The chant resounds again:  One Team! One Sound! One Family! One Regiment!

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Then Sings My Soul

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Several years ago, I was driving through Utah on my way to a family reunion.  Having never been in the state, I was awestruck by the beauty and the majesty of the landscape.  Mountains and canyons and old bridges and blue, blue skies on a sunny July day.  Over and over, only half aware of it, I would start to sing the first verse of a song that I sometimes sing when I encounter grandeur in nature.

Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds
Thy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed

The truth is, How Great Thou Art isn’t really even one of my favorite hymns.  I don’t hate it but I don’t think of it as a song that resonates for me.  And yet, here I was driving through Utah and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I also couldn’t get it out of my head when I saw snow capped Mt. Shasta for the first time.  Or sometimes when I walk through Central Park.

At that particular time in my life, church and God and religion were something that I felt very far removed from.  It was almost vexing that an old-fashioned country church hymn would be so fixated in my subconscious. While I grew up in the church, it was not who I was in my adulthood. But as I drove through Utah, I tried to give myself some grace.  I tried to just enjoy the song and the singing of the song, sung at the top of my lungs, no less.

I’ve written about it before but a couple of years ago, I embarked on a journey back to church.  Not the same faith of my youth, I don’t think anyone ever holds on to that, exactly.  But I found a church that accepted the LGBTQ community and preached about social issues that I care about and told me that all those questions and doubts I’ve always had about God and Jesus and the Bible and Christianity were welcome too.

So I joined that church and then about a year later I stopped going.  Somewhere down the road I might write about it but, put succinctly, I stopped going to that church because even after a year, no one knew my name.

I share that, not to ask for anyone’s sympathy, but only to illustrate that many people have any number of reasons for going to church and any number of reasons for leaving it.

Yesterday, in an effort to take a break from getting into political fights on Facebook, I asked the question, “What is your favorite hymn?” And I asked people to elaborate if they were inclined to do so.

While I was slightly surprised by how many people responded to the question, I was not shocked by the answers themselves.  The classics like In the Garden, The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Ave Maria and of course, How Great Thou Art all made multiple showings.

As I imagined, so many favorite songs had memory tied to its resonance.  Beautiful stories of grandmothers and grandfathers, weddings, funerals, parents, siblings, children.  I know this sounds corny, but it was an honor to read these paragraphs about some of my friends’ most indelible memories.

I wondered why I had even posted this question, was I trying to write a blog?  If so, what was it that I wanted to say?  I didn’t know.

But, then, tonight, a friend of mine, I’ll call him Scott, weighed in.  (I pray he forgives me for sharing this.)   “*sigh* It’s been so long since I’ve invested any thoughts to anything ‘Christ-ey.’ That said, “Abide with Me” has always held a secure spot in my gay soul because it speaks of the promise of love & support when the rest of the world has abandoned me.” 

I feel like I understand where Scott is coming from.  We both grew up in conservative evangelical homes.  We both tried to be straight but came out eventually.  We both spent so much time in churches singing songs and listening to sermons and participating in classes and these experiences, in part, have molded the men we are today.

Not everybody goes to church.  Not everybody that grew up going to church still goes to church.  Church is responsible for many good things and also responsible for some bad things too.  I am not here to make a case for religion. But I do want to say something, and I must confess, it’s a lesson that took me a few decades to learn. If you have a song, whether it’s Sia or George Jones or Tchaikovsky or a song about Jesus that you sang when you were a child, if you love it, that song is yours and it will always be yours.  Nothing can change that.

Inspired by Scott, I have posted a YouTube video of a British (I think) boys’ choir.  A quick search led me to many renditions, even one by Elton John, but this is the one that moved me most.  Young children singing about the promise of love and support. I pray that they will grow into adults who always, their entire lives, know that Love.

A Neverending Negotiation

 

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Today, Eric and I celebrated the 7th anniversary of the day we met. Pretty cool. I don’t think I post a lot about Eric on FB or IG, but today I posted a cute picture of my dog Millie and Eric around the time Eric entered our lives.

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The picture got over a hundred likes on FB, a big hit. Now, what I am going to say, it is not a judgement, merely an observation. I promise. But, whenever I make a reference to Eric, even the most innocuous one,  I sense a hesitation that comes from some people who I went to Bible college with. I can just feel them hovering over the blue thumbs up button thinking, I want to be supportive as a friend but I also don’t want to make a statement that would indicate that I don’t interpret the Bible conservatively.  I get it. It’s all good, really.  I truly believe that the evangelical Christian has a challenge today negotiating what they believe is scriptural truth against how they interact with the LGBTQ friends and family that they love.

