My parents won’t be coming to our wedding. They haven’t even acknowledged it’s happening. From what I hear, they don’t outwardly object—“whatever makes him happy,” my mom told one of my sisters. But they have said nothing to me; not “congratulations,” and not “don’t do this.”
I hate writing about this. I worry about what people will think; I worry that it will seem like I’m throwing my parents under the bus. My blood is rising, even as I type, and I don’t know that I can be entirely fair. The truth is that even more than 15 years since I first came out to them, the feelings surrounding our relationship are still raw. But I’m writing because I’m not the only person whose relationship with his parents has collapsed. Others with broken family relationships should know that they are not alone; imagining our pain to be unique does little to heal it.
My parents and siblings were the first people I messaged with the news of my engagement. Two of my sisters, my brother, niece, and nephews expressed support and happiness for me. My parents said not a word. I called them a couple weeks later, on my dad’s birthday, and I barely slept the night before. My heart raced as the phone rang, and I stumbled on my words as I asked their maid to get my mom on the phone.
Then we talked. We talked for more than 30 minutes. We talked about the weather where I live and the weather where they live. We talked about the presidential race. We talked about world politics, and the danger of a new world war. We talked about their health. We joked. We even talked about a distant cousin whose name I didn’t recognize. And then we said a pleasant goodbye.
That weekend David saw me cry like he never had before. A week later I was still crying. He met me at work one day during my lunch break and we went for a walk. On the eastern shore of the Willamette River, 15 miles from where he will become my first of kin, he held me as I gave up hope of retrieving the kinship I have lost.
My parents haven’t tried to change me. They haven’t issued ultimatums. They haven’t disowned me. They have simply decided that I, as I am, do not exist. That shallow phone conversation after my engagement hurt because it was a reminder that, to them, I have ceased to be a person worth knowing.
Had they rejected me outright, I would have found it easier to grieve. Rejection is a subverted form of relationship—a connection based on division. Instead, their indifference makes me feel like a non-entity. For a decade and a half, our relationship has been like a patient with a degenerative disease. It now breathes, but does little else.
I grew up hearing that while there is life there’s hope. I understand now, because losing hope feels like death. And like death, we are told to avoid it. We cling to hope for dear life, even when it makes life painful. But like the death of someone who is suffering, relinquishing hope can mean relief. Unreasonable hope—wishing to change that which can't be changed—becomes a black hole that sucks the joy from everything it touches.
Losing my relationship with my parents has been hard because it wasn’t always like this. I had a happy childhood and an authentic relationship with both of them. They are good people, and they were good parents. I have never doubted that they loved me, and in their own way, they still do. But they are the product of a society where appearances are king. The opinions of others, in their world, become an idol, and having an openly gay child is embarrassing.
My parents would be fine with me being gay—being in a relationship, even—if only I kept it secret. “Whatever makes him happy”—as long as no one knows. It hurt when I first realized this, because it meant that they care more about what others think than they do about me. They love me, I know, and they are in as much pain as I am, but their society’s idol demanded a sacrifice and there were but two lambs: my happiness and our relationship. When I could not offer the former, I slew the latter.
Hope is not lost in one day. It’s not lost in a conversation, or after a single event. Hope is lost slowly, over the course of many years. It is lost after repeated blows. I tried, for a long time, to include my parents in my life. I wrote an essay about that and about my evolving understanding of kinship a few years ago, which you can read here.
The last time my parents visited me in New York, in 2006, they refused to set foot in my apartment. They resisted even coming to my neighborhood. In 2011, a life-altering year for me, I wrote them a long letter, fully bearing my heart. They received it, but never acknowledged it. A year ago I told my mom about David and said things with him could develop into something serious. She showed no interest in learning who he is or what he does.
I have given up hope and mourned because I’m starting a family, and for the sake of the children David and I may raise, I can’t keep allowing myself to be erased. The house that nurtured me as a child is in ruins, but among those ruins are beautiful memories. I will hold on to them. I’ve shared some with David, and God willing, I will share them with my children. I love my parents, and I know they are honorable. I know they did their best. I can be at peace now, and I can build a new house.
Those who relate to my story know that you can't help but feel guilt when you give up on your parents. The consequences might affect the rest of your family. That, I guess, is when you turn to Christ. He might not free you from the guilt overnight, but your Father, Brother, Sister, and Mother in Heaven will embrace you even after you give up. Don't relinquish hope in haste; don't relinquish it if it's merely to serve yourself. But don't make senseless hope an idol. Don't let it drive you away from God. Don't let it leave you useless to others.