Something happened to me when I was home in Kansas. I was visiting my friends who run a business in my hometown and they asked me if I knew a person. For the sake of the story, we’ll call him Jimmy Roberts. I said, “Yes, I know Jimmy Roberts, he is a very good friend of my parents.”  They proceeded to tell me that Jimmy had written a letter to the editor in the local paper expressing his dismay that the public library was one of the sponsors of a recent Southeast Kansas LGBTQ pride weekend.

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I wasn’t exactly shocked that someone would write a letter to the paper expressing disagreement with the festival, but it did strike me as somewhat extraordinary that this dissenter happened not only to be my parents’ friend but really their best friend.

I do not live in Independence and there is no one I know in this world who has done more for my parents in the last year than Jimmy and his wife.  They have checked on them regularly, taken them to doctors appointments, cooked them meals, spent an afternoon with them at the ER. You get the idea.

When my friends told me about this letter, I had to track it down.  Of course, I found it at the library, which was the impetus for Jimmy’s letter in the first place.  Jimmy did not feel that a government funded entity should support something LGBTQ because not everyone in the town agreed with that “viewpoint”.

I will be honest, when I read his letter, it bothered me.  First, that anyone would write those words, second, that this was a good friend of my parents and third, I wondered if perhaps my parents felt the same way about the LGBTQ community and the pride festival that Jimmy did.

I went home and asked my parents if they knew about the letter.  They had not heard about it or read it.  My Mom asked me to send her a copy so she could read it and I did.  We did not talk about it.

A couple of hours later, Jimmy and his wife, came to my parents’ house to visit them.  They knocked on the door of the back room where I was sitting watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (gay) on Netflix (also kinda gay).  My dog Ricky barked and they let themselves in.  Jimmy’s wife, who Ricky had been quite taken by on their last visit, bent down to pet him.  As he barked, I tersely said, “He’s really worked up tonight, my parents are in the living room.”

Jimmy and his wife went into the other room and for the next 45 minutes I could hear them talking to my parents, about what I did not know.  Although I was pretty sure I knew what they weren’t talking about.  I will say this, but I have a fantasy, all of us LGBTQ offspring do, I sat there in my parents’ den wishing that they somehow could have said to their friend, in a loving but firm way, “Hey, that letter, that’s not so cool.  Especially since you know our son is gay.”

I wrestled if whether or not I could say something.  And if I could say something, what would it be and what should it be? I decided against it and then I thought about the pictures I’d seen, posted on Facebook, of the SEK Pride festival. It had been held weeks before I came to town.  These twentysomethings, just kids, many dressed in various forms of drag.  (There was a lot of glitter.)  For one night, they were free and celebrated and fierce and loved. And I just wished there was a way that these kids, my tribe, could have a better time living in my hometown than I did. But how could I say anything in a way that would make Jimmy see how utterly special and desperately needed something like a smalltown pride festival is?

In the end, wise or foolish, as Jimmy and his wife were leaving, as Ricky was both barking at him AND allowing him to pet him, I told Jimmy that I had read the letter.

He gave a nervous laugh.

I told him how when I was growing up here in this town, when everything I knew, like my church and my school, were telling me something was wrong with me, I was grateful for that library.

He reiterated his point, that a government funded entity should not support a viewpoint that not everyone believes in.

It was a very awkward 5 minute conversation. My mother and his wife quietly bearing witness to it.

He told me that he didn’t think he’d ever treated me differently than anyone else and I agreed with him. He and his wife have always been kind to my face. But, when he was the minister of my parents’ church, on every occasion I was in town visiting the congregation where I grew up, on every occasion, he brought up the “sin” of homosexuality from the pulpit. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but eventually, I started tracking it, and well, every time I was in the church, homosexuality was addressed.

I’d like to say that our conversation that night was cordial. I was impassioned and nervous and scattered and loud. At one point, Jimmy started to suggest a book or a video I should read or watch, and I shut him down. (I guess he thought gay people had never had a Christian offer a book to fix them before.) I said, “No, I’ve read exactly what you have to say on the topic and it is heard and it is noted.” (Dramatic? Me?)

They left soon after and his wife meekly offered, “Thanks for taking care of our dog the other day.”

“You’re welcome,” I muttered. I had been happy to help them with their dog earlier in the week. I had been happy to lend a hand to thank them for all they have done for my parents. And then I’d snarled like a pit bull at them.

After Jimmy and his wife left, I told my Mom that she probably didn’t appreciate me confronting him. She said she understood where I was coming from. I told her that I felt like I had to say something to stand up for all the kids growing up in Independence who feel like something is wrong with them. I told her about my friends’ friend, not being accepted by his parents. And I started to cry. “Are you okay?” my Mom asked? “Yes, I’m fine.” “I know you didn’t have an easy time of it growing up here.” I could tell she wanted to hug me and a part of me wanted to hug her too, but instead I went in the other room.

After a few days, because that is what we do, my parents and I, we moved on.  The letter was never discussed.  I did not see Jimmy and his wife again and I don’t really know what I will say the next time I do.

If you are reading this and feel compelled to leave a comment, please do not bash Jimmy.   My parents read all comments.  Goodness knows, Jimmy will probably read this too.  Our conversation did not go the way I hoped it would and I must admit, I bear the responsibility for that.  After he left and I was still emotional, still seething, it hit me that the decades of rejection I’d always felt from my little town had welled up and he had been the somewhat unlikely victim of my eruption.

If the evangelical Christian has a neverending negotiation with how to show their love to their LGBTQ friends and family, I suppose we LGBTQ friends and family have an eternal negotiation as well, of how much to feel safe in that love, how much can we share, how much we should expect to be accepted.

My Mom probably doesn’t know this but of all the beautiful things she has written to me in my 49 years, and I have a cornucopia to draw from, it was three little words that touched me the most.  Three words I will carry with me until I take my last breath.  In Christmas 2010, after just meeting Eric for the first time we went to a restaurant and the waiter took a picture of my parents, Eric and myself.  I posted it to Facebook and my Mom was the first to comment beside it, for all the world to see.  “Nice looking family,” she wrote.

And we are.

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S-Brick

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When I was in high school, very briefly, I was on the debate team.  Turns out I was a poor debater.  One of the most memorable debate experiences did not happen in the debate arena but rather at a Super 8 in rural Kansas.  Debate trips in the mid 80s, if I recall correctly, were generally two-day events and high schools would travel to another town and the teams would be holed up in some inexpensive motel.  Boys and girls, obviously, were housed in different rooms, but there was a lot of time for socializing.  You would hear stories of some debate teams sneaking alcohol into their rooms or young couples pairing off for extended, unchaperoned make out sessions.

There was a girl who was my friend, I’ll call her Allison. I had a crush on her too, but more than anything, we were friends.  After dining at a local McDonald’s, a group of us were hanging out in one of the rooms, boys and the couple of girls that were in debate.  Allison was sitting on her bed.  At one point, I thought it would be funny, maybe even romantic, if I jumped on her and pinned her down.

In my mind, I imagined a comical, whimsical experience for everyone, like something John Belushi would do in Animal House or Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party. I thought Allison would find it hilarious and charming.

So I pounced, awkwardly.

Allison did not find it funny.  She hit me and called me a “shit brick.”  In front of every other person, our friends, she called me out for my actions and ashamed, I left the room.  The next day, my debate teacher talked to me about it.  I apologized, of course.  I do not remember whether or not I received a punishment.  From the moment Allison reacted, I had felt regret and shame.  I had never meant to scare her or harass her or humiliate her.

For weeks or maybe months, we were not friends and then somewhere along the way, we became friends again.  Ultimately, I believe, we became better friends than before the “s-brick” incident.  And now, in my adulthood, I certainly hope that is the case, that Allison and I are “good”. But, you know, we men, even us gay men, we have this way of crossing lines with women and thinking it’s funny or romantic or cool, and the women end up feeling the opposite of those things.  Sometimes they speak up and sometime they don’t.

I don’t think Allison remembers me as another Harvey Weinstein or Casey Affleck or Bill Cosby. I hope not.

I thought a lot about Allison yesterday when so many of my dear friends and relatives posted “ME TOO” on their Facebook and Twitter profiles.  Proclaiming, perhaps some for the first time, that they had been victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment.  It broke my heart to think of the millions and millions of stories that suddenly were attached to these two words.  Me too.  The pain, the self-doubt, the shame, the tears, the anger.  And I also hope that, for those sharing their experiences, it came with a freedom and an empowerment and a sense of community.

Of course, every woman has been sexually harassed.  I suspect every human has been sexually harassed at some point.

So, yes, I thought about Allison, but I also wondered about what other things I have done or said that would fall under the category of sexual harassment.  Have I told a sexually adventurous friend that she (or he, for that matter) is a “slut” before? Or dressed like a “ho”? I am 99% sure I have.  Have I snickered at sex workers when I see them on Santa Monica Boulevard or in fancy restaurants with old moneyed geezers?  Absolutely.

It’s easy to think that I don’t have anything in common with Harvey Weinstein.  What an easy villain and target he is.  While I don’t think I’ve ever done anything approaching his machinations, I have to acknowledge my own culpability.  I just don’t always treat women the way they deserve to be treated.

Thank God that Allison confronted me immediately.  While to me, it was a sophomoric antic, to her, especially if she had stifled it or laughed it off, it could have burrowed in her forever and done irreparable damage.

I believe, or hope anyway, that people think of me as a man who loves women.  My earliest, fondest memories were always in the kitchen with my Mom and Grandma and aunts.  In first grade, I was actually grounded for a week by my first grade teacher, Miss Bartlesmeyer, for only playing with girls at recess.  My entire life my best friends have been women.

Also on FB yesterday, I saw a couple of my male friends make posts along the lines of “if something I did ever made my female friends feel uncomfortable, I apologize.” I think this is a really important step for all of us going forward, to think about the effects of our jokes and actions. As much as I believe all women have been sexually harassed, I believe all men have said or done something to a woman that crossed a line into making them feel uncomfortable, or worse.

I have to be honest about the state of this world and my country right now, it feels bleak. Our president is a documented sexual predator who thrives off of the division that was here before he was elected and he has only increased the ugly polarity in the 10 months he had been in office.

This whole Me Too movement is one of the few things that has given me hope for our country. As heartbreaking as it is to have a FB feed inundated with these stories, it must be acknowledged that it’s a movement that has crossed party lines. Every woman, Democrat, Republican, Green, Independent, has found their common ground over this.

I don’t think Trump wants our country to come together. He glories in the vitriol that has become commonplace. But, our president is not America.

We are.  And with two little, but powerful words, in a movement created by a woman, about women but for all of us, we are telling the president and all the men like him just how united we really are.  Me too.

 

Makua Kane

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My Mother has a hutch.  As with most hutches, especially in the midwest, hers is filled with old plates and bowls and glasses and mugs and pictures and greeting cards and tchotchkes, all holding some kind of sentimental value.  When I was visiting in July, I found a pair of ceramic mugs with the Hawaiian phrases Makua Kane (Dad) and Makua Wahine (Mom) on them.  I have no recollection of buying them, but it is assumed that these were gifts I gave to them when we went to Hawaii as a family in 1980.  Which means, those mugs have been collecting dust in that hutch for 37 years. Or, I guess I should say, had been collecting dust, because I asked my Mom if I could have them back.  “Sure,” she said and added, not for the first time, “All of this will be your headache someday anyway.” On that visit, one of our goals, the three of us, was to declutter some of their house.  We had mixed results.

Anyway, I brought my two Hawaiian mugs home to LA.  I showed Eric, we both have a thing for old stuff and tiki stuff and sentimental stuff so it was a perfect fit for our home.

A few weeks later, on the morning my Dad began his chemotherapy and radiation, I saw the Makua Kane mug hanging from one of the nails in the converted ice box (old building) that stores our plates and mugs and bowls.  I selected the Dad mug and began my daily coffee ritual.  One packet of raw sugar, a little half and half, poured cold, then the coffee.  I sat on the couch with my coffee and I thought about my Dad and Mom, in Bartlesville, kicking things off.  They were on my mind, in my heart, and in its way, this time was a sort of prayer.

The next morning, I did the same thing.  Same mug, same ritual.  My Dad’s early response to his treatment was exceptional.  For several days, he felt few side effects.  On one day, I skipped my mug ritual, and on that day, he hit a rough patch.  Certainly, I know the rough patch was not because of me, but still, I did not want to take any chances.  Except for that one day, every morning since August 14, I drank my morning coffee from a hotel souvenir I gave my Dad 37 years ago.

When I drove back to Kansas, to help in his final weeks of radiation, I brought the mug with me.  Too cumbersome to fit in the car’s coffee holder, I balanced it in my lap.  The next morning, I brought a coffee up from the hotel lobby and poured into my mug that I’d cleaned out with the hotel’s Pantene shampoo sample.

In Kansas, my parents did not ask me why I had brought this mug home.  No mention was made, but knowingly, as I packed to leave on Monday to return to Los Angeles, they both said, “Don’t forget your mug.” And then later, “You do have your mug, don’t you?”

On Tuesday morning, me just leaving Albuquerque where the dog and I had stopped for the night, my Dad took his last radiation treatment.  I drank hotel coffee out of my special mug.

On Wednesday, it occurred to me that I needn’t drink out of the mug, the whimsical deal that I had brokered in my mind, was just to get my Dad through his radiation.  I could drink out of my favorite dog mug now.

Of course, I didn’t drink out of my favorite dog mug, which is a very cute mug. (Fishs Eddy.)  I opened my packet of raw sugar, poured my cold cream then added the coffee.  And I sat on my couch and thought about my parents and all they’ve been through and how well my Dad navigated it all.  There were rough patches, of course.  Quiet moments and painful moments and worried moments. It will be weeks before we know the effectiveness of the treatments.

Until then, we wait, doing the things that keep our mind busy.  My Dad is golfing today, my Mom listening to her books on tape.  I go back to work tomorrow.  But every morning, until I see a reason to veer from the habit, I will pour my daily cup of hope and drink from it.